Colorado River Pollution

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Pollution in the Colorado River

By

Axia College

The Colorado River supplies water to most of the southwestern United States and despite this fact, pollution levels are continually rising and in some cases above acceptable limits. The Colorado River supplies and runs through five states and during some parts of the year to the Mexican border. During the rivers journey various types of pollutants come into contact to with it degrading the water quality downstream. The river water benefits humans in multiple ways the first obvious answer is by drinking it. Farming and other agricultural uses demand 60% and sometimes as much as 90% of its water. Using polluted water for irrigation passes the contaminants into the crops and ultimately onto our dinner tables.

Water is scarce in the southwestern United States and water is essential for human survival. The Colorado River is the primary reason why the southwest can sustain the massive population in the region. Without this “lifeline” of freshwater, we must find another means of supplying water to millions. Desalinizing the water from the Pacific Ocean is not yet cost effective enough to handle the demand although about 8% to 10% of the water supplied to Southern California comes from desalinization plants.

Every year the government allocates more water from the Colorado River that is unrelated to human survival. According to an article in the San Diego Union Tribune “Oil and natural-gas drilling in Colorado requires so much water that if its annual demand were satisfied all at once, it would be the equivalent of shutting off most of Southern California's water for five days.” (Hasemyer, 2008). During his term, President Bush authorized more drilling in Colorado than at any time since 1984. With these types of policies taking hold of the river one must ask the question, what is more important energy or life? The construction of the various dams along the Lower Colorado River system allowed small boomtowns to thrive along the banks of the now tamed river. Small towns and industrial facilities built close to river to take advantage of a good supply of water, and some used the rivers current to carry away pollutants. Of the many pollutants the river absorbs three are worth noting they are nitrates, perchlorate, and radioactive waste.

Nitrates come from excessive human waste; this waste encounters the river through the ground when septic tanks become overloaded. Lake Havasu, AZ, is the lake that supplies water for the California Aqueduct; monitoring wells routinely test for nitrates and other pollutants. High concentrations of nitrates in drinking water can decrease the oxygen carrying ability of hemoglobin. This intensity of this effect increases in babies; the common term is “blue-baby syndrome”. The nitrate levels found in the Lake Havasu wells are four times higher the recommended EPA levels.

Small town development cannot shoulder the blame for perchlorate pollution, as it is a chemical found in rocket fuel. However, lax industrial standards in a small budding town might be the cause for this pollution issue. A factory in Henderson, NV, in the suburbs of Las Vegas, manufactures rocket fuel for the military. The company that operates the rocket fuel plant has already spent over 80 million dollars to reduce the amount of perchlorate flowing in Lake Mead. Despite these efforts approximately 400 pounds of perchlorate flows into the lake daily. The EPA or FDA has yet to identify acceptable levels of perchlorate, but the chemical has shown to cause thyroid and hormonal deficiencies.

The next type of pollution is by far the most dangerous, radioactive waste at any concentration is dangerous. In Moab, UT, along the Colorado River is a former uranium mill; 16 million tons of tailings from this mill have accumulated along the riverbanks. These tailings leach over 100,000 gallons of radioactive water into the river each day....
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