Are We Abusing Our Water Resources?

P. W. Claassen
1921 Scientific American  
F OUR-FIFTH S of the earth's surface is covered with water and one-fifth ("onstitutes wet or dry land. It is safe to say that less than one-half of all the land is being utilized in the production of food and other necessities of life, so that we a re dependent, largely, for our sustenance upon the products derived from one-tpnth of the earth's surface. Our cities are becoming more and more !lpnsely populated and the question of providing this great number of huma n bpings with the npcessaries
more » ... f life becomes greater ea ch day. Agriculture has ad vanced so rapidly that today we are lit praily raising two potatoes where one grew bef{)re, and due to the study of animal indmrtry our cows are yielding two quarts of milk where they yielded one iJefore. But whereas we have doubled and trebled the products of the land we have done nothing to improve the culture of water life. We have given all our at tention to agriculture and not only neg lected and ignored aquiculture but we have grossly abused the fresh waters from which a great part of Ol1r sustenance should be derived. (2) 1. Bloodworm. . Paramoecium. These creatures. 3/4 and 1/60 inch long respectively. thrive in water polluted by organic wastes. The bloodworm forms excellent fish food, and through it waste may be made ultimately beneficial to fish life. 3. Cyclops. 4. Daphnia. These measure less than 1 / 1 0 inch in length ; 1 0 0 to 200 of them make a good meal for a fish, but they occur only in fresh water and pure water tl'ibutps it to i ts thousands of inhabi tants. Where spwage disposal plants have been i nstalled they have been put in operation mainly for the purpose of making the water farther down safe ' for drinking purposes and with no thought whatsoever of the effect that the sewage might have upon the a(]uatic life-the animals anti plants of the ri ver. Just how harmfu l domestic sewage is to fish life we cannot definitely say. Some organic wastes actually benefit the waters but, on the whole, the sewage probably causes a great deal more harm than good and is very detrimental to all the aquatic organisms. Again not only have we depended upon our streams to carry away the domestic sewage but nearly all our factories of one form or another have been built close to streams so that the water might carry off the waste products which could not be utilized, or by-products which were not prOduced in large enough quanti ties to make their reclamation profitable. Many II clear bubbling brook has been changed by the addition of wastes into a bl ack un sightly and obnoxious stream with its rock bottom all covered by a slimy, "ticky ooze. 'Vhere such gross pollution has occurred the fishermen know the folly of trying to ca tch any fish ; but many \Ve all like the water as a recreational center and fishing is Olle of our chief sports during the summer ; but it seems that we imagined that the fish "j ust grew" in the streams regardlesS of how the Four of the small creatures on which food fish thrive, and their relations to water pollution a man has wondered why the fish did not "bite" when the stream seemed perfectly clear and nor mal. A small amount of sulfuric acid or sodium cyanide discharged into a stream, accidentally or other-waters were being abused. Most of us, however, hav� discovered that the fishing in many of the streams is not as good as it used to be. People have concluded that such streams have been "fished out" along the same river that the question of sewage. disposal plants arose. There are, however, even today, many cities which still discharge their sewage di rectly and have not given the question much further thought. \Vhat then are the rea-Hons that so many of our favorite fishing grounds have lost their attractiveness to the fisherman ? Is it because the fish have all been taken out and the streams thus made barren ? This is so only in part. The principal reason why our fresh waters are so bare of fish life is because we have looked upon our streams, not as II source of food supply, but as the public Hewers which Nature has provided for man's convenience. The best site for a town is that near a stream, and a city must be built on a large river or lake. The purpose of the river is to furnish water to the city and to carry off the sewage. Such an arrangement seems W ITH the increase of urban population and the changes , still too embryonic in character to be clearly defined, which are coming over our agriculture, the problem of food production is an eVer pressing one. What means shall We adopt to insure that enough food for all may s till be supplied by the ever-decreasing proportion of our population that devotes itself to this business ? Dr. Claassen points out that eighty per cent of the world's surface is covered by water, and that if We would only treat it righ t, this water would be the source of supply of a collection of food products that stand high in the scale of economy, by virtue of the minimum amount of labor required to maqe them available.-THE EDITOR. wise, may not alter the general appear ance of the water and yet it may kill every fish, insect and plant in the entire stream. Once a stream has been de pleted of its plants and animals it takes months and even years to bring it back to normal again even though no further pollutions occur. One can hardly point out a stream in the Eastern States which does not have from . one to a dozen or more factories or industrial plants situated on its banks. The wastes produced are of various kinds : acids, salts, lime, sawdust, waste from tanneries, paper mills, acid and alcohol factories, dairy plants and others. Most of these wastes, whether organic or in organic, are detrimental to all the living organisms which normally occur in fresh practical and saves installing costly plants for the dis position of the sewage ; it was only when our cities hecame so numerous that a number of them sprang up into the streams. Troy, for example, discharges . its domestic sewage untreated into the Hudson, and Al bany, a few miles below, takes the water and dis-water, annually killing millions of fishes both large and small. Not only are the fishes killed, but also the ( Confirmed on page 100 ) 5 1. A stonefly. 2. A Mayfly. These insects, which constitute the food of trout and other fish, are very sensitive to contaminated water and are quickly killed by it. 3. Drop of water highly magnified to show the microscopic plants on which such creatures as stonefly and Mayfly in turn feed. 4. Brook trout, a game fish which must have clean water ; it cannot live in contaminated streams. 6. Baby trout, at a stage when it is very frail, and liable to he killed by a minute quantity of poisonous material Three stages of fresh-water life, each of which furnishes food for the higher form, and the last for man ; all are highly sensitive to contaminated waters
doi:10.1038/scientificamerican01291921-90 fatcat:urcvj4mx4ngkbkw2r47raftodq