US rivers and streams are compromised by increasing salt loads

ScienceDaily | 1/8/2018 | Staff
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Using five decades of streamwater data from 232 U.S. Geological Survey monitoring sites, researchers found 37 percent of the drainage area of the contiguous US experienced a significant increase in salinity, with a concurrent increase in alkalization of 90 percent.

Salt ions, damaging in their own right, are driving up the pH of freshwater, making it more alkaline. Both of these variables shape water quality and can influence the stability of pipes and other water delivery infrastructure. For example, when Flint, Michigan switched its primary water source to the Flint River in 2014, the river's high salt load caused lead to leach from water pipes, creating that city's well-documented water crisis.

Gene - E - Likens - President - Emeritus

Co-author Gene E. Likens, president emeritus of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and a Distinguished Research Professor at the University of Connecticut, Storrs explains, "Long-term monitoring is vital to understanding the pressures facing our nation's freshwaters from increased salt loading, and for guiding strategies that protect drinking water. Road salt, irrigation runoff, and sewage are obvious culprits. But so is acid rain, which can release alkaline salts that compromise the chemical integrity of freshwaters."

Sharp chemical changes were documented in many of the country's major waterways, including the Hudson, Potomac, Neuse, Mississippi, and Chattahoochee Rivers. Many of these rivers supply drinking water for nearby cities and towns, including some of the most densely populated urban centers along the Eastern Seaboard.

Author - Sujay - Kaushal - University - Maryland

Lead author Sujay Kaushal from the University of Maryland, notes, "We created the name 'Freshwater Salinization Syndrome' because we realized it's a suite of effects on water quality, with many different salt ions linked together. We didn't know that before."

Sources of increased salt in waterways vary regionally. In the Northeast, sodium chloride used to maintain roads in winter is a primary culprit. In the Midwest, fertilizers -- particularly those with high potassium...
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