What Is Groundwater?
Groundwater is water that fills cracks and open spaces in rocks and soils that lie beneath the surface of the earth. Water seeps into the ground from many sources including rainfall and streams.
Groundwater that is consumed can be replenished in a matter of days or it may take many years to recharge. About 99% of the easily available freshwater worldwide is groundwater. Worldwide about a third of the people use groundwater for drinking water and in the United States nearly half use groundwater as their drinking water source. In rural areas of the United States over 97% get their drinking water from groundwater, and it is also used for household needs, by industries, in commerce, or to irrigate crops.
Why Protect Groundwater?
Groundwater should be protected because it is a major source of the water required to sustain life. As human populations have grown, groundwater usage has increased so over time the groundwater available for use by humans and wildlife has decreased. Groundwater is contaminated by pollutants that seep in from poorly constructed landfills, septic tank systems, industries, roadways, livestock areas, agricultural lands, household chemicals and many other sources. Communities whose groundwater has become unavailable or unreliable due to over usage or contamination have spent millions of dollars to remedy the problem. Remedies are costly and include additional treatment to cleanse the contaminated water, or acquiring water from distant locations. Groundwater rehabilitation can double or triple the cost of the water, and these costs will be passed on to the consumer. It is far better to prevent contamination or conserve usage in the first place.
What Can Consumers Do?
Groundwater protection is everyone’s responsibility, and there are many ways it can be protected. Both the groundwater quality and its availability must be protected.
The amount of groundwater used can reduced by utilizing many water saving techniques. Consumers can:
- Install low flow faucets, toilets and showerheads
- Direct rainwater to locations where it can seep into the ground (lawns and raingarden depressions) to replenish groundwater supplies
- Plant shrubs and plants that need less water to thrive and use efficient home irrigation systems
- Purchase water-saving appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines that use less water
- Minimize running water for daily activities such as brushing teeth, washing dishes or cars
- Purchase products from companies that strive to reuse or reduce water during manufacturing
- Use less water intensive farming irrigation methods such as drip irrigation systems that minimize water usage and evaporation to the air.
- Work with local, state, and federal agencies and organizations to protect critical groundwater resource areas
Groundwater contamination can be minimized using the following practices.
- Test wells regularly for contaminants as they are a direct conduit to the groundwater. Many local environmental groups and agencies provide testing services, and commercial water testing laboratories may be an option as well.
- Plug abandoned wells using qualified water well contractors who fill them with appropriate cementing agents. Abandoned wells should never be used for waste disposal (Federal Law prohibits injecting into wells without permits).
- Pump septic systems out every one to three years and do not flush the system with grease, solvents, paint thinners, non-biodegradable products or other hazardous materials. When installing a new septic system, soil conditions must be suitable and licensed installers should be used. Septic discharges can be significant sources of groundwater pollution.
- Participate in household hazardous waste disposal, recycling, or take-back programs (such as drug take-backs) when available. For example, oil can be recycled through these programs.
- Apply the minimum amount or fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides needed for lawn care. Avoid spillage into rivers, streams canals or other water bodies.
- Remove or replace any leaking underground storage tanks with an above-ground tank or an underground storage tank with leak detection and a liner for secondary containment (Federal law requires this).
- Control manure storage and distribution on farms so that runoff from these areas is minimized.
- Over-applying chemicals on farms to crops causes excess chemicals to seep into the ground. Use pesticides and herbicides that are less toxic or non-toxic as they can leach into the groundwater. Avoid using these compounds near wells.
- Dumping of wastes, oils, paints or other toxic compounds onto the ground or into sewers or wells should never be done.
Work with local, state, and/or federal agencies and organizations on existing sites where the soil has been contaminated by past practices to have them cleaned up.