Groundwater is a natural resource that is derived from rain, snow (i.e., precipitation). It can be found in cracks, spaces and layers of soil, sand, and rock. These layers are defined as aquifers (i.e., underground geological water systems) and could be deep or shallow depending on the precipitation in a particular area. Groundwater is extracted from the earth through a well that is drilled into an aquifer. A well is a pipe in the ground that fills with groundwater. The water is pumped through the pipe for usage. In some areas water will rise, on its own, to the surface through a spring. It can then be discharged to lakes and streams. As groundwater evaporates, it forms clouds and returns to the earth to begin the cycle all over again.
Ninety-eight percent of the earth’s groundwater is used by people. Groundwater provides fifty-one percent of the United States with drinking water. Rural communities obtain ninety-nine percent of their water from groundwater; a large share of this estimate is used to irrigate crops. The average American uses one hundred gallons of water daily and drinks more than one billion gallons of tap water daily. Without groundwater planet earth and all its inhabitants could not survive.
Pollutants that contaminate surface water can soak into the earth and contaminate groundwater. Pollutant sources may be landfills, septic tanks, leaky underground gas tanks, and the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides. Road salt, used motor oil, and substances from mining sites are also destructive to water quality. Many types of cancers that humans and wildlife suffer with had their beginnings in polluted water. Septic tank waste has been the origin of outbreaks of hepatitis, dysentery, cholera, and typhoid. Other sources are the poison that comes from toxins. The chemical phosphorus facilitates algae and weed growth in creeks and rivers. When this happens, oxygen levels are depleted. This may result in the death and perhaps even extinction of many species of fish. Calcium and magnesium carbonate levels cause water to become hard. This produces scaly deposits in water heaters and pipes and also makes it difficult to lather soap. The chemical sulfate can give water an unpleasant and bitter taste.
It is important that homeowners and communities maintain their wells and have the water quality tested annually. Utilize discretion when mowing around areas near a well. Install well caps and keep the area nearby free of leaves, mulch, dirt, snow and others materials. Keep household chemicals, paint and used motor oil away from a well. Dispose of these products at recycle centers and hazardous waste collection sites. Minimize the use of pesticides and fertilizers.
Water evaporates by the sun’s energy. Groundwater, in some areas, is used faster than it can be replenished. It may be a highly-populated area that receives no snow and perhaps very little rain. There are steps, however, that everyone can take to better utilize this precious and necessary resource. For example, take short showers; shut off the water while brushing teeth; run full loads of dishes and laundry; check leaky faucets and get them fixed. Interestingly, a leak that drops once per second wastes five gallons of water daily and 2,082 gallons yearly.
For more in-depth information on this topic, visit http://www.groundwater.org. Excellent ideas are provided on how to educate communities and schools as well as information on groups and organizations that are committed to water quality and safety.