Groundwater is a vital resource for drinking water, and for industrial, commercial, and agricultural uses. Best practices in groundwater management and its use are critical to keeping water supplies available and safe for future generations.
While 70% of the earth is covered by water, only 1% is available for use by humans. And 99% of that 1% comes from groundwater.
Groundwater is found in the cracks and spaces in the soil, sand, and rock beneath our feet. It is stored in and moves through aquifers. Groundwater is replenished by rain and melted snow.
This essential source of fresh water for communities around the world faces threats from pollution and water shortages from overuse. Septic tanks, landfills, leaking underground gas tanks, and the use of pesticides and fertilizers pollute groundwater, making it unsafe for human consumption.
It is vital that local government and public organizations educate the public to implement best practices in conserving and keeping groundwater clean. Public and private water and wastewater utilities also need to institute methods to cut water waste and to monitor the health of local water supplies.
Here are some important facts about groundwater:
- Groundwater provides drinking water to 51% of the U.S. population and 99% of the rural population
- 64% of groundwater is used to grow crops
- Groundwater is tapped through wells placed in water-bearing soils and rocks beneath the surface of the earth
- Approximately 500,000 new residential wells are constructed annually, according to NGWA (National Groundwater Association) estimates
- California pumps 10.7 billion gallons of groundwater each day, a third more than the second-highest state, Texas
- Excessive pumping is the main cause of groundwater depletions
- 25% of the U.S. population owns on-site wastewater treatment systems, which are a threat to the health of groundwater if not maintained properly
- Emerging threats to groundwater are hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and microplastics
- 25% of rainfall in the U.S. becomes groundwater (U.S. Geological Survey)
- Groundwater is a renewable resource (NGWA)
How Water Utilities and Wastewater Plants Can Protect Groundwater
Water utilities and wastewater treatment plants have at their fingertips the latest technology that makes monitoring and management of infrastructure easier and cost-efficient. This technology, which includes Geographic Information Systems (GIS), also helps with groundwater monitoring and management.
GIS in groundwater management can help analyze drainage, soil conditions, and other groundwater data. GIS can also be used to monitor groundwater levels and to select sites that are suitable for recharging.
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GIS and IoT (Internet of Things) applications also enable water organizations to monitor operations in real-time. GIS-based applications, such as Nobel Systems’ GeoViewer, help operations managers collect and analyze historical and present data. Water utility managers can use this data to create asset management and maintenance plans to avoid water loss and prevent groundwater supply contamination.
In addition to in-house asset management, public and private water entities can join in the effort to educate citizens about the importance of groundwater and how to protect this vital resource.
The Groundwater Foundation offers customized workshops for public and private organizations to provide citizens with educational tools and resources to protect groundwater. Some topics covered in the workshops include:
- Experience-based environmental education
- Hands-on Activities and Education for Youth
- Source Water Protection
- Maintaining a Contaminant Source Inventory
- Septic System Management
More information about the Groundwater Foundation’s workshops, as well as a host of useful educational tools and resources for the public, can be obtained at this link.
How the Public Can Protect and Save Groundwater
The National Groundwater Foundation is an organization devoted to educating the public of groundwater’s importance in our daily lives and to protect this threatened resource.
Here are some ways the foundation recommends people at home can help conserve and protect groundwater:
Instead of water-wasting grass, landscape your yard with native plants. There are many beautiful succulents available that need little water or fertilizer. If you go with grass, choose varieties that are adapted to your region’s climate, which reduces the need for extensive watering.
The National Institute of Health Sciences has listed 2,4-D, which is a widely used herbicide, as a suspected endocrine disruptor. Many popular weed killers contain this toxin. Several studies say it possibly contributes to reproductive-health problems and genetic mutations. And a growing body of research links 2,4-D to several types of cancer. Eliminating grass from your landscape requires less use of such dangerous substances.
Safely Dispose of Waste
Washing toxic substances such as unused chemicals, paint, and motor oil from your yard and driveway into the street, and therefore into storm drains, can pollute groundwater. Instead, dispose of hazardous waste at a local waste collection site. Contact your local health department to find one near you.
Be Water Conscious
Don’t let the water run when brushing your teeth or shaving. Also, don’t run your water until it gets hot. Invest, instead, in an instant hot water heater. Limit showers to five minutes (a typical showerhead uses about 2.1 gallons per minute).
Fix Dripping Faucets
Fix any leaking household faucets, fixtures, toilets, and taps. Install water-conserving showerheads, faucet filters, and toilets.
Best Times to Water
The best times to water are the morning and evening when it is coolest. Be sure to monitor the weather for rain if you have an automatic watering system in place. The latest technology offers digital watering systems that automatically turn off when it rains. Be sure to follow local government restrictions on watering.
Use non-toxic, natural household cleaners. Lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda are great natural cleaning and environmentally friendly products.
Last, but not least, the public, cities, community and water organizations can participate in National Groundwater Awareness Week. The NWGA Website contains a host of information, resources, and tools to help you spread the word about groundwater and its importance to our communities.