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February 27, 2014

How do Artificial Waterways Affect Watershed Pollution?

When we think about fighting watershed pollution, we often think about the efforts we must take to protect the waterways that occur naturally in our communities. From small creeks to roaring rivers, these habitats have often been developing for thousands of years without any human intervention. They have shaped the conditions of the environments we inhabit today, and protecting them is of utmost importance to preserving the environment for future generations of all species.

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Photo by Chris Anderson.

However, natural waterways aren’t the only components of your community’s watersheds. As long as people have been farming, building, manufacturing, and protecting themselves from floods, they have been engineering artificial waterways. Ditches, storm drains, holding ponds, and dam spillways all affect the flow of water–as well as less savory substances–into our natural streams and rivers. Artificial waterways are sometimes necessary to protect the health of a watershed; at the same time, however, they also pose environmental challenges that need to be addressed.

Waterway

Photo by Joshua Whiting.

The infrastructure involved with artificial waterways includes bridges, culverts, concrete-lined ditches, earthen berms, and other means of conducting and draining water. Although this infrastructure is usually engineered to minimize its environmental impact, there are occasions when human-made waterways or other development cause excess erosion. Take, for example, the Kauwela streambed in Hawaii, where nearby roads have contributed to a flood that washed away much of the nearby topsoil. Correcting this problem will require the construction of a catchment to slow the flow of the creek, reduce erosion, and correct the damage done by artificial infrastructure.

Even if the infrastructure involved with artificial waterways is properly engineered from the beginning, this infrastructure can contribute to unique pollution challenges. Narrow points and obstacles can act as collection points for refuse, leading not only to poor water quality but also to a higher risk of disastrous infrastructure failure. Although local governments are tasked with keeping their artificial waterways clean, they often have trouble securing funds to improve existing structures. Keeping artificial waterway infrastructure clean is a task that frequently must be crowdfunded by community members.

Waterway

Photo by Gregory Warran.

Your watershed is made up of all the streams, both natural and artificial, that flow into its main drainage. Artificial waterways can be used to protect your watershed from the pollution that comes with erosion and flooding caused by development. However, once they are constructed, these waterways must be kept clean in order to reduce pollution and increase the lifespan of their infrastructure. By crowd funding the construction of new waterways and the maintenance of existing ones, your community can help make sure that human development has a positive impact on your watershed.

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Posted by Mark Contorno.

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