The term eutrophication is described simply as the process in which a body of water receives nutrients (particularly phosphorus and nitrogen) as well as sediment from the area watershed. This process can happen naturally or with the aid of human intervention. When the process happens naturally, it occurs over the course of centuries. However, when aided by human intervention, it can happen much more rapidly. When eutrophication is further advanced by human involvement, the term is referred to as cultural eutrophication.
Cultural eutrophication occurs when human interference causes phosphorus and nitrogen to leach into groundwater. The groundwater then makes its way to surrounding bodies of water. This causes the negative effects of eutrophication to occur more rapidly. This can result in hypoxic (low levels of oxygen) bodies of water. A hypoxic body of water can lead to the growth of phytoplankton, algae, and dead zones.
What Causes Cultural Eutrophication?
Humans are very destructive to the environment and participate in activities that contribute to cultural eutrophication on a regular basis. One of the primary causes of cultural eutrophication are modern agricultural activities. The fertilizers and pesticides used in farming today often end up within bodies of water like rivers and lakes due to run off and then leaching into the ground water. This is causing the addition of nitrogen and phosphorus in area bodies of waters.
As the demand for farming increases, it’s expected that the continued and unmonitored use of chemical fertilizers will further worsen the conflict of cultural eutrophication. Livestock waste contains large amounts of phosphates and nitrites. When these compounds are soaked into the ground they can get washed into area bodies of water. Bodies of water near large livestock breeding farms may find themselves experiencing cultural eutrophication.
Another cause of cultural eutrophication is sewage water released from urban areas into bodies of water. The levels of nitrite and phosphates in these deposits are remarkably high. Laundry detergent contains significant amounts of phosphates and the rinse water is released as sewage into the area bodies of water. These can lead to the clogging of waterways as well as growth of toxic algae.
Pollution from industrial sources is another huge contributor to cultural eutrophication. Large amounts of phosphorus is deposited in the surrounding lakes as a result of industrial pollution. This can contribute to the growth of algae, the water’s hypoxia as well as odorous water.
Why is Cultural Eutrophication Bad for the Environment?
Cultural eutrophication can cause a host of negative consequences for the environment. If the sediment within a body of water rises to a certain level it can become so shallow that the species and their habitats living within it can no longer survive. The growth of phytoplankton and algae can result in the complete death of the body of water.
Overgrowth of algae can cause odorous water, and poor water quality. It can limit the penetration of sunlight which can lead to the death of the plants and other species living within the water. Eventually the body of water can turn into a dead zone, which means that the water lacks sufficient oxygen to sustain any living organisms. Unfortunately cultural eutrophication is being seen in major bodies of water all across the US and even across the globe.
How Can Cultural Eutrophication be Stopped?
We recognize the causes of cultural eutrophication; the addition of phosphorous and nitrites into area bodies of water. Therefore, to stop the prevalence of cultural eutrophication, we must reduce the addition of these elements to bodies of water. This means that we must better manage the situations that are allowing these elements into the water in the first place; agricultural fertilization, poor management of sewage and septic, livestock farms and industrial pollution. All of these situations are contributing to the buildup of phosphates and nitrites and the development of cultural eutrophication. If these situations are not better controlled and managed, we will continue to see the evidence of cultural eutrophication. The further demise of rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water will continue as will the death of the ecosystems within them. We must continue to keep in mind the importance of fresh water to the human population; for drinking, cooking, bathing, etc. If we continue to destroy fresh bodies of water we may find ourselves in a scary situation with very few fresh water resources.