Plastic bottles and other items littering the banks of this river is an example of nonpoint source pollution.
Image credit: Horia Varlan

Water pollution occurs when contaminants negatively affect a body of water. No matter where it originates, water pollution is a huge problem. Finding the source of contamination is important: it can help in reducing the pollution of a body of water.

Water pollution is divided into two main types: point source and nonpoint source.

When a body of water is directly polluted at a single location from an identifiable source (such as a pipe that leads factory waste directly into a lake), this is referred to as point source pollution. Point source pollution is discernible, confined and discrete.

Non-point source pollution is when a body of water is polluted from multiple sources, or any other type of water pollution that is not point source. Runoff water that has collected fertilizer from a field is an example of non-source point water pollution.

A polluted waterway in Chennai, India
Image credit: mckaysavage

Nonpoint Source Pollution Examples
Nonpoint source (called NPS for short) pollution often comes from rainwater washing fertilizers and insecticides from farms and lawns. This runoff water can make its way from drainage ditches to rivers, lakes, marshland, or even seep into the water table.

Examples of common chemicals and other nonpoint source pollutants that often enter waterways often include:

  • Herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers
  • Bacteria from animal waste (pets from urban areas and livestock from urban areas) and from septic systems
  • Toxic chemicals and other runoff from industrial areas
  • Litter (bottles, cans, plastic bags, cigarette butts)

Point source pollution near Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
Image source: Thoth, God of Knowledge

The BP (Deepwater Horizon) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused widespread damage to the Gulf’s ecology and the death of 11 people.

Examples of Point Source Water Pollution
Point source pollution was once the most common way US rivers were polluted. Due to regulations, this number has gone down, but it’s still a huge problem for American waterways.

This type of pollution is dumped directly into a body of water through a number of ways including pipes, damaged containers, and overflow. Examples of point source pollution include:

  • Water treatment plants
  • Landfills
  • Oil spill
  • Sewage discharge
  • Pipes carrying chemical waste
  • Runoff from mines

Point source pollution in Brasfels shipyard in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

How to Control Water Pollution
There are a number things that can be done to control water pollution. NPS pollution can be controlled by avoiding the use of harmful insecticides and fertilizers. Consider growing organically! Organic fruits, veggies, and meat tastes better anyway!

By recycling garbage and not littering, you can help prevent against trash ending up in waterways. You can also join a group that cleans up litter left by others. Whether you’re doing major litter cleanup by installing a litter trap in a river, or just collecting piece of garbage from a ditch, you can make major difference.

If chemicals are being dumped directly into a waterway, contact the company responsible for the mess. If they’re not up to helping, contact a representative. If nothing is being done, get loud: contact the local newspaper, blog about it, and get your local news station involved.