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Protecting Water From Pollution

Keeping water from being polluted is easier and less expensive than cleaning it after it is polluted.

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Protecting Water From Pollution

How do municipalities clean water?

We take clean water for granted because we have advanced wastewater treatment facilities that remove impurities with settling containers, filters, chemicals, and biological agents.

Reducing Water Pollution

Water pollution can be reduced in two ways:

  • Keep the water from becoming polluted.
  • Clean water that is already polluted.

Clean Water Act

Keeping water from becoming polluted often requires laws to be sure that people and companies behave responsibly. In the United States, the Clean Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to set standards for water quality for industry, agriculture, and domestic uses. The law gives the EPA the authority to reduce the discharge of pollution into waterways, finance wastewater treatment plants, and manage runoff. Since its passage in 1972, more wastewater treatment plants have been constructed and the release of industrial waste into the water supply is better controlled.

The United Nations and other international groups are working to improve global water quality standards by providing the technology for treating water. These organizations also educate people in how to protect and improve the quality of the water they use (Figure below).

Scientists control water pollution by sampling the water and studying the pollutants that are in the water

Scientists control water pollution by sampling the water and studying the pollutants that are in the water.

Water Treatment

The goal of water treatment is to make water suitable for such uses as drinking, medicine, agriculture, and industrial processes.

People living in developed countries suffer from few waterborne diseases and illness, because they have extensive water treatment systems to collect, treat, and redeliver clean water. Many underdeveloped nations have few or no water treatment facilities.

Wastewater contains hundreds of contaminants, such as suspended solids, oxygen-demanding materials, dissolved inorganic compounds, and harmful bacteria. In a wastewater treatment plant, multiple processes must be used to produce usable water:

  • Sewage treatment removes contaminants, such as solids and particles, from sewage.
  • Water purification produces drinking water by removing bacteria, algae, viruses, fungi, unpleasant elements such as iron and sulfur, and man-made chemical pollutants.

The treatment method used depends on the kind of wastewater being treated and the desired end result. Wastewater is treated using a series of steps, each of which produces water with fewer contaminants.

What Can You Do?

What can individuals do to protect water quality?

  • Find approved recycling or disposal facilities for motor oil and household chemicals.
  • Use lawn, garden, and farm chemicals sparingly and wisely.
  • Repair automobile or boat engine leaks immediately.
  • Keep litter, pet waste, leaves, and grass clippings out of street gutters and storm drains.

Science Friday: Poop and Paddle: An Eco-Friendly Floating Toilet

How do wetlands filter water? In this video by Science Friday, inventor Adam Katzman describes how his toilet-boat converts human waste into cattails and clean water.


  • Keeping water from becoming polluted is easier, less expensive, and safer than cleaning it once it is polluted.
  • Since the passage of the Clean Water Act, many wastewater treatment plants have been constructed and utilized.
  • There are multiple levels of water treatment: some water is cleaned enough for use on lawns, while other water is cleaned enough to be safe for drinking.


  1. What is the purpose of the Clean Water Act?
  2. How is wastewater treated?
  3. What can the members of your household do to protect water quality?

Explore More

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. What has the Clean Water Act been doing for the past four decades?
  2. What has changed in the past 15 years?
  3. What is keeping water clean about, according to the EPA Administrator?
  4. Who depends on clean water?
  5. Who had input into the new rules governing the Clean Water Act?
  6. Does the proposal protect waters that were previously unprotected? What does it do?

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sewage treatment Any process that removes contaminants from sewage or wastewater.
water purification Any process used to produce safe drinking water by removing contaminants.

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