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Effect of Humans on Streams

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  • 0:01 How Do Humans Affect Streams?
  • 0:40 Stream Flow
  • 1:44 Pollution
  • 2:27 Plants and Animals
  • 3:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

After watching this video, you will be able to explain and describe the various ways humans impact streams, including stream flow, pollution, and bodiversity. A short quiz will follow, providing an opportunity to see what you have retained from the lesson.

How Do Humans Affect Streams?

Over the course of the last 12,000 years, human beings have had huge impacts on the world. We've altered the atmosphere, the soil, the weather patterns, plant and animal life - you name it, we've affected it. And though streams might seem constant and unyielding, the truth is that they are no exception.

The relationship organisms have with their environment is complex, and sometimes hard to explain, but there are certain long-term consequences on river ecosystems that we can see clearly and talk about. Those include stream flow, pollution, plants and animals.

Stream Flow

It's pretty easy to see how humans have affected the flow of streams. Just look at a dam! Dams are human-built barriers in bodies of water, designed to hold the water back and raise the water level. These are often used to generate electricity, or create a reliable, controllable water supply. But in building dams, the course and flow of water in an area is drastically altered. A relatively dry area can become flooded and a previously watery area can suddenly become bone dry. It is a huge environmental impact.

Of course, dams also have great benefits: generating electricity and allowing humans to more reliably settle on the land. When there are plenty of resources, there is generally less human conflict, and that can only be good.

Putting dams aside, humans can affect streams without even trying. Through agriculture, deforestation and construction, we've left large areas of soil uncovered and unprotected. This unprotected soil causes water to run along it when it rains, and this water can form rills and gullies, which can eventually lead to new stream paths if left unchecked.

Pollution

Pollution is also a major effect humans have on streams and rivers. Pollution is the introduction into the environment of any substance that has harmful effects. It can be hard for humans to control pollution, because any urban area will produce some pollution, seeping into the ground and water and washing off roads and surfaces with the rain.

When deforestation and farming clears areas and exposes soil, that can also lead to large amounts of erosion, and this erosion of soil carries with it any chemicals the farmers use on their land, causing it to find its way into streams. Industry can even end up polluting the water directly by discharging waste into the water system. Pollution changes the pH of the water, which can be terrible for biodiversity.

Plants and Animals

Humans can also have large impacts on the plants and animals in stream areas. Changing the pH of the water through pollution has harmful effects on biodiversity. And changing the flow of water in an area by damming and deforestation will also affect plant and animal life, either directly through water availability, or by preventing the migration of animals like fish, or even changing the water temperature affecting insects.

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