The quality of freshwater at any point on the landscape reflects the combined effects of many processes along water pathways. Human activities on all spatial scales affect both water quality and quantity. Alteration of the landscape and associated vegetation has not only changed the water balance, but typically has altered processes that control water quality. Effects of human activities on a small scale are relevant to an entire drainage basin. Furthermore, local, regional, and global differences in climate and water flow are considerable, causing varying effects of human activities on land and water quality and quantity, depending on location within a watershed, geology, biology, physiographic characteristics, and climate. These natural characteristics also greatly control human activities, which will, in turn, modify (or affect) the natural composition of water. One of the most important issues for effective resource management is recognition of cyclical and cascading effects of human activities on the water quality and quantity along hydrologic pathways. The degradation of water quality in one part of a watershed can have negative effects on users downstream. Everyone lives downstream of the effects of some human activity. An extremely important factor is that substances added to the atmosphere, land, and water generally have relatively long time scales for removal or clean up. The nature of the substance, including its affinity for adhering to soil and its ability to be transformed, affects the mobility and the time scale for removal of the substance. Policy alone will not solve many of the degradation issues, but a combination of policy, education, scientific knowledge, planning, and enforcement of applicable laws can provide mechanisms for slowing the rate of degradation and provide human and environmental protection. Such an integrated approach is needed to effectively manage land and water resources.
Additional publication details
Water quality degradation effects on freshwater availability: Impacts to human activities