River Salinization May Become a Global Environmental Issue

The salinization of rivers has become a global problem with high environmental and economic cost, which also poses a great risk to human health. According to a new research, climate change and increasing water consumption may create larger issues in the future.

River salinity can be natural, which is caused by the geology of the area or the climatology, but it can also be anthropogenic – caused by domestic and industrial waste discharges, mining activity, agricultural and farming residues, etc. In worldwide river ecosystems, excessive salt concentrations caused by human activity are a threat to the survival of organisms and communities, biodiversity, and the ecosystem's biological balance. Excessive concentrations produce severe economic and public health problems.

According to primary investigator Miguel Cañello-Argüelles of a recent article published in the journal Environmental Pollution, "[River salinization] happens in many regions from all over the world, although there is a great ignorance about the problem. The most extreme case of salinization occurs in some Australian rivers. However, in this case local studies have been done in order to clearly diagnose the problem; therefore, all the agents who make use of the natural resources of some rivers (farmers, industrialists, etc.) have collaborated in the process of finding solutions.”

Current legislation is generally flexible when it comes to establishing limits for salt concentrations in rivers. In Europe, salinisation is not considered an important problem and no legally prescribed environmental quality standards exist for salt. In many countries, business and industrial factors predominate over the necessity to set a limiting regulation.

"Legislation is still waiting. People are not aware of the severity of the problem and information about the effects of excessive salt on river ecosystems is missing,” stated Miguel Cañedo-Argüelles.

The study states that the effects of global climate change could increase the salinisation of rivers in many regions. In comparison with other regions of the planet, lower rainfall, worse drought, more water consumption, and therefore, more salinity in rivers are expected in the Mediterranean region.