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Things You Need to Know About Sediment Pollution in Drinking Water

July 9, 2021

The most concentrated sediment releases come from construction activities, including relatively minor home-building projects such as room additions and swimming pools. Sediment pollution causes $16 billion in environmental damage annually. Sediment entering stormwater degrades the quality of water for drinking, wildlife and the land surrounding streams in the following ways:

Sediment fills up storm drains and catch basins to carry water away from roads and homes, which increases the potential for flooding. Water polluted with sediment becomes cloudy, preventing animals from seeing food. Murky water prevents natural vegetation from growing in water.

Sediment in stream beds disrupts the natural food chain by destroying the habitat where the smallest  stream organisms live and causing massive declines in fish populations. Sediment increases the cost of treating drinking water and can result in odour and taste problems. Sediment can clog fish gills, reducing resistance to disease, lowering growth rates, and affecting fish egg and larvae development.

Nutrients transported by sediment can activate blue-green algae that release toxins and can make swimmers sick. Sediment deposits in rivers can alter the flow of water and reduce water depth, which makes navigation and recreational use more difficult. Sediment deposits in rivers can alter the flow of water and reduce water depth, which makes navigation and recreational use more difficult.

Sediment, as a physical pollutant, impacts receiving waters in the following principal ways: High levels of turbidity limit penetration of sunlight into the water column, thereby limiting or prohibiting growth of algae and rooted aquatic plants. In spawning rivers, gravel beds are blanketed with fine sediment which inhibits or prevents spawning of fish. In either case, the consequence is disruption of the aquatic ecosystem by destruction of habitat.

Notwithstanding these undesirable effects, the hypertrophic (nutrient rich) status of many shallow lakes, especially in developing countries, would give rise to immense growth of algae and rooted plants were it not for the limiting effect of light extinction due to high turbidity. In this sense, high turbidity can be "beneficial" in highly entropic lakes; nevertheless, many countries recognise that this situation is undesirable for both aesthetic and economic reasons and are seeking means to reduce both turbidity and nutrient levels.

High levels of sedimentation in rivers leads to physical disruption of the hydraulic characteristics of the channel. This can have serious impacts on navigation through reduction in depth of the channel, and can lead to increased flooding because of reductions in capacity of the river channel to efficiently route water through the drainage basin.

Sediment pollution has resulted in serious disruption of river transportation, and clogs hydraulic facilities that have been built to provide irrigation water from the main river channel. The sediment largely originates from rapidly eroding sub-basins due to poor agricultural practices.


Mid-America Regional Council. (n.d.). What is Sediment Pollution? Retrieved June 21, 2021, from Mid-America Regional Council: https://cfpub.epa.gov/npstbx/files/ksmo_sediment.pdf

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