Water is an essential resource for humans to survive. However, too often, human activities threaten the quality of our water sources and degrade those ecosystems. Some of the more serious problems facing water sources include sedimentation and pollution. Sediment runoff can include toxic chemicals and dissolved contaminants. Increased runoff also causes erosion which damages aquatic habitats and even accelerates the rate of sediment runoff into streams and rivers. In 2003, the Natural Resources Defense Council did a study on 19 different cities in the United States and found that the drinking water was polluted (to see the list of pollutants found click here). Quoted from this study, “cities that rely on river water sources can be vulnerable to pollution from farms, industrial sites, sewer overflows, urban runoff, and spills”. During rain storms, the ground can become saturated and turn excess rainfall into runoff. In urban cities, such as Tulsa, this runoff is worsened by the large amounts of water resistant surfaces. In 2003, the Center for Watershed Protection reported that areas with more than 25% of urban surfaces (roofing, roads, parking lots, sidewalks, etc.) have severe degradation to their water sources. While all of these reports sound pretty intimidating and make you want to convert to bottled water, there is actually an easier fix to this than you may realize: plant trees!
Research from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2007 showed that trees at full leaf can intercept up to 36% of rainfall that hits their canopy. 100 mature trees can intercept 100,000 gallons of rainfall per year with their canopy, thus reducing runoff and providing a cleaner water source. A tree’s roots store water in the soil which also prevents groundwater runoff into streams. Not only does this prevent pollution and sedimentation, these benefits also prevent flooding. On top of all of these benefits some tree species are also able to break down pollutants commonly found in groundwater and runoff. Trees also increase the amount of organic matter in the soil, which binds many pollutants. The value of trees intercepting such pollutants and sediment runoff is equivalent to saving billions of dollars needed for storm water control and water treatment facilities.
To make it all a bit more personal, in 2012, Watershed assessed Oklahoma’s water quality. They assessed about 16% of Oklahoma’s rivers and streams, and about 57% of Oklahoma’s lakes, reservoirs, and ponds. Their results showed that about 80% of the rivers and streams assessed were impaired and about 84% of the lakes, reservoirs, and ponds assessed were impaired (for more details on this report click here). Help us plant more trees in Tulsa and improve Oklahoma’s Water Quality!