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Water and the Effects on Living Things

North Saskatchewan RiverAs humans, we often forget that we are sharing this natural resource with many other organisms.  Many of our activities can change the quality of the water in a way that affects the health and behaviour of other organisms.  The addition of pollutants to a river or lake tends to reduce the amount of oxygen available to organisms in the water.  There are at least two reasons why this occurs.  Effluents containing organic waste are broken down by bacteria which require the use of oxygen.  Secondly, some of the compounds within the waste may change chemically if oxygen is present in the water.  As this process, known as oxidation, occurs the dissolved oxygen concentration in the water decreases.

One way of determining water quality is to sample the types of organisms that are living in a specific area.  As water quality changes, the types of organisms that live there will also change.  Organisms that can tolerate lower quality water will be more evident as the intolerant organisms die off or move away.

Reprinted from Focus On Water Quality  (1993) with permission of Alberta Environment.

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