Water Leaks and Ecosystem Health

This guide discusses common sources of water leaks in the home, and the subsequent effects this can have on local ecosystems and the wider environment.

By Eric Adler, Founder and CEO of Flume Water

Water is a vital resource used by Americans in their day-to-day lives. Estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggest that U.S. households use an average of approximately 300 gallons of water each day. Although about 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, well over 90% of this water is unavailable for use due to inaccessibility or because it is either salt water or frozen water.

Americans have traditionally recognized the importance of preventing and repairing any water leaks in their homes, largely because fresh water is scarce in many regions and water waste drives up utility bills. More recently, experts have also determined that residential water leaks harm our ecosystem.

What Are Ecosystems?

Cloudy sky reflected in Lake Pukaki. Water Leaks and Ecosystem Health

Ecosystems are physical or geographic areas containing a diverse community of organisms. An ecosystem is an environment that often contains plants and creatures that function well in the setting based on its climate and available resources.

Experts typically categorize factors that exist in an ecosystem as either living (biotic) or nonliving (abiotic). In ecosystems, most living and nonliving factors are directly or indirectly impacted by the others and water represents one of the single, most important components.

The Vulnerability of Water to Pollution

While water is among the most critical parts of ecosystems, it is also very susceptible to pollution. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) describes water as a “universal solvent” because it is a liquid that will dissolve most of the substances found in environments.

Unfortunately, the dissolving capabilities that make water so vital to ecosystems also make water a potentially devastating force once it is polluted. Homes, factories, farms and other structures often contain toxic substances, such as chemicals, which may mix with water and begin circulating in ecosystems. For example, health advocates commonly express concern regarding the presence of mercury and other toxins derived from polluted water found in some larger fish species, which are often subsequently consumed by humans.

Common Sources of Water Leaks in Homes

Some of the most common residential water leaks involve the following:

  • Toilets: As appliances that are susceptible to wear and tear, toilets will sometimes develop leaks or continually “run.” Faulty seals, rusted pipes, broken valves and damaged flappers are among the most likely concerns.
  • Showers: The amount of water waste caused by leaky shower heads is often underestimated. Shower heads that drip only five times a minute may result in several hundred gallons of wasted water over one year
  • Faucets: Like shower heads, slowly dripping faucets in kitchen or bathroom sinks are often ignored.
  • Humidifiers: The water lines of whole-home humidifier units often become clogged and begin leaking.
  • Other appliances: Tank water heaters, washing machines and dishwashers are all potential sources of water leaks.

Leaks Involving Private Water Wells

Another possible source of home water leaks that may harm the health of our ecosystems is private wells. Households located in rural areas often have no access to municipal public water utility systems and rely on subterranean groundwater from aquifers within clay, silt, soil or rock. 

California’s Department of Water Resources says the state has roughly two million water wells and more than 7,000 new wells are dug annually. Statewide, Californians derive approximately 40% of their water from underground wells.

Improperly designed or constructed water wells and those that become damaged can result in poor quality water in your home and quickly contaminate the environment. Some of the common contaminants found in well water include radon, arsenic, nitrates and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)  The U.S. EPA encourages homeowners to test the quality of their domestic well water each year.

The Dangers of Home Water Leaks and Related Contaminants

Some of the potential dangers of water leaks include the following: 

  • Viruses / Bacteria (microbes): Human waste from our homes is ordinarily managed safely by septic systems; however, improper construction and poor maintenance might result in leaks that contaminate nearby wells, water containing wildlife and recreational swimming areas.
  • Copper: As plumbing systems themselves age, copper may enter drinking water. In some cases, pipes may appear bluish or greenish and some of the potential dangers among humans include anemia or damage to the liver or kidneys. Researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences suggest that the release of copper in the environment may hinder plant growth, poison fish and livestock and prevent certain invertebrates from reproducing.
  • Carbon Emissions: Water leaks inside homes may result in greater energy consumption, which may create higher carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. 
  • Mold: Water leaks often result in the development of mold and mildew. Mold spores can trigger harmful allergic reactions and respiratory problems such as asthma and skin irritation.
  • Mosquitoes: Leaks within your home may create pools of standing water where female mosquitoes deposit eggs. Mosquitoes are dangerous flying creatures known to cause the Zika virus, the West Nile virus and malaria.
  • Excessive Water: Home water leaks can result in excess water entering the surrounding natural environment, which disrupts the delicate balance of ecosystems. The additional water may promote algae growth that impedes the distribution of vital nutrients and decreases oxygen levels that harm aquatic creatures.

Types of Property Damage

Water leaks can create significant damage to property. For example, water damage may require the repair or replacement of drywall, wood, floors, ceilings and other costly items. 

Efforts to Minimize the Effects of Water Leaks

Property owners should regularly inspect faucets, hoses, spigots and lines for appliances for any evidence of wear or damage. Homeowners should consider some of the easy-to-use water leak detection systems in the market today, which allow for quickly identifying and minimizing the effects of water leaks.

Home contractors today provide waterproofing services that help protect basements and crawl spaces and sump pumps can help limit the extent of damage from leaks or floods. Limit the extent of minor water damage and prevent mold growth by using wet-dry vacuums, fans, dehumidifiers, and air conditioners and increasing air circulation by opening windows and doors.

Our ecosystems are vulnerable to direct and indirect harm from water leaks. Homeowners should do their part to limit water leaks on their property and encourage and educate others regarding the importance of doing so for the betterment of our overall environment. 

https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/ecosystem/ https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know#prevent https://water.ca.gov/Programs/Groundwater-Management/Wells# https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237154484_Copper_pipes_as_a_source_of_copper_exposure_in_man_and_environment