World's Rivers Becoming Saltier, Catastrophe In The Making

Rivers all over the world have been becoming saltier and saltier in recent years, potentially leading to a global crisis in the near future. The rise in salinity has been because of a variety of reasons: water use and diversion, agricultural runoff, industrial waste, mining, deforestation, and a changing climate. But now as climate change begins intensifying along with human water use, serious repercussions are likely to be seen, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Pollution.


The study predicts that the economic, environmental, and human costs of this problem are going to be enormous.

“In worldwide river ecosystems, excessive salt concentrations caused by human activity are a threat to the survival of organisms and communities, biodiversity, the ecosystem’s biological balance, and it produces severe economical and public health problems.”

The expert remarks that it is a global process: “It happens in many regions from all over the world, although there is a great ignorance about the problem.” So far, the most extreme case of salinization known occurs in some Australian rivers. “However in this case local studies have been done in order to clearly diagnose the problem; therefore, all the agents who make use of the natural resources of some rivers (farmers, industrialists, etc.) have collaborated in the process of finding solutions.”

“Experts explain that excessive salt is also a factor that has a negative effect on water potabilization. For example, it makes necessary to install new technologies, such as reverse osmosis, that have put up the price of water potabilization for human consumption in the plants of Abrera and Sant Joan Despí. In addition, the use of chlorine to potabilizate water produces many chemical compounds (borates, chlorates, trihalomethanes, etc.) which can be toxic for environment and health.”


“Current legislation is generally flexible when it comes to establish limits for salt concentrations in rivers. In Europe, salinisation is not considered an important problem and no legally prescribed environmental quality standards exist for salt. In many countries, business and industrial factor predominates over the necessity to set a limiting regulation.”

According to the researchers the problem is expected to hit the Mediterranean region particularly bad, as climate change will significantly dry out the region in the coming years. This will cause enormous problems for continued agriculture in the area, and may even make human habitation there uneconomical.

Source: Universidad de Barcelona

Image Credits: Woady creek, Australia / Ben J. Kefford

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