I examined the anthropogenic effects on the water quality of headwater streams in the western mountains of the state of Mexico. Rural development has negative effects on the ecology of local streams by diverting and pumping surface and groundwater, removing riparian forests for the construction of buildings, roads, and agricultural fields, and dumping refuse in stream channels. Local development, construction, roads, and agriculture also are sources of pollution that enter the streams during rain events. These negative ecological effects are common to many streams in the watershed of the Chilesdo dam. The combined effects of human development negatively affect the quality of surface water and groundwater aquifers.
The issue of anthropogenic effects on the water quality of headwater streams is relevant ecologically because of likely effects on flora and fauna that depend on these streams and because of the role of headwater streams in the context of the larger watershed. Effects on upstream areas directly affect people, animals, and plants downstream. This issue is relevant economically because rural communities depend on the availability of water of suitable quality for agriculture and livestock. In addition, local water quality directly affects the cost of water purification downstream at dams that feed the Cutzamala system, a major source of Mexico City’s drinking water. This issue is relevant socially because the local community depends on this water for domestic consumption. Compromising water quality and abundance could destabilize the lives of local people because poor water quality and water contamination are a public health concern. Additionally, climate change is likely to make this resource scarcer. Projections for all major scenarios used by the International Panel on Climate Change indicate elevated year-round temperatures and decreased overall precipitation in the region (IPCC 2013).
I addressed concerns over water quality by testing differences among streams with anthropogenic alterations and a stream that had few anthropogenic alterations. I sampled benthic macro-invertebrate communities as indicators of water quality within the streams. Benthic invertebrates are a useful bio-indicator for water quality and environmental disturbances in river systems because different taxonomic groups of invertebrates have different tolerances to water pollution. I measured the abundance and taxonomic richness of invertebrates that exhibit different sensitivities to water quality.
My results revealed that taxonomic richness was lower in streams that had anthropogenic alterations. My results also revealed that the abundance of “sensitive” and “somewhat sensitive species” were lower and that the abundance of “pollution-tolerant species” was higher in streams with anthropogenic alterations. The stream with few anthropogenic alterations had the highest taxonomic richness and largest number of sensitive and somewhat sensitive species. These results indicate that human activities are having negative effects on water quality.
Given my results, I suggest that restoration of degraded streams should reduce water diversion, riparian encroachment, and refuse disposal. I propose solutions to guide these restoration efforts. My data suggests that a coordinated local and regional effort is required to reduce the negative effects of human development and to restore local streams to an ecological condition that will sustain water quality and quantity to enable local communities and the local environment to thrive.