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Water Quality. Water quality problems in developing countries. Evidence from the WHO: In 2003, an estimated 1.6 million deaths worldwide were caused by unsafe drinking water and sanitation 90% of these deaths were among children under age five

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Water quality problems in developing countries

  • Evidence from the WHO:

    • In 2003, an estimated 1.6 million deaths worldwide were caused by unsafe drinking water and sanitation

    • 90% of these deaths were among children under age five

    • 1.1 billion people don’t have access to improved water sources

    • 2.4 billion people don’t have access to improved sanitation

      Source: www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/wsh0404/en/


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Water quality problems in developing countries

  • Biggest water quality problem in developing countries is the threat of infectious diarrhea caused by water-borne diseases.

  • If there was a 50% reduction in the number of people lacking access to in-house piped water and sewer connections with partial treatment of waste waters, the number of illnesses would be reduced by an average of 69% in affected regions.

  • http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/hygiene/envsan/lookingback/en/


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Water quality problems in the U.S.

The Cuyahoga River Fire in 1969

  • Floating debris and oil caught fire on the surface of the Cuyahoga River near downtown Cleveland in 1969.

  • The Cuyahoga River had also ignited a couple of times in earlier years.

  • The Cuyahoga River fire brought water-quality problems to the attention of the public and Congress.

    Photos: http://www.cwru.edu/artsci/engl/marling/60s/pages/richoux/Photographs.html


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Water quality problems in the U.S.

Cryptosporidium contamination in Milwaukee in 1993

  • Cryptosporidium is a protozoan parasite that’s usually present at low levels in water supplies.

  • An outbreak of cryptosporidium contamination in 1993 in Milwaukee caused diarrhea, fever, and other symptoms for over 400,000 residents and killed more than 100.

  • The contamination was traced to a water treatment plant that had inadequately filtered water from Lake Michigan.

  • It is believed that the original source of the contamination was storm runoff from nearby farms.


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Water quality problems in the U.S.

Narrowing the focus:

  • Surface water pollution

  • Groundwater pollution

    Types of surface water pollution:

  • Pollution from point sources

  • Nonpoint-source pollution

    Regulation depends on designated uses of surface water:

  • Drinking water supply

  • Recreational uses (such as swimming)

  • Aquatic life support

  • Fish consumption

  • etc.


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Examples of Water Contaminants

  • Contaminants affecting human health:

    • Organic compounds (such as pesticides and gasoline)

    • Heavy metals (such as mercury and lead)

    • Pathogens (such as cryptosporidium)

  • Contaminants affecting aquatic life:

    • Plant nutrients, including nitrate and phosphorus compounds

    • Organic wastes, which lead to depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water


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Federal Water Quality Legislation

  • Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972

  • Clean Water Act of 1977

  • Water Quality Act of 1987

  • “The Year of Clean Water”: 2002-3


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Water Quality Control: An Overview

  • Control of point-source pollution

    • Federal government sets water-quality standards

    • States create pollution-control programs to meet the standards

    • Programs usually require polluters to install certain pollution-control technologies

  • Subsidies for construction of Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs)

  • Control of non-point source pollution


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Water Quality Control: An Overview

The effect that a particular effluent has on water quality depends on a number of factors such as:

  • biochemical oxygen demand in the effluent

  • time of year and water temperature

  • location of waste sources

  • turbulence of water flow

  • volume of water flow

    A perfect water pollution control policy would have to take all these factors into account. Since this is impractical, actual policies involve compromises.



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Water Treatment Facilities

  • Since 1970 the federal government has spent over $60 billion to subsidize construction of POTWs, and total spending by all levels of government has been over $200 billion.

  • Evidence suggests that federal funding for POTW construction has largely just replaced local funding – about 67% of construction would have taken place anyway.

  • Federal subsidies provided perverse incentives at first:

    • Municipalities had an incentive to build POTWs that were too large.

    • Federal funding didn’t help to cover operating expenses and maintenance.

    • But more responsibility has been shifted to local authorities.

  • Progress has been significant:

    http://www.epa.gov/owm/wquality/


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Control of Other Point Sources

  • Basic federal program: National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)

    • Administered through a system of permits that set effluent limits; but these permits are typically not tradable.

    • Goal is zero discharge; but limits are usually based largely on what level of control is technically feasible.

    • Efficiency? Cost-effectiveness?

      EPA – Envirofacts

      WDNR - WPDES Permit Program


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Point-Source Control: Other Options

  • Effluent taxes or fees?

    • In theory, this is could be an effective approach.

    • Effluent taxes have been used in Europe, but the taxes are usually set too low to provide strong incentives to reduce pollution levels.

    • Best example: the Netherlands has used effluent fees as an effective pollution-control approach.

  • Why not use effluent taxes?

    • Political objections

    • Concerns that taxed firms will face a competitive disadvantage

    • Effluent taxes require careful monitoring of discharges


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Point-Source Control: Other Options

  • Tradable effluent permits

    • EPA > Watersheds > Trading > Frequently Asked Questions About Water Quality Trading

  • Advantages of effluent permit trading

    • Cost-effectiveness

  • Problems with effluent permit trading

    • Hot spots?


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Control of Pollution from Non-Point Sources

  • Major remaining water pollution problem, especially in agricultural states like Wisconsin.

  • Two important sources:

    • Agricultural runoff

    • Storm runoff


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Control of Pollution from Non-Point Sources

  • Control of agricultural runoff: the DNR provides:

    • Technical assistance to farmers

    • Subsidies for improvements to prevent runoff

    • Performance standards

  • Control of storm runoff

    • Storm runoff performance standards for industry, municipalities, and construction sites

    • In Eau Claire, new businesses must pay fees based on their likely runoff.


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