Eutrophication is the process through which nutrients are added to a body of water over time. While this technically could mean a variety of minerals and other substances, it generally refers to the addition of nitrates, or nitrification of the water. In the natural world this is almost always due to the buildup of organic matter over time. As plants die in the water and nutrients are added through runoff, the process makes the water even more suitable for plant life. At the same time it becomes less suitable for animal life and is consequently unable to support as many fish, snails and other such aquatic creatures. While eutrophication is a natural process it can be significantly accelerated through unnatural means, which is known as pollution.
Assess sources of cultural eutrophication
Cultural eutrophication refers to any eutrophication that is affected by humans. This may be the result of agricultural efforts, such as fertilizing crops or raising stock. It might be through contamination by human waste, which can introduce a lot of nutrients as well as bacteria into the water. Most commonly it is the result of industrial processes that introduce either runoff contaminants or airborne contaminants that build up in the body of water. The first step to combating this eutrophication is to assess the primary causes and, if possible, determine the impact of each.
Limit or divert water pollution
Two of the most common causes of eutrophication are the use of fertilizers in farming operations and the burning of fossil fuels. While it is probably not realistic to reduce farming operations in order to prevent eutrophication, such methods as organic farming and non-aerial chemical application may be beneficial. In addition, farmlands that are set further away from major bodies of water may also contribute less to the eutrophication of that water source.
Alternative energy sources, such as solar, wind or hydroelectric power, can greatly reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and thereby also reduce the rate of eutrophication. Today, the energy industry is the largest consumer of fossil fuels. Any reduction in this type of consumption, theoretically, will also cause a reduction in cultural eutrophication.
Up-to-date sewage treatment plants are essential for combating eutrophication. As equipment gets worn and out-of-date it may provide inferior cleaning and purification. Holding facilities must be able to keep still-contaminated water from reaching a body of water.
Increase flow in moving water
A side effect of eutrophication is the slow buildup of sediment at the bottom of rivers and streams. This slowly moves the banks of the river, which can threaten human development nearby. In addition, the shallower, slower-moving water can also experience a faster buildup of nutrients as the volume decreases. Removing sediment and building up the banks may help slow this process, extending the lifespan of rivers on which humans depend.
Natural eutrophication purpose
In nature, eutrophication is the process that slowly turns a body of water into a fertile plain. It is a process that can take hundreds or thousands of years. While it is necessary to ensure the natural rotation of land usage, keeping as much as possible fertile and well-watered, the human-induced eutrophication can be catastrophic. If the process happens too fast, the inevitable result is a sterile body of water in which no plant or animal life can exist.