Sunil Ghorawat
October 5, 2016

Water quality is getting worse. The sources of water which were clean and manageable few years back are now polluted with new and varied contaminants. That has made the water professional's job a lot tougher. Water pollution causes approximately 14,000 deaths per day, mostly due to contamination of drinking water by untreated sewage in developing countries. Over ten million people in India fell ill with waterborne diseases last year and 1,535 people were died, most of them were children.

Human sources of water degradation include household and industrial waste, agricultural chemicals, and livestock waste, which all end up in water bodies and cause pollution if untreated or not managed appropriately. As a result of insufficient action or plain inaction, today, approximately 1 in 8 or 650 million people live in areas where water quality risks are high due to elevated levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and 1/6th and 1/4th of the world's population lives in river basins where water quality risks are high due to excessive nitrogen and phosphorous loadings. Levels of agricultural and domestic BOD, nitrogen and phosphorous are elevated or very high in China and India, parts of eastern and northern Africa, and parts of Mexico and the United States.

Since the 1990s water contamination by pharmaceuticals has been a major environmental issue of concern. Most pharmaceuticals are deposited in the environment through human consumption and excretion, and are often filtered ineffectively by wastewater treatment plants which are not designed to manage them. Once in the water they can have diverse, subtle effects on organisms, although research is limited. More research is needed to determine the effects on humans of long-term exposure to low levels of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs).

While much of the loadings are contributed by agriculture, industries and households also produce large quantities of nitrogen and phosphorous, which can be recovered more easily from effluents and sewage than non-point sources and reused in agriculture, thus helping to close the nutrient cycle. New technologies continue to be developed and applied in most developed countries, but much more needs to be done in the low-income countries where most future loadings are projected to occur.

As surface and ground water sources get depleted and polluted, dependence on sea water and wastewater is bound to increase. Managing difficult water is going to determine the success of societies and industries. This will call for more investment into newer technologies and solutions. Without significant attention to this looming crisis, the future deterioration of water quality poses a major threat to aquatic environments and the people that depend on them.

Managing difficult water is going to become critical, as that may soon be the only kind of water available. Developing expertise in designing, constructing, operating and maintaining solutions in this area is the call of the day.

Sunil Ghorawat Sunil Ghorawat is Editor-in-Chief, EverythingAboutWater magazine

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