Turbidity: A dirty word

When you first hear about letting dirt run into the waterways as a bad thing, you may think, “but what about actual pollution? Things like garbage, and chemicals, and all other manner of terrible things”? The truth is that the dirt that runs off into the water, comprised of tiny grains of sediment, has its own detriment to our waterways. Turbidity is the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid, in this case water, caused by many particles. We use turbidity as a key measure of water quality. Usually these particles are invisible to the naked eye, much the same as the particles that comprise smoke in the air.

So, what’s the big deal? Why is turbidity a bad thing? The truth is that turbidity isn’t necessarily the end of the world, so long as the measure of NTUs (or Nephelometric turbidity units, which is how we measure turbidity) remains under a certain amount. It’s next to impossible to keep all sediment from entering waterways, but it falls on us to at least ensure that our activities do not contribute negatively to the natural environment wherever possible.

Turbidity can have the following effects on our water bodies:

  • Aesthetic quality – Turbid water looks bad! This can have a negative impact on Tourism and recreation.
  • Water treatment – The cost of treating water with high turbidity can increase drastically for both drinking and food processing.
  • Fish and other aquatic life – Fine particles of sediment can negatively impact food supply, spawning grounds, gill function, and natural habitat for fish. It can also simply be negative to the physiology of fish, causing death, reduction in growth rates, and resistance to disease.
  • Water temperature – The particles can absorb sunlight and cause the temperature to rise, and the oxygen in the water to fall. As we know, a change in temperature can be damaging to both plant and animal life.
  • Inhibits Photosynthesis – Turbid water can contribute to blocking out the sun, which means that productivity of the plant life in the water can be drastically reduced.
  • Contamination – Pollutants can easily attach to the suspended particles in the water, decreasing the overall water quality and making it dangerous for those that depend on it.

A lot of these issues are interconnected, with one inevitably leading to another. Turbidity can ultimately lead to the die-off of entire bodies of water. Plants are unable to grow, aquatic life is unable to thrive, and ultimately the whole habitat collapses.

There are some things that we can do to treat turbid water. This might be as simple as a filtration system using cloth or sand. There are also different types of flocculants we can use that encourage particles to stick together and settle out due to increased weight. Some of the best options, however, are to try and prevent the water from getting too turbid to begin with, through proper erosion control. This becomes especially important when talking about larger bodies of water that are more difficult to treat.

For more information on turbidity, visit this site. Be sure to reach out to KCI with your erosion control needs, or to discuss potential solutions to any turbidity issues you might have!

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