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Drinking Water







This section explores the importance of water as habitat for wildlife.

Habitat and Environmental Uses
Name a living thing, any species, and water plays a major role in its life. Plants, invertebrates, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals all depend on water. It is basic for survival. Many living things also need it as habitat for part or all of their lifecycle. Birds nest near it. Beavers build in it. Fish spend their whole lives in it. Just as water is an important part of the lifecycle for species, every species is an important part of the larger cycle of the ecosystem. So if water is affected in any way, whether it dries up or becomes polluted, it puts the entire balance of the ecosystem at risk.

Threats to Water Used as Habitat
Threats to water habitats almost always stem from human actions.

  • Toxic spills kill fish and other wildlife.
  • Chemicals used in industry or agriculture that are introduced into waterways may not immediately kill anything, but it may still cause problems.
  • Chemicals can build up in the tissues of plants, fish, and other wildlife, ultimately affecting entire food chains.
  • Hydrologic modifications, like straightening a river’s natural route, can wipe out wetlands and other sensitive, important habitat.
  • Recreation, like boating or jet-skis, can increase erosion and pollution, affecting wildlife habitat.
  • Urban development can threaten the quality of water habitats, but more often threatens a habitat's very existence. As more and more land is developed for humans' needs, there is less and less land available and devoted to wildlife.
  • Wildlife itself can be a threat to waterways, because of sheer volume. As more and more natural areas are developed for human habitation, more wildlife is forced to occupy fewer waterways. For example, water is an extremely important element of flyways, the routes that migrating birds follow. Not only is food an issue, but more birds forced to rely on fewer waterways can create a waste problem. Thousands of birds forced into one small area stress both the quantity and quality of a water resource.

What do you think?
Are there water habitats in your community? What sort of wildlife do they support?




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.


Industrial Wastewater
Consider this scenario: A company puts hot wastewater back into a river, increasing the overall temperature of the river by a few degrees. More

PBS NewsHour Online Links

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