Explore More: Water Quality

Explore More: Water Quality

The water we drink, the places we swim, and the plants and animals within our environments are increasingly threatened by pollution. Agriculture and urban runoff, industrial and household uses, and other sources impact this vital resource. What are the biggest threats to water quality in your area?

Explore More: Water Quality (Full Program)

Homes, industries, wildlife, recreation, and transportation all depend on clean sources of water. Everyone uses it, needs it, and many of us take it for granted. This program examines the ways water is used, profiles types of pollution, and presents a variety of perspectives on the issue of water quality. What are the biggest threats to water quality in your area?

Water Quality Basics

Water is one of our planet’s most important natural resources. There is the same amount of water on earth now as there was when the earth was formed and there will never be any more or any less. 

How We Use Water Can Impact Its Quality

Homes, industries, wildlife, recreation, and transportation all depend on clean sources of water. Everyone uses it, needs it, and many of us take it for granted.

Pre-Viewing Questions
  • What facts do you know about water quality?
  • What are two ways you use water before you get to school each day?
  • Where does your water come from?
Post-Viewing Questions 
  • What ways have you used water that you have taken for granted?
  • Why is water quality important?


Types of Pollutants That Affect Water Quality

What comes to mind when you think of water pollution? Can a stream be perfectly clear and still polluted? What pollutants are likely problems in your area?

Pre-Viewing Questions
  • What comes to mind when you think of water pollution?
  • Can a stream be perfectly clear and still be polluted?
  • Can a stream look polluted and still be healthy?
Post-Viewing Questions 
  • What pollutants are likely problems in your area? What are the sources of these pollutants?
  • List examples of the four pollutant types from the video. Which of these do you think would be most difficult to handle? Why?


Sources of Water Pollution

Almost anyone or anything is a potential source of pollutants. So water quality experts group sources into two main categories of pollutants: point sources and non-point sources.

Pre-Viewing Questions
  • How can pollution get into the water?
  • If you bury a pollutant in the ground, can it also be considered a water pollutant? How?
Post-Viewing Questions 
  • What is nonpoint source pollution?
  • What point source pollution is/was in your area?
  • What nonpoint source pollution is in your area?
  • What is happening in the hydrologic cycle to move pollutants into the water?


The Water Cycle - Hydrology

The hydrologic cycle, or water cycle, is the process by which water is transported from the land surface into the atmosphere and then back down to the land surface.

Pre-Viewing Questions
  • How does water physically move in your area?
  • Does water move naturally in your area or have people affected its movement?
Post-Viewing Questions 
  • What is hydrology?
  • What is the hydrologic cycle?
  • Examine the hydrologic cycle in your area. How has water quality been affected by the modifications of the area’s hydrology?
  • What characteristics present in your hydrologic cycle could easily be changed to imitate nature?


Watersheds and Water Quality

The land that carries the water you use to a water body is called a watershed. A watershed is also known as a drainage basin because it is land that allows water to drain to marshes, streams, rivers, lakes, or to groundwater.

Pre-Viewing Questions
  • What is a watershed?
  • How does the way we use land affect water quality?
Post-Viewing Questions 
  • Identify the watershed in your area. What are the potential pollutants? What are the potential sources of these pollutants?
  • What measures are/could be taken to solve pollution problems in your area?


Excess Nutrients, One Cause of Poor Water Quality

Excess nutrients from farms, lawns, golf courses, and other locations can significantly impact water quality.

Pre-Viewing Questions
  • What fertilizers are used in your area?
  • Why are they used? Are these uses necessary? Unnecessary? Why?
Post-Viewing Questions 
  • What are the sources of nutrients in your watershed?
  • What responsibilities do the users of these nutrients have to protect water quality?
  • What rights should users of these nutrients have? Not have? Who should decide these rights?


Poor Manure Management in Farming States Can Lead to Poor Water Quality

Some water quality problems aren’t only defined by the borders of a watershed or the banks of a river or lake, rather economic and political boundaries also shape the problem. Manure management is one of those problems.

Pre-Viewing Questions
  • What comes to mind when you hear about manure spills or fish kills?
  • How can politicians influence farming practices?
  • How can the economic needs of farmers influence farming practices?
Post-Viewing Questions 
  • What are farmers’ responsibilities to the land, neighbors, and society when dealing with manure management?
  • What manure management practices do you see or hear about in your area?
  • How have the farmers in your area been good stewards of the land? What are some areas for improvement?


Impact of Urban Runoff on Water Quality Leads to “Green Development”

Farms get a lot of the focus but urban areas contribute their fair share of water pollutants too. Green Development represents a return to a more natural hydrology.

Pre-Viewing Questions
  • Study an urban area near you. What kind of hydrology or water system was present before this urban setting was built?
  • Examine new buildings in an urban area near you. What differences, if any, are there in the way the land is used in this new development as compared to older, more established development?
Post-Viewing Questions 
  • Describe the hydrology in an urban setting near you. What pollutants do you see entering the waterways?
  • What “green” development can be done to reduce the harm of these pollutants?


Active, Individual Responsibility Solves the Water Quality Problem

Individual responsibility for water quality is the key to solving the puzzle of water quality. Awareness of the problem isn’t enough. It’s only when that new knowledge is put into action, that we’ll begin to see a difference in our water’s quality.

Pre-Viewing Questions
  • How would you describe the student awareness of water quality issues in your area?
  • Describe your current uses and practices that contribute, either positively or negatively, to water quality.
Post-Viewing Questions 
  • What water quality measures are being taken in your area? What organizations or groups are involved in these efforts?
  • What actions can you take to improve water quality?
  • What are your plans to get involved in improving water quality?

Produced from 2001 through 2004, Iowa PBS's Explore More online and broadcast series engages students in problems they can relate to, provides compelling content for investigation and gives students opportunities to form their own points of view on contemporary issues.

Although the full website has been retired, this archive provides links to project videos and related resources. Please contact us if you have questions or comments about Explore More.