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Water Quality

PondWater is a very important and necessary natural resource that all living things require.  The fluids and food we consume provides us with the three litres of water our bodies require each day.  Besides drinking water, each Albertan uses an average of 300 litres, everyday.  This water is used for bathing, washing dishes and clothes, toilet flushing and lawn watering.  Even more water is used per person if we include all the water required to manufacture the many products we purchase.

In Canada, we have vast water supplies that were once the lifeline of early Canadians.  Much of our history is based on the ways in which we used this natural resource.  Today, these same lakes and rivers are being used in many other ways.  Some of these activities have stressed the natural cleansing abilities of these ecosystems to the point where there have been dramatic changes in the quality of water.  The Great Lakes for example, have lost several different types of fish, the result of the 360 different chemicals which have been identified in these waters.  Even so, our water systems have a remarkable ability to recover and through positive action by Government, industry and individual citizens, a concerted effort can reverse much of the environmental damage.

For most Canadians access to good quality drinking water is not a problem and is often taken for granted.  This is not the case in many other parts of the world.  Each day, 30 000 deaths are attributed to contaminated water supplies.  Many of these deaths are children under the age of five.  This poor water quality is often the result of inadequate sanitation where drinking water supplies are not separate from other human activities.

High quality drinking water has dissolved gases and minerals that add to the flavour of the water as well as providing us with some of the important minerals that we need to survive.  A fish living in an Alberta lake would not enjoy living in pure water, or even tap water.  To a fish, high quality water would be defined differently.  Fish require water with tiny organisms floating in it, a bit of algae, and other characteristics that make the water an important part of a healthy ecosystem.  Yet, you probably would not want to drink it!  Water quality really is a matter of perspective.  

Water quality features can be placed into one of three categories: physical, biological, or chemical.  When scientists describe a sample of water, they take into account all three of these characteristics.

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

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