Groundwater protection starts with you


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If you live in the United States, there is a pretty good chance you get your drinking water from groundwater, which is the water that soaks into the soil from precipitation and moves downward to fill openings in beds of rocks and sand. The National Groundwater Association estimates (based on the 2005 U.S. Census) that 44% of the U.S. population depends on groundwater from a public source or private well. And the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) further estimates that more than 15 million of U.S. households rely on a private well for their drinking water.

While public sources of groundwater are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency and local government agencies, and therefore tested often for consumption safety, the same can not be said for private water systems. According to the CDC, in general, private systems that serve 25 people or less at least 60 days of the year and have no more than 15 service connections are not regulated by the EPA.

So what does this mean if you use a private well? It means the onus is on you to make sure your well water is safe to drink. Groundwater pollution can be caused by landfill seepage, failed septic tanks, underground fuel tanks, fertilizers and pesticides, and runoff from urban areas. Consuming polluted groundwater could make you and your family sick, so testing your well is essential.

The CDC says well users should at a minimum have their wells checked every spring for mechanical issues, and once a year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. Of course, if you suspect other contaminants, test for those as well, but before you spend all of your hard earned money on unnecessary tests, spend time indentifying potential problems. One way to do this is to contact your local health department to find out about contaminants in your area that may be of concern.

No matter how often you test your well, test it immediately if there are known problems with well water in your area such as flooding, land disturbances and other problems have occurred near your well or if you replace or repair any part of your well system, or notice a change in water quality.

Well testing should be done by a certified licensed laboratory in your area. For more information about private wells in your area, click here.

Even if you don’t use a private well, or even a public well, you can still do your part to keep groundwater clean and safe for everyone.

The National Groundwater Association offers the following pledge for keeping groundwater safe:

I pledge to take one or more of the following actions to protect groundwater from contamination.

  1. Properly store hazardous household substances* in secure containers;
  2. Mix hazardous household substances over concrete or asphalt where they can be cleaned up or absorbed;
  3. Dispose of hazardous household wastes at an appropriate waste disposal facility or drop-off;
  4. Do not put hazardous household wastes down the drain or in the toilet;
  5. Do not put any wastes down a dry or abandoned well;
  6. If I own a septic system, I will service it according to local health department recommendations;
  7. If I own a water well, I will get a yearly maintenance check to ensure sanitary seals are intact;
  8. Decommission abandoned wells on your property using a qualified water well contractor; and
  9. Fix or replace any leaking aboveground or underground tanks storing hazardous substances.

* Examples of hazardous household substances are paints, paint thinners, petroleum products, fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and cleaning products.

And of course, a key part of groundwater protection is conservation. The National Groundwater Association recommends saving water by taking such actions as fixing leaky faucets, using low-flow toilets and avoiding overwatering of your lawn.

Share your tips for conserving/protecting groundwater below.