Today let’s look at two different types of surface waters in the United States. When you think about it, there are many different types of surface water, and many different ways they can be used. For now, let’s focus on rivers and canals.
The United States has more than 250,000 rivers, which translates to approximately 3.5 million river miles. Some of these rivers are commercially navigable while others are considered unnavigable. The majority of the navigable waterways (rivers or canals) are in the eastern US, which include more than 25,000 miles of navigable waters. These waterways provide an efficient means of cargo transportation. Most of the commercially important waterways of the United States consist of the Mississippi River System, which includes the Intracoastal Waterway. A few of the canals connected to the Intracoastal Waterway are: the Cape Cod Canal in Massachusetts, the Dismal Swap Canal in Virginia and South Carolina, and the Okeechobee Waterway in Florida.
While the eastern US claims most navigable waters, the western states boast of a more mountainous terrain, which makes for steep grades and variable flow rates in natural rivers. The terrain also poses particular problems for major canal projects, such as the California Aqueduct, the Central Arizona Project, and the Cascade Canal in Oregon. Other western states simply lack available water to divert into a canal. But what the western waters lack in navigability is made up in energy production; most large rivers in the west are dammed, usually in multiple places, to provide water for hydroelectricity production and other uses.
The majority of US treatment plants, whether water treatment or wastewater treatment plants, use surface water as their supply. The Clean Water Act controls pollution and discharge into US surface waters, which affects industrial and municipal wastewater treatment, while the Safe Drinking Water Act controls the finished product delivered to your tap.