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DEVELOP A HYPOTHESIS ON WHICH WATER SOURCE YOU BELIEVE WILL CONTAIN THE MOST AND LEAST CHEMICAL COMPONENTS.
Water Quality and Contamination
Concepts to Explore
• Usable water
• Ground water
• Surface water
• Ground water contaminates
• Water treatment
• Drinking water quality
Figure 1: At any given moment, 97% of the planet’s water is in the oceans. Only a small fraction
of the remaining freshwater is usable by humans, underscoring the importance of treating our
water supplies with care.
It is no secret that water is one of the most valuable resources on planet Earth. Every plant and animal requires
water to survive, not only for drinking, but also for food production, shelter creation and many other necessities.
Water has also played a major role in transforming the earth’s surface into the varied topography we
While more than 70% of our planet is covered in water, only a small percent of this water is usable freshwater.
The other 99% of the water is composed primarily of salt water, with a small percentage being composed of
glaciers. Due to the high costs involved in transforming salt water into freshwater, the Earth’s population survives
off the less than 1% of freshwater available. Humans obtain freshwater from either surface water or
Surface water is the water that collects on the ground as a result of precipitation. The water that does not
evaporate back into the atmosphere or infiltrate into the ground is typically collected in rivers, lakes, reservoirs,
and other bodies of water and is easily accessible.
Figure 2: Water is a renewable source, purified and
delivered across the planet by the hydrological cycle.
Groundwater, on the other hand, is precisely as the name suggests; water located underneath the ground.
This water is stored in pores, fractures and other spaces within the soil and rock underneath the ground’s surface.
Precipitation, along with snowmelt, infiltrates through the ground and accumulates in available underground
Aquifers are areas in which water collects in sand, gravel, or permeable rock from which it can be extracted
for usable freshwater. The depth of aquifers vary from less than 50 feet to well over 1,500 feet below the surface
of the ground. The water within an aquifer typically does not flow through as it would through a river or
stream, but instead soaks into the underground material, similar to a sponge. As aquifers are depleted by human
use, they are also recharged from precipitation seeping into the ground and restoring the water level.
However, many times the recharge of the aquifers does not equal the amount of water that has been extracted.
If that cycle continues, the aquifer will eventually dry up and will no longer be a viable source of groundwater.
Water is the only substance
that is found naturally in
three forms: solid, liquid,
If the entire world’s supply
of water could fit into a onegallon
jug, the fresh water
available to use would equal
less than one tablespoon
Approximately 66% of the
human body consists of water
– it exists within every
organ and is essential for its
While the water that precipitates down in the form of rain is relatively pure, it does not take long for water to
pick up contaminants. There are natural, animal, and human-made sources of water pollutants. They can
travel freely from one location to another via streams, rivers, and even groundwater. Pollutants can also travel
from land or air into the water. Groundwater contamination most often occurs when human-made products
such as motor oil, gasoline, acidic chemicals and other substances leak into aquifers and other groundwater
storage areas. The most common source of contaminants come from leaking storage tanks, poorly maintained
landfills, and septic tanks, hazardous waste sites and the common use of chemicals such as pesticides
and road salts.
The dangers of consuming contaminated water are
high. Many deadly diseases, poisons and toxins can
reside in the contaminated water supplies and severely
affect the health of those who drink the water. It is also
believed that an increased risk of cancer may result
from ingesting contaminated groundwater.
With the many contaminants that can infiltrate our water
supply, it is crucial that there be a thorough water
treatment plan in place to purify the water and make it
drinkable. While each municipality has its own water
treatment facility, the process is much the same at each
Figure 3: Sedimentation tanks, such as those shown
above, are used to settle the sludge and remove oils
and fats in sewage. This step can remove a good portion
of the biological oxygen demand from the sewage,
a key step before progressing with the treatments
and eventually releasing into the ground or
body of water.
The process begins with aeration in which air is added to the
water to let trapped gases escape while increasing the
amount of oxygen within the water. The next step is called
coagulation or flocculation, in which chemicals, such as filter
alum, are added to the incoming water and then stirred vigorously
in a powerful mixer. The alum causes compounds such
as carbonates and hydroxides to form tiny, sticky clumps
called floc that attract dirt and other small particles. When the
sticky clumps combine with the dirt they become heavy and
sink to the bottom. In the next step, known as sedimentation,
the heavy particles that sank to the bottom during coagulation
are separated out and the remaining water is sent on to
filtration. During filtration, the water passes through filters
made of layers of sand, charcoal, gravel and pebbles that
help filter out the smaller particles that have passed through
until this point. The last step is called disinfection in which
chlorine and/or other disinfectants are added to kill any bacFigure
4: Fresh water is essential
to humans and other landbased
life. Contaminated water
must be treated before it can be
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