“No clean soil, no clean water… No clean water, no clean soil.” – Hendrikus Schraven
We’ve been drinking the same water since the dawn of time on planet Earth. No matter where you get your water, at some point in its journey that water has been filtered by soil.
It’s the original form of recycling. It rains or snows. That precipitation soaks into the ground where it’s either taken up by plants or flows onward to streams, lakes and the sea. It may also become groundwater, stored underground for centuries. Part of this process involves the ground itself acting as a filter. As the water moves through the various layers of soil, gravel and sand and its microbiology, it is cleaned by the soil. During that process, the water also helps restore soil to a neutral pH. But the system is breaking.
As surface water travels, it picks up whatever it flows through. This includes sediments, nutrients and contaminants. Likewise this water can bring pollutants down from the air. When this water enters healthy soil, the natural filtering system works at pulling these items from the water. However, increased contamination, pollution and sedimentation, along with the decline in healthy soils contribute to an overburdened and ineffective natural filtering system: too many contaminants and too little healthy soil.
Water that falls through air choked with industrial wastes is known commonly as acid rain. In turn, water flows over farmlands made toxic by chemical pesticides. Both these have the effect of leeching the soil of nutrients. Worse yet, such contaminated rainfall fails to neutralize the soil, and acidic soil fails to filtrate the water.
Interrupting the Flow
As urban areas have expanded, we’ve lost forests, wetlands, and undisturbed soils capable of managing stormwater naturally. Water that moves through a city picks up things like deodorants, drugs, paint, pesticides and pet waste; these pollutants are then deposited in the watershed. This take-up actually happens more efficiently in a city because the water picks up more speed running over cement surfaces than falling to a forest floor.
It’s not possible to produce healthy plant material and support a healthy biology without clean soil. Contaminated soil also affects its ability to produce healthy plant material, and support a healthy biology. With a population expected to boom to some 9 billion people by 2050, maintaining the health of our soils is more important than ever before.
Adding organic compost and nutrients back to your soil will immediately improve its structure in several ways. It will reintroduce nutrients your plants (and you) need. It will increase the amount of water your soil can hold, meaning less watering. And organic compost can even decrease contaminants in the soil by diluting them out. Even contaminants such as lead become less hazardous when compost is added to the soil. And ultimately, any water that falls on your remediated soil will make its way through the great recycling bin known as Earth, and we’ll all be that much healthier for it.