14 Terrible Causes of Water Pollution

Did you know that water is the most valuable resource on this planet?

You’ve probably heard this before, but you might be completely aware of just how necessary this vital life-giving liquid really is.

Of course, it’s been ingrained into many of us from a very young age to pay attention to the quality of our water and to do what we can to protect it. Unfortunately, various causes of water pollution have become more and more prominent in the world today, even in the United States.

But what are the causes of water pollution? What are the problem areas we should all be looking out for?

When it comes to learning about water pollution and causes of this major problem, there are many different aspects you need to consider. In this article, you’ll learn all about the different causes of water pollution you should pay attention to in the world around you, as well as in your own home. You’ll learn about what water pollution really is and how to recognize it, and you’ll find out a little bit more about what you can expect from water that has become polluted.

From there, you’ll be provided with a list of causes of water pollution to help you become more aware of this very real issue. You’ll find out how each of these common causes of water pollution affects the world you live in, and you’ll find out about ways in which you and your community can work to cut back on this problem significantly.

Read on to get started learning about a topic that should concern all of us: the pollution of our water.

What is Water Pollution?

It’s always important to be able to recognize the different types of water pollution, but what is water pollution and its causes anyway? In the simplest of terms, water pollution refers to the contamination of a water source by some foreign substance that makes the water unsafe to drink. This substance could be just about anything, and the factors that cause water pollution are many. If the water source is changed in any way by the presence of that substance, then that water should be considered polluted.

water might become polluted

But there’s more to water pollution than just that. The causes of pollution in water sources almost always come from situations that we, as humans, have brought about. Although there are a handful of natural ways in which water might become polluted, the leading cause of water pollution is human interaction. We are responsible for contaminating much of our own water supplies, and that is why we should be responsible for cleaning them up again as well.

Unfortunately, water pollution is a very real problem that affects people around the world much more than you might realize. When water becomes contaminated, it is no longer safe to drink directly from the source. This means that anyone who does drink it is exposed to whatever has dissolved within that water. If those substances are poisonous in nature, for example, that person will then be poisoned and will suffer the severe effects of drinking polluted water. Many people around the world die every day from exposure to polluted water.

Polluted water is also an invitation for bacteria and other unwanted growth. It’s very easy to get serious diseases from drinking polluted water. Even if you go swimming in water that has been contaminated with certain types of bacteria, you could easily become sick or suffer a serious infection from exposure to the dirty water. Some types of bacteria might even slowly eat away at your flesh or damage your internal organs. This is yet another leading cause of death from exposure to polluted water.

Polluted water also causes problems for the fish, birds, and other animals that live in that habitat. These animals are unable to grow correctly and sometimes may become contaminated as well from living in polluted water. If humans then eat or interact with these creatures, the cycle of disease and illness continues.

Read on to learn more about what causes pollution in water sources around the world.

Indirect Causes of Water Pollution

You’ve learned a little bit about what water pollution is now, but what are some causes of water pollution you should be on the lookout for? In this section, you’ll learn about the indirect causes of water pollution. These are the types of pollution that affect the water with a little bit of a delay. You might not notice them right away, but over time, they’ll come to the surface and start to cause significant problems. These types of pollution are in some ways more dangerous than others, simply because you might not be able to realize how devastating they might be until it is too late to do anything about them.

1. Deforestation

Deforestation is a big word that basically means cutting down trees. However, there is a lot more to it than just that. Deforestation often takes place in order to clear land for more urban growth. This means that an ecosystem which was once firmly established is suddenly destroyed, and the remaining nature that stays in place has to compensate for this damage in some way. A lot of times, this means that the soil left behind after the trees and other plants are removed is simply left to erode, often very quickly. Fast erosion leads to damage by contaminating the water with the soil as it sloughs off into the water supply.

damaged through deforestation

When water is damaged through deforestation, remaining fish in the area become sick and die off as they try to breathe in water that is now filled with soil. Plants that live in the water are unable to continue growing as the water grows dirtier over time, and bacteria thrive in this soil-filled water source. The best way to cut back on deforestation pollution is to reduce urban expansion or to take it very slowly so that soil doesn’t erode into the water so easily.

2. Urbanization

Urbanization is related to deforestation in that both of these types of pollution happen when humans decide to expand their cities and towns into parts of the environment that were previously uninhabited. However, when it comes to urbanization, this focuses more closely on the results of human beings living in and affecting the land around them. This includes the results of humans building houses and roads on land, as well as using fertilizers to farm on the land. It also includes chemical pollution, although this problem can be further broken down into other causes listed below. Finally, urbanization also includes litter that is thrown out by humans and often finds its way into water sources.

types of pollution happen

Although in some ways urbanization is good, it needs to be controlled more effectively in order to keep water safe from pollutants. It is always okay to make progress and to expand, but it should be a major concern from day one of any expansion project to keep water supplies safe. People should also be more careful about not throwing litter out of car windows or allowing it to pile up in areas where it can easily drift into water sources. Cities should take care to test the water regularly and to ensure that all runoffs to water supplies are clean and free of debris.

3. Wetlands Destruction

One of the leading causes of river water pollution is the destruction of the wetlands. The wetlands have been in place since long before human beings, and they have always done their job at keeping water levels at their best throughout the year. Where wetlands are present, water is naturally dammed during the hotter times of the year and is allowed to flow more freely during the winter. This supplies animals and plants throughout the ecosystem with just enough water no matter what the weather might be like outside.

river water pollution

Unfortunately, the wetlands have slowly been destroyed by human interaction over the years. Humans have begun to cut down the plants and trees that can be found in these important ecosystems, and have even started to drain and dam the water supplies in unnatural ways. When this happens, natural filters are lost, and water is much more seriously polluted. The soil is able to erode quickly into the water supply, blocking it with dirt and causing damage to the plants and animals that live there. When wetlands are destroyed quickly, birds and fish die in great numbers, and their bodies also contaminate the water with bacteria. Wetlands, like forests, should be left alone or very slowly developed in order to cut back on these risks.

4. River Dams

Damming rivers is part of the problem with wetlands, but this type of pollution can occur anywhere and in any type of ecosystem where a large amount of water is present. Although the idea behind river dams is sound, there are several environmental problems which arise when rivers aren’t allowed to flow the natural way. Damming a river means blocking it at one or more of its sources to keep it from potential flooding. However, this means that the existing water is altered in many ways, and in some cases the risk of flooding might actually increase.

The ecosystem becomes destroyed

Dammed river water loses its nutrients quickly and tends to become brackish instead of fresh in many instances. This kills off the fish and plants that live there, and in turn, birds and animals that feed on those fish and plants are also depleted. The ecosystem becomes destroyed, and since the water doesn’t move nearly as much, it becomes a hotbed for bacteria growth. Water in dams is very rarely safe for human consumption without being treated first, and it is also not very safe for swimming.

5. Stormwater

Runoff from stormwater is one of the leading causes of surface water pollution. The term “stormwater” refers to any water that is present in abundance because of weather situations, such as very heavy rainfall or a great deal of snow that has melted. This is a natural occurrence and, when human intervention isn’t present, it doesn’t really cause a lot of damage other than an increased risk of flooding. However, where factories and other potential pollutants are present, when storm water runoff occurs, it has a very high risk of carrying chemicals and other pollutants from those factories to water sources in the area. Stormwater runoff causes a lot of pollution in very heavily populated cities where drains and ditches are often full of contaminants.

pollution from stormwater

The best way to combat pollution from stormwater runoff is to cut back on the use of harsh polluting chemicals altogether. Unfortunately, in some cities where factories are already well established, this is impossible to change. In these cases, it is always important for cities to monitor the places where stormwater runoff is present. This way, they can intervene before anything should happen to the much larger water supplies.

6. Fuel Emissions

When it comes to pollution, fuel emissions are one of the biggest problems just about every natural resource faces today. Any type of fuel causes emissions that can have adverse effects on the water around it. For example, when fossil fuels are burned, the resulting particles are filled with toxic chemicals that should be kept out of the water at all costs. This also causes carbon dioxide to enter the air, and if the fuels are burned very close to a water source, that carbon dioxide can also easily enter the water supply. Fossil fuels are known to cause lead contamination in water sources as well, which is very dangerous not only for the animals and fish present but also for any people who happen to drink or swim in that water.

causes fuel emissions

Even gasoline causes fuel emissions that can, unfortunately, cause water pollution. When gasoline is burned, it leaves behind carbon oxides and sulfur, both of which cause air and water pollution. These substances can enter into water supplies, especially in large cities where gasoline related pollution is very common. These are very unhealthy for human beings to consume, and water must be treated in order to remove this type of pollution as well as possible. Unfortunately, it sometimes cannot be removed completely.

7. Construction Sites

Construction sites remain one of the most notable causes of indirect water pollution. Although they rarely dump directly into water supplies, they have a lot of issues that combine to make them a very real threat to any water supply. Any surface water runoff that comes from a construction site becomes polluted with chemicals used in and around that site for a variety of different reasons. Something as simple as paint, cement, or oil that might seem like a harmless addition to a construction site can cause a lot of problems if it enters into a water supply.

contamination resulting from these pollutants

Soil can become contaminated with these substances as well, and groundwater can easily become polluted by this. If pets or humans drink water from a well that might be dug at the construction site, they can become very sick or even possibly die from contamination resulting from these pollutants. Although the best way to avoid water pollution from construction sites is to cut back on construction altogether, this is more or less impossible. Construction workers and city planners should always be mindful of water runoff and should do what they can to prevent water from escaping from the construction site while work is being completed.

Direct Causes of Water Pollution

Now you’ve learned a little bit more about the indirect causes of water pollution, but what causes water pollution more directly? In this section, you’ll be introduced to a few of the direct causes of water pollution that change the cleanliness and safety of water sources without any delays. These problems affect water right away, and because of this, they are generally more noticeable than the indirect causes of pollution. So what is the cause of water pollution you need to watch out for most in your community? Read on to find out.

8. Mining

Mining is one of the biggest causes of direct water pollution in many areas around the country. Although there are several other environmental concerns when it comes to mining and over-mining, water pollution is one of the big ones. When mining is present, it is much more likely to find dangerous minerals in fresh water supplies. Although a small amount of minerals present in water is natural and sometimes even beneficial for humans and animals alike, an overabundance of any of these can potentially cause severe illness and even death when that water is consumed. It can also cause plant life in the area to die out quickly as water is no longer able to be absorbed appropriately by these plants.

direct water pollution

Mining also causes water to become much dirtier as the murkiness increases from soil and other debris sloughing into the supply. This can cause fish to die quickly as they are no longer able to breathe through their gills properly. The pH balance of water changes quickly when new minerals are introduced or the balance of those minerals is thrown off, too. This can cause fish to die as well, and it can also make the water too acidic for human use. Finally, in areas where salt is present in mines, the water can be turned from fresh to brackish or salt water, which can severely impact the surrounding ecosystem.

9. Factories

Factories remain the leading causes of industrial water pollution around the world. Where factories are present, runoff from those factories can easily enter water supplies either through surface water or through groundwater, depending on the location. This can severely impact the quality of the water in the area. Depending on the type of factory, it might cause the water to become much too alkaline or acidic for existing fish and plant life to survive, and it might even so severely damage the water that it becomes unsafe for human use.

cause water temperatures to rise or fall

Factories can also cause the presence of bacteria to increase significantly in any water supply. As water becomes dirtier from factory waste drifting into the supply, bacteria are provided with the perfect conditions to thrive. In many cases, factory operations can also cause water temperatures to rise or fall, and when this happens, it becomes more likely for bacteria growth to take place. At the same time, the natural nutrients present in the water decrease, and so the remaining water is left dirty and prone to causing illness and even possible death to humans and animals that interact with it.

10. Agriculture

It’s important to remember that agriculture itself isn’t a problem and that it’s necessary for humans to survive. With that said, however, environmentally friendly agricultural practices should always be the top priority of any small scale farmers and factory farms as well. There are many agricultural activities that cause water pollution, and these activities must be reduced by all farms around the country and around the world in order to keep water sources safe.

agricultural activities that cause water pollution

One of the many potential problems with farming in terms of water pollution is the possibility for soil erosion. As areas are plowed and planted again and again, the soil is loosened and becomes much more prone to drifting into the water supply. This can make the water dirty and can easily contribute to the rise of bacteria present. Of course, pesticides made with harsh chemicals are also a problem, especially when they enter into water supplies. Humans and animals both should not consume these pesticides, but it’s impossible to avoid it when they’re used so frequently that they are present in water.

11. Leaks and Spills

It’s no secret that leaks and spills, even while accidental, are some of the most well-known and well-documented causes of water pollution historically. You’ve probably heard of at least some of these major spills, such as the massive oil spills that have seriously damaged the ocean and its creatures in past years. However, you might not be aware that smaller-scale spills happen regularly around the United States and around the world as well. When handling harsh chemicals and pollutants such as oil or gasoline, the potential for accidents is always present, and it could have disastrous outcomes.

damaged the ocean and its creatures

Unfortunately, energy sources also sometimes suffer leaks and accidents, sometimes to severely devastating lengths. For example, nuclear power plant leaks, even if small and quickly contained, have the potential to lead to widespread death and destruction of the surrounding environment. These major accidents can even spread through water supplies and through the air to cause problems hundreds of miles away. Although this is a rare occurrence, the potential is still there, and water supplies are threatened every day by the possibility of pollutants from nuclear power plants, oil spills, gas leaks, and even small chemical leaks in residential situations.

12. Energy

Aside from the possibility of severe leaks from nuclear power plants, various sources of energy continue to pose potential water pollution issues. Energy is a necessity for human life to survive and thrive and for the human race to continue progressing into the future. However, the more energy we use, the more waste is produced from every type of energy we incorporate into our daily lives. For example, when coal is burned, it causes chemicals to enter into the atmosphere which can easily run into water supplies and cause serious damage to the fish and plant life within. This damage can be passed on to humans through consumption or recreation easily.

potential water pollution issues

In areas where nuclear power plants are present, water is almost always too severely contaminated to be used for anything. For miles surrounding these plants, fish and plant life is almost completely gone, and signs warning people to stay out of the water are prevalent. Individuals who happen to live close to these power plants will experience another type of water pollution: acid rain. This rain falls frequently around plants that are in operation, and it causes a lot of damage to plant and animal life in the area. It can even damage property and peel paint from cars that aren’t protected from this common occurrence.

13. Illegal Dumping

In years gone by, it was much more common for individuals as well as companies to dump waste illegally into water supplies or near areas that could cause contamination of those water sources. Many chemicals that cause water pollution are present in the garbage and other types of waste, and dumping in or near water supplies can very quickly lead to a buildup of pollution that can’t be reversed. Today, it isn’t as difficult to dispose of waste properly, but companies and individuals alike still sometimes participate in illegal dumping, usually in places where it costs a lot of money to pay for regular waste disposal.

garbage disposal

One of the best ways to combat this type of pollution is to ensure that garbage disposal remains cost effective in every city and town around the world. Dumps should be easily accessible, and it should not cost very much at all to dump even large amounts of waste at these sites. Companies should always have adequate resources to help dispose of wastes, especially when those wastes are already chemical in nature and could potentially cause very serious problems if exposed to water. Cities and counties should focus on making sure every individual household in the area is signed up for garbage disposal services to make it less likely that those households will dump items illegally.

14. Animal Waste

Last but not least, animal waste is always a potential problem of direct water pollution. This, however, is a very natural type of pollution that doesn’t have anything to do with human interaction with nature. Even if humans aren’t present at all in an area, animal waste is likely to come into contact with water sources and cause pollution. It is for this reason that it will always be important for people to have access to water filtration methods.

 type of pollution

When animal waste is present in water, bacteria growth increases significantly. It’s possible to catch illnesses from animals that produce waste in and around water supplies. Animals that are infected with parasites might also cause those parasites to enter the water where waste is present. If someone drinks or swims in water that is infected with animal parasites, those parasites can easily be transferred to that person. From there, they can be spread to other people depending on the type of parasite. Although animal waste is natural and is to be expected, it is always important to treat water before drinking it or using it for any recreational purposes, even in your own home.


By now, you should be much more well-versed in what causes most water pollution and the ways in which you can help. It may feel like an impossible task to try to make a difference in the world in terms of water pollution, but every effort makes a huge difference in the long run. If more people notice you trying to become involved with this issue, then they are likely to join in as well. The best way to encourage others to pitch in and help is to lead by example, which means getting out there and doing what you can to clean up water sources, fight for cleaner operations of factories and industries, and speak up throughout your community about practicing safer water habits.

Water is a valuable resource on our planet. We can’t live without it, and the planet can’t survive without it either. Although in the United States and other developed countries we have the technology to treat water to make it safer to drink, remember that other parts of the world are not as fortunate. Because of this, water safety should always be a concern.

Now that you’ve learned more about what water pollution is and what can cause water pollution in different situations, you should be better prepared to deal with it at home. Remember to keep your water as safe and clean as possible in order to provide the best experience for you, your family, and the people around you.