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Water Quality

 

A River's Water: More than H20!

Eastern elliptios, Elliptio complanata.
Eastern elliptios, Elliptio complanata.

Healthy water is often thought to be crystal clear, and purely H20.

Actually, natural bodies of water naturally contain fertilizers, dissolved salts, and metals, which are chemical components, as well as bacteria, which are biological.

Microscopic algae, Pediastrum boryanum.
Microscopic algae, Pediastrum boryanum.

Each of these components plays an important part in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Pure water, without these ingredients, cannot sustain aquatic life.

Regrettably, urban development and intensive agricultural practices increase the quantities of fertilizers, metals and dissolved salts in waterways and lakes. The increase upsets the natural chemical balance that is necessary for the health and diversity of animals and plants.

Urban development and agricultural practices change the mix of species of bacteria from beneficial to harmful species.

The following table compares the water of the Rideau River with pure water and with an ideal of healthy water.


Component Pure Water Water in a Healthy Water Body Water in the Rideau River
Dissolved Salts None. Naturally present, abundant. Naturally present in abundance.
Fertilizers (Nitrogen and Phosphorus) None. Naturally present, moderately abundant. Moderately abundant to levels slightly higher than recommended maximum* because of nearby agriculture and urbanization.
Metals None. Naturally present, trace quantities. Naturally present in very small quantities.
Pesticides None. Should not be present in healthy water. The level of pesticides in sediment is lower than detectable limits and recommended maximum.**
Bacteria None. Naturally present, moderate quantity. Nearby agriculture and urban development are the sources of the faecal coliforms found in small or moderate quantities in most of the River and in larger quantity near Ottawa.
Aquatic Life None. Abundant. Abundant.

 

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A fish.
Green, Brown or Red Water
It is a mistake to think that brown or green water is polluted. In fact, the different colours reflect the composition of the bottom substrate, the amount of algae growing in the water, and even the types of trees growing along the shoreline. Very little animal life is present in clear, relatively colourless water because it contains little algae, which is the primary aquatic food resource.


* Canadian Water Quality Guidelines for Freshwater Aquatic Life [11]

** Canadian Sediment Quality Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Life [12]

 

A Project of the Canadian Museum of Nature
 Images: Kathy Conlan, Linda Ley, André Martel