17.2.2  Nutrients

Phosphorus and nitrogen are common pollutants generated from residential areas and agricultural runoff, and are usually associated with human and animal wastes or fertiliser. Nitrogen and phosphorus are plant nutrients required by plants to grow. They are spread on farmland in the form of fertilisers. Rain washes these nutrients into rivers, streams and lakes. If the nutrients are present in large quantities, they can encourage excess plant growth in the water causing the phenomenon known as an algal bloom, which means a sudden increase in the population of microscopic algae. If a water body has high nutrient levels it is said to be eutrophic; the process is called eutrophication. The main problem of eutrophication is that the suddenly increased population of aquatic plants can die off equally quickly. The decay of the plant material by bacteria can cause deoxygenation of the water.

  • Can you think of a reason why eutrophication is more likely to be a problem in lakes than in rivers?

  • Because flowing water in a river will disperse the nutrients; in the still water of a lake, the nutrients will accumulate.

17.2  Types of water pollutants

17.2.3  Biological pollutants