Water Infrastructure and Damage Prevention: A Global Perspective
NATURAL AND MANMADE bodies of water play a premier role in the equitable balance of human/animal/plant earthly life. Global warming has contributed to glacier melt, flooding and erosion thereby raising sea levels. Earth’s water bodies are being polluted with discarded plastic material, chemical and sewer wastewater, and inappropriate agricultural land-use management.
Damage to natural wetlands leads to uncontrolled runoff coupled with siltation. Humans, ever striving for their comfort and well-being, practice poor garbage disposal, create dumpsites with toxic and/or radioactive materials resulting in carcinogenic formation of leachate, and non-bio degradable plastics. This plastic material is estimated to have a life span of 50-400 years. And the crown jewel of this planetary poisoning is the floating island of trash in the South Pacific Ocean. The Gulf of Mexico has not escaped its share of harm, suffering from illicit mining activities with its discharge of poisonous chemicals and the 2011 oil spill that deeply threatens aquatic life in that body of water.
The unabated use of fossil fuels and the thermal power plants with uncontrolled emissions continue to increase atmospheric temperature contributing to global warming. The catastrophic potential of nuclear plants used for electrical power generation have already had devastating effects (such as Ukraine’s Chernobyl in 1986 and Japan’s Fukushima in 2011) on oceanic water bodies. These events raised radiation levels in a surrounding 300-kilometer radius and created an ecological desert with a water infrastructure permanently damaged. On the same note, underground transportation of materials by plastic or copper pipes such as slurry, water (hot or cold), sewer, gas and liquid petroleum seabed (marine pipes) have decongested the ground surface. The leakage of poisonous materials is common despite safeguarding mechanisms during repair. Torrential downpour to sub-terrain of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds such as benzene causes dissolution and equilibrium due to percolation to the aquifers, a big threat to life depending on open source. Periodic maintenance is vital to minimize damage.
The run-off of cyanide from the gold separation process and the frivolous pursuit of elephant tusks (ivory) through poisoning of water ponds in the Zimbabwe Hwange National Park have caused death to at least 185 elephants and other carnivorous animals, right down to the small vultures. Suffocation is affecting the entire ecosystem.
And last, but not least, is the impact of excavation and creation of impermeable surfaces due to population growth and urbanization, which have an important bearing on the water infrastructure in both manmade and natural water bodies.
The surface and underground water infrastructure could be protected by various methods:
• CONTROLLED SOIL EROSION. This is best practiced by the preservation of wetlands, stream bank cultivation or construction, protection of natural forests, and appropriate agricultural practices.
• DIMINISHED POLLUTION. The desire for energy and movement of goods is the daily life of human beings. Humans need to raise their individual and collective consciousness and be responsible for emission control; plastic and industrial waste discharge into the oceans must be controlled at its source. More advocacy needs to be undertaken to reduce the amount of plastic discharge while promoting its reuse and to recycle non-biodegradable material. The use of renewable energy for electrical generation has to become the “go-to” choice for production of food and energy in order to have a positive long-term effect on human life. Currently, nuclear power plants provide 33% of electrical energy, but the cost and potential negative consequences are huge at the moment of decommissioning them or in cases of disaster. The daily monitoring of the permanent threat of oil-spill incidents is paramount. High priority for cleaning the oceans after spills is of the utmost urgency. The commercial use of plastics should be replaced with degradable, chemical-free materials. Poisonous chemicals need to be more strictly monitored at the distribution point to prevent the loss of life.
These propositions and recommendations can have an impact if worldwide environmental agencies could concur and embed them into our cultures. Cleaning the oceans will create a healthier and cleaner environment.
Munyaradzi Tichaona is a Civil and Environmental Engineer of Rosewood Contracting International LLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.