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Water is one of the most precious resources. And the more we try to get, the unfortunate trade rests in the quality of the water we’re getting in return. With water making up at least 80 percent of living matter, the more we develop our land and increase infrastructure, the bigger the human effect is on the water cycle.
When our population grows, the higher our living standards become. There are so many overlapping human actions that we do, unknowingly, that are both creating withdrawals and discharges to the environment around us. Some these include hydroelectricity, irrigation, deforestation, the greenhouse effect and vehicle and agricultural factors, all of which have consequences that interrupt the cycle.
The more we manipulate water and contaminate the little we have left, the more drastic our water shortages will be. Along with that, the increased use of toxic chemicals in the agriculture, automotive and manufacturing industries, as well as the runoff from chemical fertilisers and pesticides, is only continuing to pollute our surface water and contaminate our ground soil, making production growth impossible.
Here are a few of the biggest effects on the water cycle:
One of the most concerning human activities that affects the entire water cycle is urbanisation. This happens when the natural water cycle cannot function properly in urban areas due to buildings, concrete and other surfaces that are preventing the water from reaching the ground, allowing it to soak into the soil.
The ability to keep trees, plants and grass healthy also starts to decrease, as low soil moisture hinders the healthy growth of plants. This means that irrigation is needed, which, in turn, causes water wastage.
When humans remove natural vegetation and replace those areas with infrastructure, it speeds up overflow which leads to evaporation and higher river levels. The overflow water that we’re left with is stormwater, which cannot be consumed. Stormwater contains pollutants such as sediment, nutrients, bacteria and chemicals that can threaten human and animal health.
- Land cover changes
Land-cover changes are changes that are directly influenced by local, regional or global climate processes, whereas land-use changes are changes that are affected by humans.
Land-use changes can be anything from evolving economic and social to biophysical conditions, and land-cover changes are seen as the global wind patterns and topography, which both play a major role in the moisture recycling and distribution patterns. Although we cannot control these elements, we can control land-use factors (like irrigations, artificial dams and deforestation) which all increase evaporation patterns, affecting runoff water, the yearly streamflow and the vegetation from the land.
- Artificial reservoirs
As much as artificial reservoirs are great sources for water conservation, they have a negative effect on the water cycle. These artificial water sources, often referred to as man-made reservoirs, can be formed by building a dam across a valley, diverting river flow into the reservoir. Although they help to save water, they cause more environmental stress on land and have a big impact on time concentration of watersheds because of the evaporation caused. Because these water storage units are used for drinking water, stormwater lands in these reservoirs which causes the water to be contaminated. If you do drink this water, make sure that you purify it first to protect your health.
- Climate change
Much like many other environmental challenges, climate change is one of the most obvious effects on the entire water cycle. We already know that the cycle is driven by sunlight radiation and the global temperature distribution, which in turn affects the distribution of rainfall. The more humans influence the quality of the available water, the bigger the effect is on global patterns of streamflow, meaning that changes in sea level, ocean salinity and in biophysical properties will result in rapid climate change.
Infrastructure and building will cause conventional methods of land development to collect and convey stormwater quickly into a series of drains and pipes that will flow directly into the closest waterbody or man-made artificial reservoir, with little or no water quality treatment.
This is the process that is referred to when clearing all or removing specific trees from forest land. ‘Deforestation’ happens when builders turn this land into non-forest use.
When we remove trees from forests that have been growing for years, it reduces evapotranspiration, which is the sum of evaporation and plant transpiration from land and ocean surface to the atmosphere, leading to a possible reduction in precipitation. This then leads to an increase in water eutrophication, which then cannot be consumed by humans.
- Cloud seeding
Cloud seeding is a weather modification, where you change the amount or type of precipitation that falls from clouds through the usage of harmful substances. During this process, the substances that fall from the clouds are dispersed into the air, causing cloud condensation which further affects climate conditions.