We’ve already put together a separate guide on the general issue of water pollution.
However, in the guide below, we specifically outline potential solutions to water pollution and contamination, and how it might be either prevented or managed.
Summary – Potential Solutions For Water Pollution & Contamination
Some following things may help with formulating and implementing different solutions to address water pollution:
Understanding Water Pollution As A General Issue
Understanding That Water Pollution Differs Between Different Geographic Locations
Each body of water in each geographic location is it’s own water pollution issue (with it’s own set of contributing factors)
Therefore, it’s important to understand that water pollution is likely better addressed on the local level, rather than trying to address water pollution more generally.
We list some of the factors that might vary between different geographic locations when it comes to water pollution.
Understanding Potential General Solutions To Water Pollution
Two of the potential general solutions to water pollution might be:
1. Preventing water pollution from happening in the first instance, or, reducing the amount of water pollution that happens in the first instance
2. Cleaning up or managing water pollution that has already happened and is already in the environment
Potential Specific Solutions To Water Pollution
We list some of the potential specific solutions to water pollution in the guide below
Something we mention is that in order to be most effective, some solutions may focus on the main pollutants and contaminants, and the main polluting sources (or main polluters) in a given area
An Example Of How To Assess A Case of Local Water Pollution
We give an example/breakdown of how it might be possible to assess a case of local water pollution in a given area
Examples Of How Different Cities & Countries Are Already Addressing Water Pollution
In the guide below, we give some examples of how places like China, the UK and other countries and regions have implemented different measures to address water pollution (to different extents)
Why Water Pollution Still Happens – Challenges & Problems In Addressing It
In the guide below, we provide a list of potential challenges and problems associated with addressing and reducing (or cleaning up) water pollution
Understanding Water Pollution As A General Issue
Firstly, it’s important to understand water pollution as a broad or general issue.
We put together this guide about water pollution where we outline things such as:
– What water pollution is
– Types of water pollution and contaminants
– The main causes and sources of water pollution
– Potential effects of water pollution
– And, other important aspects of the issue
Understanding That Water Pollution Differs Between Different Geographic Locations
There are broad principles and effects relating to water pollution.
However, water pollution also differs between each geographic location around the world.
What we mean by this is that the following things vary between each place where there is water pollution:
– The individual body of water that is polluted (such as the individual river, lake, pond, or other body of water being polluted)
– The individual pollutants or contaminants in the water
– The individual causes or sources of pollution
– How the body of water got polluted (direct contamination vs cross contamination for example)
– The number of points of pollution, and where they are located
Because these variables are different in different cities, towns, and other geographic locations, water pollution is a local problem, that requires it’s own local solutions.
Each city, town and region in the world will need it’s own strategy and solutions aimed at addressing their own water pollution problems (related to the above points).
Some Examples Of Local Water Pollution In Different Countries & Locales
– Pearl River, China
Some reports say the Pearl River in China is polluted/contaminated with ‘… industrial runoff and wastewater from nearby factories’.
In this instance, we have a specific water source, suspected contaminants, and a source from which contaminants might be coming from – all in one local/geographic area.
– United States
– Other Cities & Countries
You can read more in this guide for a list of the countries and cities around the world with the most polluted and contaminated local sources of water, and some of the main causes of their water pollution or contamination.
Understanding The Potential General Solutions To Water Pollution
There might be two main solutions for water pollution and contamination:
1. Preventing Water Pollution & Contamination Before It Happens, Or Reducing The Amount That Happens In The First Instance
This involves any solution that stop pollutants getting into natural water sources at all, or that reduces the amount of pollutants that can get into natural water sources.
The end result is no pollution, or less pollution
A few ways to do this might be:
– Capturing, treating, and re-using waste water instead of discharging/dumping it
– Containing, treating and managing other pollutants or contaminants, or waste containing pollutants and contaminants, before they get into the environment
Municipal waste, sewage waste, industrial waste, and agricultural waste are some common types of waste that might be better managed
– Better water pollution, and also water quality laws, regulations and guidelines to prevent or reduce water pollution
– Penalties and credits/incentives for major polluters to stop or reduce water pollution
But, there might be more specific and custom solutions that can be implemented for each type, source and point of pollutants, as well as the specific water source being polluted.
2. Cleaning, Treating Or Purifying Water That Has Already Been Polluted or Contaminated
In this situation, a water source has already been polluted or contaminated.
So, pollutants have to be removed from the water.
Removing the pollutant or contaminant from the water might involve treating or purifying the water by diluting it, cleaning up waste from the water, or some type of water treatment or purification process.
The end result is that the water is brought to a desired (or safe and clean) water quality level (testing can indicate if this is the case or not)
*A Note About Addressing Some Types Of Water Pollution
Various reports indicate that there might still be some types of water pollutants and contaminants that can’t effectively be removed from water.
There’s might also be some types of brackish or highly saline water that can’t be treated and purified.
So, there may not be a clear solution to all cases of water pollution.
Potential Specific Solutions To Address Water Pollution & Contamination
In addition to what has been listed elsewhere in this guide, some specific solutions to address water pollution might be:
– Consider Water Pollution Prevention Before Trying To Clean Up Water Pollution
Prevention of water pollution in the first place may be a better approach than trying to treat polluted water – it may be easier and cheaper.
– Consider In Which Areas Water Pollution Solutions Might Be Most Effective
For example …
Identifying the main pollutants and contaminants, and the main polluting sources (and causes of pollution), and focussing solutions here, may be most effective
– Addressing Water Pollution From The Main Polluting Sectors & Industries
For Agriculture …
Consider how synthetic agricultural chemicals from fertilizers (like nitrogen and phosphates) can be better managed.
Consider the benefits of a more organic farming approach.
Consider how other agricultural wastes can be better managed (like manure and livestock waste)
For Wastewater …
Some types of waste water may simply be treated and disposed of
For Municipal Waste & Sewage …
Better management and treatment of municipal waste, and sewage waste
For Industry …
Reduce the various forms of industrial waste pollution that end up as water pollution
For Energy & Power Generation …
Consider the benefits of cleaner energy generation, which doesn’t create as much air pollution and CO2 (which can lead to acid rain, absorption of CO2, and other issues)
For Transport …
Consider the benefits of cleaner vehicles and cleaner fuels (to reduce air pollution and CO2), and to reduce leakages from cars and other vehicles (such as oil leakage)
For Plastic & Solid Waste …
Consider how littering can be reduced, and how inadequately disposed of waste can better be contained
For Landfills & Incineration …
Better contained landfills that let less waste leak and with more secure soil linings, and waste incineration sites with air pollution controls
For Mining …
Better treatment and containment of mining tailings, and mining waste
For Waste In General …
Collect more waste, scale up waste management, and increase waste management and treatmnt capacity where possible
– More Effective Laws & Regulations Around Water Pollution
– Consider The Benefit & Tradeoffs Of Fines & Penalties For The Biggest Polluters
– Better Access To Basic Water Services, & Basic Hygiene & Sanitation Services
– Consider The Role Of Short Term Solutions
Such as bottled water
– Consider The Role Of At-Home Solutions
Depending on how safe they are …
Such as at home filtering and purification of tap water
Harvesting rain water over using tap water may be a viable option in some places too
– Prevent Or Reduce Cross Contamination
Especially the cross contamination of freshwater bodies of water with brackish or saline groundwater sources
– Consider How Water Recycling & Desalination Can Help With Water Pollution
Neither of these technologies are made to address water pollution directly
Waste water treatment and water recycling may make some sense, as around 80% of waste water globally is currently discharged without treatment … often into water sources.
– Consider How Specific Water Pollution Solutions May Fit In With Solutions To General Water Quality Issues
– Other Specific Solutions
In general, new or improved:
Waste management facilities and systems
Pollutant and contaminant treatment facilities
Pollutant and contaminant clean up programs for pollution already in the environment
Public reporting by major polluters that encourage transparency around water pollution
Proper laws and regulations of potable and non potable water to make sure it’s properly treated and safe to drink or use
Proper testing to make sure drinking water and non potable water meets adequate quality standards for it’s end use. Understanding the different measurables water is being tested for (turbidity, minerals, bacteria, pH, and so on) can also help
Non potable water, such as water used to irrigate agricultural crops, might only need to pass independent water testing standards, but, may also need to meet national or State standards codified in regulations in some places
Consider natural solutions to filter or purify water such as using trees to help improve water quality
An Example Of How To Assess Local Water Pollution
What A Template Of Water Pollution Points To Consider Might Look Like
– Identify the water source that is being polluted or contaminated
Usually a surface water, ground water, or marine water source
– Identify the main pollutants and contaminants
e.g. industrial chemicals and waste water
– Identify the source they are coming from
e.g. factories in the area
– Identify the point/s at which they are polluting or contaminating the area
Single point, or multiple/dispersed points?
– Identify the impact of the water pollution
How significant is the impact it’s having on humans, wild life, the environment and the economy?
– Identify how you are going to reduce or eliminate pollutants and waste getting to the identified point/s from the identified sources
Does it involve waste and pollutant treatment & management systems?
Are more effective laws and regulations required?
– Identify how to remove waste and pollutants from the water if required
– It’s also possible that other water sources are being cross contaminated by the first water source, and these water sources would need to be assessed too
Using A Real World Example
Using the example of the Pearl River in China, below is an example of what a rough local water pollution breakdown or assessment might look like …
Details About The Pearl River Water Pollution
What we know about water pollution here according to various reports:
Water Source – Pearl River
Main Water Pollutants – Industrial runoff and wastewater
Water Pollutant Source – Nearby factories
Point Or Points At Which River Is Being Polluted – unknown
Potential Solutions For Addressing Water Pollution In The Pearl River
It’s worth noting that the Pearl River has received clean up effort in real life.
But, a breakdown and some potential ways to address pollution there might include:
Identifying the points where the Pearl River is being polluted (a single point, or dispersed multiple points?)
Identifying the exact industrial pollutants and waste that are polluting the river
Identifying the exact factories (or the main factories) that are polluting the river
Identifying the point or points at which the river is being contaminated or polluted
Introducing systems to catch and treat runoff
Introducing systems to treat waste water, and either re-use it, or discharge of it once it is safe to do so
Introducing better laws and regulations (which may or may not include incentives and penalties) for dumping untreated waste, or inadequately managing industrial and waste water waste
If the Pearl River is responsible for any cross contamination of other water sources such as other Rivers or the ocean – this would need to be assessed and addressed too
Other Comments On The Pearl River Water Pollution
The options above may reduce pollution of the river significantly.
But, the water in the river may still need to have waste and pollutants removed, and may need to be treated in some way to become clean and safe (or meet a certain water quality standard).
Once a water source has been polluted or contaminated, side effects of the pollution may need to be addressed.
One example of a side effect might be algal blooms.
Examples Of How Different Cities & Countries Are Already Addressing Water Pollution
Below is a paraphrased summary gathered from various reports on what different countries or cities around the world are doing to address their water pollution issues:
Paraphrased from globalwaterforum.org, marketwatch.com, and worldbank.org:
[More Financing – from the government, to improve drinking water standards, treat waste water, and so on]
[Modified Laws – to prevent pollution, and manage remediation]
[Protection Schemes & Preservation Zones – that protect certain water sources from pollution. This might especially be enforced in urban areas.]
[Objectives & Standards, Measures, & Planning – specifically five year plans with targets for different goals related to water quality. There’s local water managers, councils and ministries in charge of executing these plans and measures]
[Classifying Water Sources In Terms Of Levels Of Water Quality – and improving a certain number of water sources to be in the top three water classes by a certain year]
[Monitoring Sites, & Regular Inspections & Audits – set up to measure and assess water for different water quality standards over time]
[Punishments – for companies and industries that are polluting]
[Upgrading Waste Treatment Systems – of sewage facilities, waste water treatment, and other places where waste is managed. In particular, waste water treatment capacity and activity was increased at some municipalities. Better sludge disposal was introduced too.]
[Reducing Pollution In Certain Industries – one example is reducing agricultural pollution by lowering the use of agricultural chemicals like fertilizers. Another might be addressing pollution in the non-ferrous metals and coking sectors]
[Shutting Down High Polluters, Such As Some Factories] – such as small factories in papermaking, pesticide production and tanning (and other high polluters)
[Cleaning Up Water Pollution Already In The Environment – such as removing sediment from waterways]
Flood Protection & River Embankment Improvements – that redirect waste water to treatment plants, and raise the bank to protect river against floods
[Increased Training & Technical Assistance – on various aspects of water pollution]
[Online Systems & Reporting – cities publishing data about their water pollution, the condition of their water, and updating as required]
[Future Plans – there are plans to improve collection networks through sewer rehabilitation, and extension to new city areas]
thesourcemagazine.org indicates that the UK has introduced measures to address agricultural water pollution (the main cause of water pollution in the UK, along with high levels of phosphorus residue transfers from farmland and sewage systems)
Some of these measures included (paraphrased):
[Rules to reduce pollution from soil, fertilizer and manure, testing of pollution risks by growers every 5 years, and grants to encourage farmers to use organic fertilizer (in order to reduce ammonia pollution]
Other Countries & Regions
all-about-water-filters.com lists a countries that are among the top water polluters in the world
They indicate that various countries and regions have either ‘Environmental Protection Plans’, specific laws, or water divisions in place to address water pollution or protect water quality (paraphrased):
[United States – has the Safe Water Drinking Act and Clean Water Act in place]
[India – has water protection and conservation in their basic environment plan, and has the Water Pollution Control Law in place]
[Germany – has the Federal Water Act, and the Waste Water Charges Act in place]
[Indonesia – has the Pollution Control Evaluation and Rating Program, Clean River Program in place, as well as the Natural Resources Management Division set up]
[Brazil – has the National Policy in Water Resources in place]
Why Water Pollution Still Happens – Problems & Challenges In Addressing It
The reality is that water pollution and contamination still happens all over the world.
There’s an endless list of reasons why this is the case, but some of the main reasons might be:
– Not Having The Money Or Finances To Address Some Aspects Of Water Pollution
Addressing some aspects of water pollution can be very expensive, even for more developed countries
Firstly, there’s the cost for water pollution prevention, such as treating waste or managing waste, and the infrastructure that comes along with that
Then there’s the cost of cleaning and treating water that has already been polluted
Additionally, explainthatstuff.org also notes that the US has invested in the tens of billions of dollars on improving water treatment plants, although hundreds of billions of dollars more might be needed.
worldbank.org also notes the cost of some of the changes that China made to address water pollution
– Once Polluted, Some Water Is Very Difficult To Treat Or Clean
A few examples of this might be:
Water with specific trace particles and chemicals
Water with heavy or particularly hazardous chemicals
– Some Types Of Water Pollution Or Contamination Might Be Very Difficult To Reduce Or Stop
One example might be leaching of chemicals or substances inside water supply pipes
It might be very difficult or costly to replace or upgrade this infrastructure
– Non Point Source Water Pollution Can Be Very Hard To Regulate, Track & Manage
There’s practical and financial challenges to regulating, tracking and managing this type of water pollution, because pollution can’t be isolated to one point or source
One example might be water pollution from household sources and individuals – there’s a range of potential pollutants coming from a range of houses and people
– Transboundary Water Pollution May Be Hard To Address
This is because it can be difficult to identify where the pollution came from, or who is responsible for cleaning it up
– Can Sometimes Be Difficult To Assign Responsibility For Water Pollution
Relating partially to the above point, it can be difficult to assign responsibility for water pollution to different parties, or, it can be difficult to make certain people or parties accountable for it
– Political Agenda & Policy Either Doesn’t Focus On Addressing Water Pollution (& Protecting Water Sources), Or, There Are Other Political Priorities
For example, other public health and environmental goals may be a higher priority
Economic goals like increasing employment and stimulating business growth may be a priority
Economic and industrial growth is actually one of the major reasons for all types of pollution – air, water and soil – in many countries, but especially developing and growing countries
– Different Authorities & Levels Of Government Can Have Difficulty Implementing Complimentary/Uniform & Effective Solutions To One Another
For example, this happens in China with the national/central government, and the county level councils expected to enforce changes (globalwaterforum.org)
– There May Not Be A Strong Incentive For Some Parties To Reduce Water Pollution
For example, businesses may find that addressing water pollution decreases their profit margin, or in some instances, makes it unfeasible to introduce water pollution prevention measures
It’s easier and cheaper in many instances for the polluter to dispose of their waste or pollutants without treating or managing them
In general, there may not be a strong incentive or even economic value in preserving the water quality of some water sources
– Laws & Regulations Are Lacking In Some Places, Along With Enforcement Of These Laws & Regulations
The laws and regulations either might not be very strong, or, the enforcement of them might be very lax
This may especially be the case in less developed countries who need economic development, and have poor environmental protection standards in place, as a result of prioritizing these economic goals
– Groundwater Sources Can Be Difficult To Clean In Some Instances
[Groundwater] can be very hard to clean these water sources once polluted (nrdc.org)
– Water Quality Monitoring May Be Less Practical Than Air Quality Monitoring, & Therefore Harder To Carry Out
Water quality monitoring takes more time than air quality monitoring – water monitoring still relies on manual efforts and cannot be done as frequently (marketwatch.com)
– Low Income & Less Developed Regions Of The World May Have Their Own Specific Challenges
Not having access to these basic services and systems is a significant challenge in itself, let alone trying to implement more advanced forms of water pollution prevention and treatment