River Health · Rivers

Demystifying River Health-1

Guest Blog by Manoj Misra

We humans know it when we are unwell, but when and how would we know that a river is ‘unwell’?

This article is in two parts. Part I attempts a new name and Part II suggests a way forward. It is more in nature of loud thinking and is an expression of a personal discomfort with a ‘missing’ terminology with respect to ‘streams’ against few parallels including that with humans and the latter’s unscientific propensity to view a stream as being little more than a carrier of utilizable water.

This is primarily to stir ‘thinking’ and ‘debate’. Comments are most welcome. Terms ‘river’ and ‘stream’ have been used here interchangeably.

Introduction

Rivers are strict individualists, each of which varies in its own way…….H.B.N. Hynes

Truth about rivers echo the reality of human existence too. And this is just one of the many parallels between them. 

Let us consider one such parallel.

We all know that what flows in us living beings is called ‘Blood’. It is essential for keeping us alive (transports oxygen and nutrients to different organs of our body), safe (helps us fight infections and removes toxins from our body) and warm blooded (helps maintain our body temperature).

But come to think of it in substance. What we call liquid component of blood namely Plasma is predominantly (92%) water with rest being sugars, fats, proteins, vitamins & salts. It also transports the solid components of blood namely red cells, white cells and platelets to various organs of the body and removes the toxins (poisons) from them. So blood in us is a kind of ‘enriched’ water.

On similar lines what flows in a stream is ‘enriched’ water too. The enriching components being sediments, nutrients, microbes, dissolved salts, minerals, metals etc. But for some strange reason, there is no ‘name’ of this enriched water that flows in a stream. So in default it is common to call it just ‘water’. But this is obviously wrong. So we need a term like ‘blood’ as applicable to living organisms for a stream to distinguish what flows in it from just ‘water’. So that when anything including human activities interfere with and affect the stream processes and alter the naturally enriched status of this liquid (enriched water) we can know and explain what we are talking about.

More over most other aqueous solutions have a name of their own. Sherbets, Karhas, shikanjis, shakes, sauces, soups, brackish, marine et al are few such names.

So why not one for that which flows in a stream? 

But what shall apply to a stream (where flow is the key identifier) shall not to a pond, a well or a reservoir where despite other commonalities the aqueous solution largely stands leaving scope for another suitable name, any takers?

FLUMEN

Word ‘flood’ rhymes pretty well with ‘blood’. But since we humans have developed an understanding of flood as an extreme riverine event, it is proposed to use flumen as the term to denote what flows in a river. High volume of flumen would of course be called ‘flood’.

The choice of ‘flumen’ rests on it being the Latin root of ‘flood’ and meaning ‘I flow’.  

It is proposed to use ‘flumen’ (unless it is a quote from a published source) in place of traditionally used ‘water’ in this article while dealing with matters related with a stream and later in Part II with its health.   

COMPONENTS OF FLUMEN

  1. Water – medium of transport

We are taught in school that water is a colorless, odorless and tasteless compound in its purest form. But this kind of water is to be found only in our chemistry laboratory in a distilled form. In nature it is rarely found. Closest is what we call precipitation.     

Precipitation, which is rainfall, snowfall, hail etc, is the source of all water in flowing streams. There is water that enters streams from underground sources like springs too. But spring water is precipitation too that at some time in past entered the ground and later emerged at a convenient location during its passage underground. Melt water from glaciers is also a kind of spring.

Spring fed stream. Photo by Manoj Misra

“Rainfall, though not chemically pure, is nearly pure water. As it falls it is at its purest moment in the entire hydrologic cycle. It contains dust material washed out of the air, salt carried inland from sea spray, and most important carbon dioxide gas”.1

This running water in streams powered by the force of gravity is a great accumulator and conveyer of gases, non gaseous material (sediments, minerals, metals and salts) and biota which together form the various components of Flumen.   

  • Sediments, Mineral, Metals and Salts – Dissolved or in suspension

When rain strikes the ground, part of it evaporates back into the atmosphere, some parts enter the underground and the rest finds its way into a stream. Both under and over the ground it comes into contact with rocks of various kinds.  

Rocks as we know are composed of minerals, which are chemically held atoms. Some of this like ‘feldspar’ contains sodium which readily dissolves in water while ‘quartz’ containing silicon and oxygen is insoluble and remains suspended.

“Some rocks are more soluble in water than others. Lava is a kind of rock which is relatively insoluble. Limestone and gypsum are very soluble”.2

“The quantity of mineral matter carried by water depends chiefly on the type of rocks and soils with which the water comes in contact, but the length of time of the contact is also important. Ground water usually contains more dissolved mineral matter than surface water because ground water remains in contact with rocks and soils for longer periods of time”.3   

Sand, silt and clay and combinations of them together called as suspended ‘sediment’ form the insoluble component in flumen.    

Metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel, lead, gold, mercury etc and salts of sodium, calcium, magnesium and potassium as chloride, nitrate, sulfate, carbonate and bicarbonate are found in flumen either naturally or sourced from human activities like industrial or mining. 

  • Gases

While the amount of dissolved oxygen (DO) in flumen is often spoken about, the fact that flumen carries large amount and variety of gases in it is poorly understood or appreciated.

The solubility of gases and their presence in flumen is as per following descending sequence:

Ammonia > Bromine > Sulfur Dioxide > Chlorine > Hydrogen sulfide > Carbon dioxide > Acetylene > Ethylene > Methane > Oxygen > Nitrogen

As a matter of fact Carbon dioxide gas is 20 times more soluble in water and hence present in flumen in far more quantity then Oxygen. It is also the reason why human blood carries more carbon dioxide than oxygen in it.   

  • Biota  

Living or dead biological (organic) matter in flumen is a key component. Streams provide variety of habitats to both plants and animals (from microscopic to macroscopic) and hence their presence in flumen. Amongst animals these range from bacteria to zooplankton to invertebrates to fishes to mammals and amongst plants from phytoplankton to algae to grasses to trees.   

Manoj Misra (yamunajiye@gmail.com)

Manoj Misra, a former forester is the Convener of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.    

See for Part-2: https://sandrp.in/2020/09/09/demystifying-river-health-2/

References:

  1. Leopold, L.B. and Langbein, W.B. (1960). A Primer on Water. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington. p. 17, https://pubs.usgs.gov/gip/7000045/report.pdf
  2. Ibid., p. 18
  3. Ibid., p. 18

2 thoughts on “Demystifying River Health-1

  1. Wonderful article! I truly believe that nature too should have legal rights because, after all, it is as living an entity as any one of us.

    Like

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