18th September is World Water Monitoring Day, a commemoration intended to build public awareness regarding the importance of protecting water resources around the world.

On this day, people are encouraged to conduct some basic monitoring on the quality of water bodies near them and incorporate the results into an international database.

You might never hear the term water monitoring before, or you might have heard it but does not quite understand what does it entail. Worry not, because in this article we will talk about water and basic principles of water quality and monitoring.

Water: One Of Humanity’s Basic Needs

Water is one of the most fundamental needs to support people’s livelihood. Access to water and sanitation is even recognized by the United Nations as human rights, which reflects the crucial role of water in human lives. However, humanity is facing several challenges as water sources and availability become a pressing issue that needs to be addressed.

Water Scarcity

Do you know that less than 3% of the water covering the earth is freshwater? In other words, the other 97% of the water on earth is difficult to be accessed because it is either saline ocean water or freshwater that was locked away in the form of glaciers and ice.

Yes, our blue planet might not have THAT much of freshwater reserves for the 7 billion people (and counting) that inhabit it.

Water scarcity can mean scarcity in terms of physical shortage of water, or lack of access due to the failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply of water or a lack of adequate infrastructure.

According to UN Water, “water scarcity already affects every continent, and an increasing number of regions are reaching the limit at which water services can be sustainably delivered.”

Some people have to walk many miles in order to get access to clean and safe water. Photo by Gyan Shahane/Unsplash

In fact, over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress (UN, 2018). Moreover, about 4 billion people, nearly 2/3 of the world’s population, experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2016).

This fact is alarming because humanity has been acting that water is an infinite source while in fact, it is not. We have been taking water for granted every time we turn on the tap, acting as if the water will never run out while in fact, our water resources are at risk all over the planet.

Children in South Sudan collect water from a submerged hand pump. Source: UNMIS via unwater.org

Water Safety

Another issue is water safety. Contaminated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unsafe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene are significant contributors to the 485.0000 deaths caused by diarrhea every year.

Source: World Health Organization

Moreover, globally, at least 2 billion people‘s source of drinking water is estimated to be contaminated with feces. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can enter drinking water in many ways such as sewage leakage, untreated wastewater that were directly disposed into water bodies, and even unhygienic handling of the stored water sources.

Water Quality: Defining Water that is Safe to be Consumed

Water quality can be defined as a measure of the suitability of water for a particular use, based on the following characteristics:

  • Physical: temperature, colour, light, sediment suspended in the water
  • Chemical: dissolved oxygen, acidity (pH) level, salinity, nutrients, and other contaminants
  • Biological: bacteria, algae, and phytoplankton.
Clear and turbid water becomes one of the parameters of water quality. Photo source: wbaconsulting.com

These parameters of water quality are relevant not only to assess surface water like the ocean, lakes, and rivers but also for groundwater and industrial processes.

Water Monitoring: Why and How

Water monitoring can answer some basic questions like the condition of our water bodies and resources, as well as whether that water is safe enough to swim in, fish from, use for consumption, or for irrigation purposes.

Water monitoring is important to make sure that people have access to safe water. Photo source: www.awwa.org

Furthermore, monitoring water quality is important in ways that it can help researchers to predict and learn about water’s natural cycle in the environment as well as determine human impacts on the process. These measurement efforts can also assist in restoration projects or ensure environmental standards are being met.

Simple Water Monitoring

On World Water Monitoring Day, organizations like the EarthEcho Water Challenge encourages people from all over the world to conduct simple water monitoring in their surroundings.

They provide test kits that can be ordered and used to monitor water resources. With the provided test kit, there are 4 characteristics that can be measured

  1. Temperature (in Celcius): Aquatic organisms such as fish, insects, and snails are sensitive to changes in water temperature. Consequently, they require a certain temperature range to be able to thrive. Moreover, temperature can also affect the amount of oxygen the water can hold.
  2. Turbidity (in JTU): Turbidity is the measure of the relative clarity of water, but should not be mixed with colour. Turbid water may be the result of soil erosion, urban runoff, algae blooms, and bottom sediment disturbances.
  3. Dissolved oxygen (In PPM or PPT): Dissolved oxygen, also known as DO, is important for the aquatic ecosystem. Most organisms need oxygen to survive. hence, water bodies with consistently high dissolved oxygen tend to indicate a healthy and stable environment.
  4. pH: pH is a measurement of the acidic or basic quality of water. The pH scale range from 0 (very acidic) to 1 (very basic), with 7 being the neutral point. Aquatic organisms need a specific pH level and might be greatly affected if the pH is either too high or too low, with most organisms prefer the pH range of 6.5 to 8.0.
Example of a datasheet for simple water monitoring. Photo source: EarthEcho Water Challenge Monitoring Kit Instructions

Protecting Our Water Resources

Now that we came to learn the importance of maintaining good water quality and monitor it, what are the ways that we can do actually help?

1. Use and Dispose of Harmful Material Properly

Do not pour or dispose of your liquid and hazardous waste down the drain, on the ground, or into sewers. This could seriously contaminate the soil, groundwater, or nearby surface water.

Be mindful of how you disposes some of the chemicals in your home. Source: wikihow.com

Some of these harmful chemicals are namely oil, leftover paints, household cleaners, and some medicines.

Instead, learn how to dispose of them properly and safely, both for your well-being and the environment. Find out about companies/organizations that can process these hazardous waste and learn to transport them properly.

Used cooking oil, for instance, can be sent to Waste4Change to be processed into biodiesel via the Send Your Waste program.

2. Limit the Use of Lawn and Garden Chemicals

Be mindful of the fertilizers that you use in your garden and opt for a natural and safer alternative instead. There are many simple and effective fertilizers that you can give to your plant babies that will not cause harm to the environment, such as compost from your organic waste or even eggshells.

3. Properly Maintain Your Septic System

Malfunctioning septic systems release bacteria, viruses, and chemicals to local aquifers and waterways. The average household septic system should be inspected at least every three years by a septic service professional. Moreover, septic tanks are typically pumped every three to five years

4. Get Involved

After the pandemic is over, you can also join some cleanup activities in your environment or participate in a water monitoring program (if any). Volunteer in your community, or even organize one if there isn’t any.

Join your local water monitoring activities. Photo source: http://ourcanadaproject.ca/place/carden-water-quality-monitoring/

Collective activities like cleanup are important to raise people’s awareness of the issue and gather support for the cause that you care about.