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Businesses and industries use water during the processing, manufacturing, and transportation of goods. What responsibility do businesses have to the environment? Explore more about how water is affected by business.

Municipalities are local areas that share common services like sewers, fire and police service, and schools. They aren’t just made up of households. Business and economic activities provide the foundation for towns and cities. The businesses and industries are usually the largest users of municipal water, and have huge potential to negatively affect water quality.

Wastewater Cycle
Big or small, many businesses use water for more than just for their employees’ drinking water and bathrooms. Whether they use water as a part of their process, or as part of their product, they change the quality of the water they use.

Think about your local carwash and the huge amount of water it needs to operate. Or a big plant like a papermill and the millions of gallons of water it uses to manufacture their product. Since these industries aren’t consuming the water, it is eventually put back out as wastewater, which must be treated before it returns to the water cycle. The majority of industries and businesses choose to dispose their wastewater back to their municipal wastewater facility where pollutants are treated. It’s easier, faster and cheaper than treating it themselves.

Any industry that doesn’t dispose of its wastewater through a licensed facility must get a special license from the EPA. If a paper mill for instance, discharges its wastewater directly into a river, the mill is required to have an NPDES permit issued through the EPA. The permit sets treatment standards that ensure the quality of the water going into the river, stream or lake.

Even industries that don’t use water in their manufacturing can affect water quality through their waste. Many substances like lead, mercury, and oil are used in industrial processes, and pose health risks to humans and wildlife. If these pollutants make it into waterways, they can destroy entire ecosystems. That’s why disposal of any pollutants by industry requires NPDES permits. In exchange for the permit, industries agree to handle their waste in ways that prevent it from affecting water. These permits, a part of the Clean Water Act, were a direct response to the overwhelming effects of point source pollution stemming from toxic dumping in the past.

Beyond Regulation?
Without regulation, we would have to rely on industries and businesses to "police" themselves. There would be no one forcing them to act as good stewards of water—an approach that proved unsuccessful in the past. Are there ways other than regulation that could keep industries and businesses interested in maintaining clean water resources?

What do you think?
Think about the types of business in your watershed. How could they positively/negatively affect water quality? Are there economic incentives for polluting waterways?





Explore More: Water Quality
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.



History of Wastewater Management
Serious point source pollution problems in the past forced the EPA to take action. Before the EPA established industrial regulations, many companies disposed of toxic chemicals directly into stream and rivers. More

IPTV Market to Market Links

Nonpoint source pollution targeted by EPA
According to the environmental protection agency, or e-p-a, there are more than 20,000 u.s. lakes, streams and rivers that fail to meet current water quality standards, as defined by the clean water act of 1972.

PBS NewsHour Online Links

Too Few Fish? Overfishing causes many problems: endangered species, distressed environments, and compromised water quality.