Simple ways everyone can act to protect groundwater
Everyone can and should do something to protect groundwater. Why? We all have a stake in maintaining its quality and quantity.
• For starters, 99 percent of all available freshwater comes from aquifers underground. Being a good steward of groundwater just makes sense.
• Not only that, most surface water bodies are connected to groundwater so how you impact groundwater matters.
• Furthermore, many public water systems draw all or part of their supply from groundwater, so protecting the resource protects the public water supply and impacts treatment costs.
• If you own a well to provide water for your family, farm, or business, groundwater protection is doubly important. As a well owner, you are the manager of your own water system. Protecting groundwater will help reduce risks to your water supply.
There are two fundamental categories of groundwater protection:
• Keeping it safe from contamination
• Using it wisely by not wasting it.
Before examining what you can do to protect groundwater, however, you should know that sometimes the quality and safety of groundwater is affected by substances that occur naturally in the environment.
Naturally occurring contamination
The chemistry of the groundwater flowing into a well reflects what’s in the environment. If the natural quality of groundwater to be used for human consumption presents a health risk, water treatment will be necessary.
Examples of naturally occurring substances that can present health risk are:
• Microorganisms (i.e., bacteria, viruses, and parasites; these tend to be more common in shallow groundwater)
• Radionuclides (i.e., radium, radon, and uranium)
• Heavy metals (i.e., arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium).
Public water systems are required to treat drinking water to federal quality standards. However, it is up to private well owners to make sure their water is safe.
Contamination caused by human activities
Human activities can pollute groundwater, and this is where every person can help protect groundwater — both in terms of groundwater quality and quantity.
Some common human causes of groundwater contamination are:
• Improper storage or disposal of hazardous substances
• Improper use of fertilizers, animal manures, herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides
• Chemical spills
• Improperly built and/or maintained septic systems
• Improperly abandoned wells (these include water wells, groundwater monitoring wells, and wells used in cleaning contaminated groundwater)
• Poorly sited or constructed water wells.
An emerging concern in recent years is the occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water. Much research remains to be done to assess the health risks of trace amounts of these items. Nevertheless, disposal strategies for these substances are increasingly being advocated.
Americans are the largest water users, per capita, in the world. In terms of groundwater, Americans use 79.6 billion gallons per day — the equivalent of 2,923 12-oz. cans for every man, woman, and child in the nation.
Agricultural irrigation is far and away the largest user of groundwater in America at 53.5 billion gallons a day followed by public use via public water systems or private household wells at a combined total of 18.3 billion gallons per day. More efficient use of water in either of these areas could save a huge amount.
At the household level, the greatest amount of water used inside the home occurs in the bathroom. The remainder of indoor water use is divided between clothes washing and kitchen use, including dish washing, according to the U.S. EPA. Calculate your household water use here.
Depending on where in the country you live, outdoor water use can vary widely.
If you want to get an ever better idea how much water you use, find out your “water footprint” by calculating the amount of water it takes to produce some of the food you consume.
ACT — acknowledge, consider, take action
On Protect Your Groundwater Day, NGWA urges you to ACT. Use this day to begin doing your part for protecting one of our most important natural resources — groundwater
1. Acknowledge the causes of preventable groundwater contamination
o There are hazardous substances common to households
o Most household water use occurs in a few areas around the home.
• If you own a water well
o Wellheads should be a safe distance from potential contamination
o Septic system malfunctions can pollute groundwater
o Poorly constructed or maintained wells can facilitate contamination
o Improperly abandoned wells can lead to groundwater contamination (read related article).
2. Consider which apply to you
o What specific hazardous substances are in and around your home?
o Where do you and your family use the most water?
• If you own a water well
o Is your wellhead a safe distance from possible contamination?
o Is your well/septic system due for an inspection?
o Are there any abandoned wells on your property?
3. Take action to prevent groundwater contamination
o When it comes to hazardous household substances:
o Store them properly in a secure place
o Use them according to the manufacturer’s recommendations
o Dispose of them