Unpaved roads, open pastures and land use patterns contribute to poor water quality

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Mountain spring water is often touted as the cleanest water you can drink. But a new study from the University of Georgia revealed this isn’t the case.

Using data collected over 40 years, researchers detailed how water quality in high-elevation streams has been negatively affected by a combination of historical events and modern changes, namely sediment from rural roads and agricultural runoff.

Unpaved roads are just one of several factors contributing to sediment runoff, said Rhett Jackson, a professor at UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and the paper’s lead author.

The paper was published earlier this month in the journal Bioscience.

“We had access to studies from 1976 to last year that encompassed both stream and terrestrial studies,” said Jackson, who worked with researchers from Virginia Tech, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota and the U.S. Forest Service to analyze streams in a mountainous portion of North Carolina adjacent to the Coweeta Long-Term Ecological Research Site.

When streams carry a lot of sediment, it makes it more difficult for animals to see food in the water, and it affects fish growth and disease resistance. Sediment also continues to flow downstream and into public water supplies, where it costs cities and towns more to filter.

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