Is River Water Harmful to Plants?
7 Risks and Benefits

Are you planning to use river water on your plants? Its risks outweigh the benefits.

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Kelly Adams

June 13, 2021

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Is River Water Good for Plants?

Have you been wondering about how to water your plants? Has river water been on your list? While most of us use tap water, the thought of using natural river water seems tempting, but it can harm your plants. Although the problems can be small-scale, you shouldn’t ignore them.

River water can be harmful to plants. It may contain chemical and industrial waste material that can hinder the growth of plants.

No matter what type of water you’re using for your plants, it’s essential to keep the pH value in check.

How Can River Water Be Harmful?

1. River Water May Contain Industrial Waste

Natural doesn’t necessarily mean pure!

A closeup shot of river water

River water can consist of chemical constituents and industrial waste material. This doesn’t just make it a hazard for humans, but it’s dangerous for plants too.

Rivers that flow naturally and are not cleaned by any method are more likely to have such bacteria. Therefore, giving such water to plants can cause death.

Here’s an overview of how industrial waste damages plants:

  • Dyes consisting of harmful chemicals.
  • Microbes and other tiny bacteria can form short-term and long-term diseases.

You can learn more about the side effects and impact of water pollution here, by NRDC.


Industrial waste contributes to diseases

Polluted river water consists of high nitrogen and phosphate chemicals. All these chemicals combine to form all sorts of water-borne diseases and fungi.

2. Unclean River Water Disturbs the Soil

River water may disturb the pH value of your soil.

Typically, river water has high levels of salt. High salinity can damage the soil, making it lean toward the alkaline spectrum of the pH scale.

If you do intend to use river water, I would suggest you get this pH level detector for the soil of your plants.

The pH value of water is more likely to disrupt soil texture if it is made of clay. Since river water is groundwater, there will be mineral ions present other than hydrogen and hydroxyl ions. When water has too much hydrogen, it is acidic; if it has too many hydroxyl ions, it is alkaline.

If the texture of the soil is fine, it will resist changes. Otherwise, the pH value of the soil can either become too acidic or too alkaline. Having a high acidic or alkaline value can damage the growth of plants.


Collected Chemicals on the Base of the Soil

If you’re using fertilizers for your plant and you have a river nearby, you need to be more careful. Using a fertilizer can leave some chemicals on the base of the soil. A lot of nitrogen and phosphorus can collect over some time. These levels can become more than needed if the river water is used.

3. River Water Has High Levels of Salt

Salty water can hurt your precious plant more than you think!

The salt level in the soil is known as salinity. Soil with high salinity levels can impair the growth of a plant, causing its cell structure to break down.

Not all plants can grow well when exposed to salt. Soil with high salinity levels can disturb the aeration and drainage system. This blockage happens due to the presence of unnecessary sodium.

But here’s the question: How can you be sure that river water damages your plants? Is it possible to detect excessive levels of salt? Well, if your plants have been receiving excessive salt, they’ll be showing you some signs like these:

  • Plants will become unable to soak in water effectively.
  • Black powdery substance on the base of the soil.
  • Your succulent will become saturated, often showing a change in color such as more or less saturation.
  • Excessive water isn’t able to drain as well as it used to before.

Based on my personal experience, this salinity checker will be useful for you to check the water before giving it to your plants.

Pen Type Salinity Temp Meter

Measure and understand the salinity of water easily using the digital reading of this tester.

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4. Hard to Detect Pesticides as the Surface Area of Rivers is Huge

Are you planning to get water from a small river or a big one?

A river landscape surrounded by greenery

Enzymatic kits are used to detect pesticides in river water. However, the process can be complex for bigger rivers.

Not all rivers are small. The bigger the surface area of the river, the harder it is to detect pests. River water has many pesticides that can take on many shapes.

These pesticides can even turn into other forms of chemicals and substances that can gather in water and make it unsuitable for drinking and irrigation alike in both the small and long run.

Decomposed or not, pesticides in river water don’t just affect plants from the top. If you’re watering infected river water on plants, these pesticides can reach deep down into the ground. So the result can be severe contamination, which is hard to turn around for the better.

How Can River Water Be Beneficial?

The benefits of using river water aren’t that straightforward!

River water can inflict all sorts of suffering on plants. But that’s just one side of the story; there can be a few benefits too. However, even these benefits are limited and depend on the resources in your hand.

5. River Water Can be Recycled and Filtered

If water from the river is recycled, it can be a delight for plants!

Water pouring on plants from a can

Is river water always more harmful than tap water? Not necessarily. Using water straight from the tap may not be a super clean choice either. It may contain high chlorine levels that will be removed using evaporation or filtration; otherwise, your plant may begin to sulk because of chlorinated water and eventually die!


Chlorine is not dangerous all the time!

Are you afraid of chlorine hurting your plant? In reality, low chlorine levelsare good for plants, as they are one of the nutrients.

Filtrating river water isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Here are a few ways using which local river water is usually recycled and filtered by higher authorities:

Reverse Osmosis/ Electrodialysis: This method makes use of a barrier to separate ions and molecules that make up dirty substances in river water.

Nano-filtration: A more modern method to filtrate both surface and groundwater using organic substances.

Chemical oxidation: Uses the process of oxidation to tone down the effects of substances that can contaminate the environment.

But all these methods are usually inaccessible to the public. So how is filtered river water beneficial when it can be quite costly? It’s possible to filter river water if you have the time and resources. The easiest method to filtrate river water on your own is to use a pump, but that can be tricky to use, and not everybody has the expertise to ensure that the water is immaculate.

6. Water from Your Local River Can Save You Money

Always outsourcing water from local companies can cost you a lot!

A local nearby river can be a money-saver if the water can be used and filtered easily.

Using water from your local river is less of a burden on your shoulders. However, that’s only possible when you have filtration methods at your disposal. These could be a pump, heat method, and much more.

Other than that, a river can truly be beneficial if there is no central authority governing it. Also, bear in mind that using the local river water may be illegal. You may require a license in advance or maybe it’s not permissible at all!


Do you live in an industrial area?

For rivers situated in the city or town, the risks of contamination are very high. It is better not to use river water at all if you live in the hustle bustle of an industrial area.

7. Gray River Water Can Be Used as Fertilizer

In small amounts, water draining out from home appliances can be beneficial.

Watering a pot surrounded by soil

Gray river water is the water derived from appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines.

The only way such water can be used as a fertilizer is when it’s in a highly diluted form. If it’s present in a river in little quantities, then it poses no threat to the plants. However, large quantities of gray water are unable to dissolve well in a river with a small surface area.

So Should You Be Using River Water or Not?

All in all, river water has more risks compared to benefits. Especially if the river is a big one, it can be hard to sense if it even has any benefits. On the other hand, rivers with smaller surface areas can be equally threatening if there is excessive gray water, sewerage water or industrial waste. Filtered tap water is a much easier choice compared to using river water for watering plants.

Are you looking for proper ways to water your plants? Look no further than our top ten tips on how to water succulents.

Do My Succulents Need Water? The Top Ten Tips for Watering Succulents!

Succulents are known for not having to be watered as often as other indoor plants but they still need water to survive. Lets learn more.

Kelly Adams Picture

By Kelly Adams

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Kelly and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Kelly Adams Picture

Kelly Adams

Easy Succulents Founder

My name is Kelly and I'm the the founder of Easy Succulents! I'm fascinated by this wonderful plants and I want to share with the world everything I know about them!



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