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Temperature can be a critical but often overlooked factor in the health of many aquatic environments. Certain fish, like trout, have extremely small tolerance ranges for temperature and dissolved oxygen levels, which are often linked. Increases in temperature of water can result from bacterial infestation and can lead to decreases in dissolved oxygen levels and/or algal blooms.

Though temperature of aquatic environments can fluctuate naturally seasonally, human interferences can interrupt these cycles. Thermal pollution often comes from coal and nuclear power plants, which use surrounding surface water to cool machinery and discharge this water back into the environment. As mentioned above, thermal pollution is closely linked with other pollutants. In some cases, colder water can also be released, such as from reservoirs, damaging environments that have naturally warmer waters.

An increase in the temperature of water can interrupt enzyme activity in many organisms or exceed the tolerance limits of some, leading to die-offs. Thermal pollution can also support algal blooms, which have deleterious effects in an aquatic environment.

Not much can be done about thermal pollution once it is present other than investigating the source of the problem. If the source is another pollutant, such as pathogens, alleviating this issue will likely take care of the temperature problem as well. Otherwise, some helpful steps are listed below.


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  • Adopt

    Are you a member of a group or organization in your community that would be interested in adopting this waterway? Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about stream adoption.

    Learn more about adopting a stream

  • Allow for natural growth near waterways

    If you live or work next to a waterway, leave a 35′ to 100′ no mow zone on its banks. Allow natural and native plant growth in this buffer area or plant native trees, bushes, and groundcover. This vegetation can filter pollutants before they reach your waterway and provide other water quality benefits that far exceed those of a mowed lawn. Native plants and grasses require less watering and fertilizer and also provide important habitat for native species of wildlife.

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  • Plant a rain garden

    Rain gardens can filter and infiltrate stormwater that flows across your yard.

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  • Pick up after your pet.

    Pick up after your pet when s/he is on a walk, at the dog park, or in your own backyard. Dispose of this waste in the trash or toilet. Many pet stores and retailers sell biodegradable bags for picking up waste. Some companies offer pet waste removal services. You can also start a pet education campaign in your neighborhood and/or distribute biodegradable pet waste bags.

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  • Employ agricultural best management practices.

    Excluding farm animals from this waterway and providing them with alternative sources of water can prevent animals from trampling streamside vegetation and defecating in the waterway.

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  • Remove unused dams.

    If you have an antiquated or unneeded dam on your property, contact the Cumberland River Compact to discuss the feasibility of removing it. Walk the stream and inventory the location of any dams or obstructions, and let the Compact know so we can add these to our database or potential removal projects.

    Resources include:

    • Dam Inventory, Removal and Stream Restoration – Cumberland River Compact
    • How Dams Damage Rivers and How Dams are Removed – American Rivers
  • Organize with others in your community. Make your voices heard and your votes count.

    Participate in community planning efforts and advocate for relevant measures that improve or protect water quality. Write to your elected official and let them know this is concern or invite them to speak about the impairment with your home-owners association. When elections come up, vote for candidates who will address the problem and hold them accountable to their promises. Support local watershed / environmental associations.

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  • Spread the word.

    Do your neighbors, family, or roommates know about the problem? Now that you know how to be an effective steward, enlist the help of others in your neighborhood. Share iCreek or resources within it with your neighbors and encourage them to join the effort to protect your creek.