Dealing With Pollution in Water Runoff Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

clarion call for the people and leaders of El Paso to better focus (or at least start focusing) on the subject of soil erosion, water runoff and sedimentary issues relating the land and material around the roads and bridges of our town. While some may treat this subject as relatively or completely unimportant, this could not be further from the truth. As shown by what can happen with things like flash floods, landslides and so forth, the proper management of waste and rain water runoff is very important and should be handled in an evidence-based way rather than a cobbling together of a budget line item here and there. While a lot of the calls for more infrastructure funding and better infrastructure management are over the top, this is not one of those messages and not one of those subjects that should be easily dismissed or set aside.


The potentially nasty (if not deadly) effects of improper water runoff management can manifest in a number of ways and this has been seen both in the United States and around the rest of the world. For example, there are the heavy dust particles found in stream networks in areas near roads and bridges. Such was found to be alarmingly present and highly concerning in the case of the area around the Yangtze River Delta in China. A study on the subject explained that street dust particles consisted of what are known as "sinking" particles from vehicle exhaust, windblown urban soil, house dusts and industrial discharges. Due to the fact that streets are generally impervious and not as porous and such as other lands (e.g. embankments), there will tend to be elevated levels of toxic materials such as metallic substances and so forth. Street dust is commonly and pervasively transported into the receiving waters during rainfall events and it affects the water quality of the streams, rivers and lakes into which the water seeps and flows. This can be no small matter when the roads and bridges in question are in or around a river delta like the Yangtze one mentioned above. Other factors aggravate the situation including the amount of rain, the amount of sunlight, how the different parts of the streams and so forth flow, the particles in the air that can be dragged into the earth by the rain and so forth (Zhao, Wang, Chen & Yin, 2009).

Another concern that El Paso government and concerned citizens should take into account are pH levels. Indeed, pH levels in waters and soils are a concern as is the prevailing temperature, the flow rate, the amount of dissolved oxygen and so forth. All of this has an effect on the composition and effects that lead to (or aggravate) soil erosion, water runoff issues and so on. Urban areas in particular are an interesting test case because the network of tunnels and pathways that runoff water takes in those areas is usually less than conventional. These unique network compositions can lead to problems. Just as a few examples, wastewater often ends up getting mixed up with regular runoff water, combined sewer overflows are consistent sources of intermittent pollution in urban areas, solid particles in the water can lead to deposits building up and flushing of accumulated sewer sediment is one of the major sources of pollutants in urban wet-weather flow discharges. One particularly nasty substance that can arise out of this entire situation is phosphorous. It is mainly present in sewage (or sewage-laded waters) as a substance called orthophosphate. Given that the substance is an essential nutrient element, phosphorous can be utilized by microorganisms present in the water and/or the soil. While that may not sound like a bad thing, the release of phosphorous into the sediment in sewer serves as a threat to the overall water environment because of the eutrophication of water bodies. Eutrophication is the process by which a body of water becomes laden with dissolved nutrients (like phosphates) and this leads to a depletion a dissolved oxygen, a problem that was mentioned by this same source (Haiyan, Liang, Mingyi & Xiaoran, 2013).

The next subject and study up for review is a bit of an echo of the China Yangtze Delta point made earlier. This source specifically focuses on the problem of catch-basins getting laden with deposits of unsavory substances. However, there are some fresh details and background to the problem. Pollutants end up in the street from things like road wear material (e.g. rubber), slipperiness control materials (e.g. salt), vehicle fluids in general (e.g. leaking oil), buildings and industries in the area. For example, if there is a coal mine an area, it will end up in the air to some degree, it will rain and it will end up on the roads. Regardless of what ends up on the roads, the rain, floods and other water running along the pavement will wash the materials off of the roads and into the soil, streams and other surrounding earthen or water-based areas that are nearby (Karlsson & Viklander, 2008).

The next thing that El Paso residents should look at when it comes to runoff and sediment issues is what is put on roads in terms of substances and materials to help the roads and keep us safe. While it does not necessarily apply to El Paso all that much given how far south it is (thus, not a lot of snow and ice), the point should still be made because the substance in question here is not the only one that could be spoken of. With that said, The last section made mention of salt and how putting that substance on roads (to fight ice and snow, of course) leads to issues. While salt is harmless in small doses to humans, it can certainly hurt humans if too much sodium (another name for salt) is ingested in too short a period or in too high of amount over time. The same is true when it comes to the environment. A study on that subject notes that salt has been used to fight road ice and snow for a half a century. It is used to the tune of about twenty million tons a year nationwide in the United States. However, that salt all has to go somewhere and it often ends up in lakes and streams, thus making them saltier and more sodium-based than they normally would or "should" be. One possible effect of this happening on too grand a scale is that a saline water layer can cause a lake to become permanently density stratified. What this means is that that the normal mixing between the bottom layer of a lake and the upper layer never happens and this is the opposite of what should be happening (Novotny & Stefan, 2012). To use an example that is much more applicable to the El Paso area, there is the subject of what happens vis-a-vis sediment and erosion issues when it comes to the lumber industry and what happens when too many trees are taken away and/or they are taken away from the wrong places. Some legal jurisdictions have gone so far as to require landowners to engage in erosion repair or prevention activities if they engage in certain construction or other activity on their land (Surfleet, Skaugset & Meadows, 2011).

The last source that will be used for this persuasive effort actually relates directly to the subject at hand and it also relates to the state of Texas. Specifically, there has been a recent (2008) documentation of storm-water quality and its impacts on vegetated roadsides in the state of Texas. A vegetated roadside would include areas like grassy swales, grassy shoulders, vegetated buffer strips and so forth. The form and function for these strips and mounds of earth include drainage, slope stability, safety and for emergency purposes so that the proper vehicles can still get access even if the road is obstructed. The general use of vegetated roadsides is more commonly being accepted as a means to deal with storm-water runoff. To be precise, it is coming to be known as a best management practice, or BMP for short. The art and science of predicting water runoff and so forth is not exact because many of the factors involved are exceedingly complex to model or predict. For example, predicting what will happen tomorrow in terms of traffic volume and weather, let alone what would happen twenty years from now, is no small task. However, both simulated and natural (actual) rainfalls can and have been used to see what happens in terms of runoff but truly replicating what can happen in a real flash flood is probably something that no one has the resources and time to do. Regardless, it is still accepted and now widely practiced that predicted traffic, rainfall and how the water can and should flow should be the basis for whether vegetated areas are installed, why they are installed, how they are…

Sources Used in Document:


Haiyan, L., Liang, L., Mingyi, L., & Xiaoran, Z. (2013). Effects of pH, Temperature,

Dissolved Oxygen, and Flow Rate on Phosphorus Release Processes at the Sediment and Water Interface in Storm Sewer. Journal of Analytical Methods In

Chemistry, 1-7. doi:10.1155/2013/104316

Karlsson, K., & Viklander, M. (2008). Trace Metal Composition in Water and Sediment

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