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The Rehabilitation of Contaminated Water Sources

Most people are aware of highly-publicized sources of water contamination such as oil spills or industrial waste leakage and the monumental efforts required to clean up such disasters. Many of these same people are probably unaware of a much more common type of contamination potentially effecting their daily drinking water.

Drinking water comes from several sources including rivers, lakes and wells. These water sources are at risk of contamination from runoff carrying anything from phosphates used as fertilizer, chemicals necessary in the development of new neighborhoods and roadways, ash from forest fires, silt from floods, and even the waste from animals or humans. Innovative new ways are constantly being developed to minimize the risk of runoff contamination and keep drinking water safe.

One method developed by the USDA Forest Service uses wood and wood pulp fiber to filter water naturally. These fiber filters remove many types of natural and chemical contaminants using a clean, recyclable, biodegradable and renewable resource. In addition to the contaminant sources already mentioned, the wood fiber filters also trap acidic heavy metals from acid mine discharge. This is very promising for the sustainability of clean drinking water sources in mining areas.

In many parts of the country, there are forests that need to be cleared through cutting or removal of deadfall. Since almost any tree can be used to make the fiber filters, in most cases local materials are utilized to create cleaner water. Research has shown that juniper trees are among the best as filters, but they often have little value in other markets. Now the trees are serving as a resource for a new industry, making it profitable to remove them for the purpose of shoring up healthy water sources.

A related process was developed at a paper mill in Oregon, the difference being that the fibers at the mill are made from composted tree bark. The composted bark is especially adept at trapping copper and zinc, two of the chemicals used to make paper. Those chemicals are particularly toxic to salmon. After treatment through the composted bark, the water is clean enough to flow straight into the Willamette River, where many salmon live and spawn.

Clean drinking water is not just important, it is vital. With water treatment specialists working to find ways to clean contaminated waters using organic, sustainable methods, this precious resource can be preserved.

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