Each year on March 22nd, global communities come together to celebrate World Water Day.
The focus or theme of each year's World Water Day may change, but the general message remains the same: the world's water actually matters, and there is more to be done to preserve it.
This year's World Water Day emphasizes the need to reduce water waste, especially as it concerns clean drinking water, the availability of such water, and the ongoing crisis revolving around the lack of it. But when it comes to water, the health of our world's waterways matters for more than just people; it is also crucial for the survival of other species and ecosystems.
According to UN Water, the vast majority of wastewater - over 80%, to be exact - from residential, commercial, and other uses flows back into our waterways and wilderness areas without being treated. Much of this water is later pumped into major waterways - such as oceans, rivers, and lakes - and without proper treatment, pollutes the valuable ecosystems and environments of many species. Given that all life is dependent on water, the health of our world's waterways greatly impacts how and where various species live and has been seen to also impact their evolution. With climate change causing significant shifts in the health of such water, and water's close relationship to and with wildlife, having healthy waterways is of grave concern to those who recognize the important roles wild species play.
Headwater streams, for example, which comprise approximately 60% of America's stream miles, are especially vulnerable to climate change; small adjustments in rainfall and temperature can alter the vitals of these streams and may, in turn, negatively impact the species who rely on them for survival. In their 2015 report, "Wildlife in Hot Water: America's Waterways and Climate Change," The National Wildlife Federation found, for instance, that changes in these headwater streams can affect the flow of water which in turn impacts various fish species' ability to orient themselves during migration. That same report notes both the flooding and drying up of waterways as risks to wild species, due to climate change.
When it comes to ocean coastline, the bitter news is no different. America has more than 88,000 miles of tidally-influenced ocean coastline, and these many miles of coast act as transition zones between freshwater and saltwater; though these coastal ecosystems comprise less than 10% of America's land area, nonetheless, they contain 25% of the nation's wetlands, 40% of all federally-listed endangered species, and at least 30% of North American waterfowl.
Much like rainforests and coral reefs, wetlands are some of the most productive ecosystems in the world, and the health of the water in these environments greatly determines the species of flora and fauna which both live and thrive in them. As the EPA puts it, "The combination of shallow water, high levels of nutrients and primary productivity [in wetlands] is ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and feed many species." According to the EPA's 2012 findings concerning America's lakes, approximately one in three lakes are polluted, with 39% of the nation's lakes damaged by algal toxins.
While we all live in a watershed, few of us are aware of their importance and the role they play in the health of the world's waterways. The Nature Conservancy estimated that, of the 70% of water which makes up the Earth's surface, 40%-50% of that water is polluted. Nature In Deed maintains that shorelines and wetlands are crucial to the survival of wildlife and its habitat, not only because many species live in these waterways, but many also rely on them for sustenance and shelter. WWF Canada purports that the healthy flow of rivers in Canada is also critical for wildlife survival, as many species rely on these rivers for food, hydration, shelter, and habitat.
As waterways become consistently more polluted due to the misuse of water by humans, we see an increase in the risks and harm posed to wild species which rely on these waterways for their very survival. If all life depends on water, it makes sense that the ways in which we both use and abuse this natural resource will have a trickle-down effect on other species, ones which exist in our own "backyard." Though the focus of 2017's World Water Day is the reduction of water waste, it is crucial to keep in mind how that waste, and the health of the Earth's waterways in general, have impacted and will continue to impact our fellow species.