15 Ways to Prevent Groundwater Contamination: How YOU Can Make a Change

Have you ever heard of groundwater contamination?

Did you know that groundwater contamination is one of the leading causes of water pollution around the world?

Have you always wanted to get involved helping to improve the quality of water in your area?

If you’re interested in helping fight back against water pollution, one of the best ways to do so is to learn more about contamination of groundwater and its control. Although surface water pollution is a problem as well, the pollution of groundwater causes much more significant problems overall. Unfortunately, it’s also often overlooked by people and by corporations, and this leads to even more pollution due to a simple lack of understanding.

In this article, you’ll be introduced to groundwater contamination through a quick crash course. You’ll learn how to identify groundwater contamination, and you’ll also be provided with a short list of sources and types of this contamination you can watch out for in your area. You’ll even be able to read up more on the regulations that are already in effect to help prevent groundwater contamination in some parts of the country.

Of course, you’ll also find out how to prevent groundwater contamination and what you can do to make a difference. You’ll be given a list of fifteen different ways to prevent groundwater contamination that both individuals and corporations can participate in. From there, you’ll easily be able to find out which ones you can try, and which ones you can encourage companies in your area to try as well.

Read on to find out everything you need to know and more about the important topic of groundwater contamination.

What Is Groundwater Contamination?

In order to learn about groundwater contamination, it’s first a good idea to understand what groundwater really is. You might have some idea of what it is based on the term “groundwater” itself, but there’s more to it than just water that can be found below the ground. Read through this section for a brief introduction to the world of groundwater.

what groundwater really is

What is groundwater?

To learn what groundwater is, you might want to think about what it isn’t. Groundwater is not the same thing as surface water. Surface water is any water you can see on the surface of the Earth without having to dig for it. This includes creeks and streams, lakes and ponds, rivers, and of course, oceans. Most of the time, however, the term surface water is used to refer to sources of freshwater instead of saltwater.

Groundwater, then, is the water you can’t see just by looking around. This water is found below the ground in sand, rock, and dirt. You have to dig for it to find it, and sometimes, it’s buried very far below the Earth’s surface. It moves very slowly from one place to another, but it is usually the water that feeds surface water sources from deep below. Groundwater fills up the spaces between rocks and particles of dirt and sand underground.

What happens when groundwater is contaminated?

You might be wondering how groundwater can become contaminated so easily, especially since it can be found so deep within the ground. However, water isn’t the only thing that can seep through the ground to reach these small crevices in the rocks below. Any substance can do this, and groundwater becomes contaminated when man-made substances leach into the soil and find their way into the water stored there. Chemicals are one of the biggest causes of groundwater contamination, simply because they can travel a long way through the soil, sand, and rock to reach water sources hidden within. This water is then carried to surface water sources, and it eventually reaches areas where humans, plants, and animals drink it, causing illness and widespread damage.

Sources and Types of Groundwater Contamination

There are many different types of groundwater contamination you might encounter in your area or around the country. Depending on the place where you live, some of these may apply more commonly than others, but they are all worth taking into consideration when thinking about what you can do to cut back on groundwater contamination in your part of the country.

  • Residential sources and types of contamination. These include any substances you use in and around your home that could cause damage when they seep into the soil in your yard. Lawn care chemicals are one of the major causes of residential groundwater contamination, as are chemicals used to clean the outside of your home. Swimming pool treatment chemicals, septic systems and sewer lines, and gasoline and oil used on vehicles at home are all other possible areas of concern.
  • Agricultural sources and types of contamination. Many chemicals used in agricultural practices can quickly and easily find their way into groundwater in and around these sites. This can further cause problems by contaminating drinking water given to animals or by infecting plants with diseases. These issues can be carried over to humans quickly. Agricultural sources of groundwater contamination include places where dead animals are buried, fertilizer and manure storage, and pesticide use.
  • Commercial sources and types of contamination. Many types of commercial locations contribute to groundwater contamination. Dry cleaners and car washes are some of the bigger problems, but construction areas also significantly add to the possibility of groundwater contamination with chemicals. Paint shops, junkyards, and gas stations are also areas of concern, and cemeteries may even spread disease into the groundwater nearby.
  • Industrial sources and types of contamination. Of course, industries contribute greatly to groundwater contamination on a daily basis. Oil spills and chemical leaks remain the biggest concerns from these sites, but chemical storage and drainage can also be a problem. The mining industry has a major effect on groundwater contamination, as well.

How to Prevent Groundwater Contamination

Below, you will find a list of some of the ways you can get involved to prevent groundwater contamination. Put these into practice in and around your home, and don’t forget to reach out to people and companies in your community and encourage them to do the same.

1. Do not use pesticides or heavy toxic chemicals at home.

 Since these products can easily seep into groundwater around your home and yard, you can do yourself and your whole family a favor by never using them on your property. In some extreme circumstances, these chemicals can even get directly into your water lines, which means the water in your home may be affected even if your neighbors’ water seems to be fine.

2. Do not store chemicals at home.

 Chances are good that you won’t have the proper equipment to store harsh chemicals, and if you don’t, the possibility of leaks is very high. Even if you do have the right equipment, the chance for spilling these chemicals is still high, and it isn’t a risk you should take on your own property. If you have to use chemicals for something around the house, such as treating your pool water, either call a professional to do it for you or be sure to only purchase as much of that chemical as you need at a time to cut back on the risk of spills or damage.

don't store harsh chemicals

3. In places where chemicals must be stored, such as in industrial and commercial sites, check on storage tanks very regularly.

This usually applies to companies more than individuals, but you can encourage your local industries to check on their chemical storage facilities often. This can help them catch spills and leaks before they happen, and can greatly improve the quality of water in and around your area, especially if you’re in a place where factories are very common.

4. Use groundwater monitoring services at home or in agricultural or industrial locations to keep tabs on the groundwater at all times.

This may be a little bit impractical if you’re talking about a simple yard, but if you have other property, such as large pieces of land used for agriculture or other purposes, you might want to check on the quality of your groundwater more often. You can purchase testing kits from labs around the United States to help keep track of how your water is doing.

5. Always keep your septic system and tank well maintained.

If you have a septic system instead of sewage line, you’re responsible for making sure it stays up to par. Sewage lines are usually treated and maintained by the city or county, but if you have one of these instead, you can urge your municipality to check up on sewers frequently to cut back on the risk of disease spreading into your groundwater. Septic systems must be checked regularly to prevent leaks or improper installation practices.

6. Properly dispose of any garbage that may contain contaminants.

If you have any type of garbage that might contain a contaminant, be sure you throw it away properly instead of dumping it in non-designated areas. Landfills are still a source of pollution and contamination, but many landfills are working to improve their practices to help keep groundwater safe and clean. By dumping garbage at designated landfills instead of in other places—and instead of letting it build up around your home and yard—you can cut back on the amount of groundwater pollution in your area.

dispose of any garbage

7. Do not drain fuel or oil from your vehicle in a residential area.

Although it’s tempting to work on your vehicles in your own garage or driveway, if you get to a point where you need to drain oil or fuel from your car, you need to take it to a place designated for this type of work. Draining fuel and oil around your home can quickly lead to spills in your yard. Since you’ll be unable to clean up any gasoline or oil that might spill into your yard, it’s going to seep into the ground or get washed into nearby water sources, and it’s going to cause contamination and pollution. The same is true of oil leaks from your vehicle, so take care to get those repaired as quickly as possible too.

8. Do not use hazardous cleaners in your home.

The fewer hazardous chemicals you have in your home, the less of a chance you have to spill them and cause damage to the groundwater in your yard. When you don’t use hazardous chemicals, you also cut back on a lot of difficulties in terms of disposing of your garbage. Use mild chemicals if you must use them at all when it comes to clean up.

9. If anything hazardous spills in your yard, don’t hesitate to call the authorities to help clean it up.

You might feel embarrassed if you spill something you shouldn’t have been using in the first place, but don’t worry. Calling for a cleanup team doesn’t mean you’re going to get in trouble, but it does mean you’ll have plenty of professional help to save your yard and the surrounding groundwater. If something hazardous spills in your yard, you have the responsibility to yourself, your family, and your neighbors to call someone to help you take care of it.

10. Recycle old oil instead of dumping it. 

 recycling stations

Many landfills and recycling stations allow you to recycle old, used oil.Take your oil to places like this instead of dumping it out in your yard or even in your garbage can. Dumping oil causes it to leach into the soil, but recycling it is good for the environment in more ways than one.

11. Recycle other types of garbage to help cut down on chemical seepage at landfills.

Since recycling is a great way to help the environment overall, why not carry it over into more areas of your life instead of just oil? Recycle everything you can in order to cut back on the amount of garbage sent to landfills. This will, over time, help reduce the amount of chemical pollution of groundwater from stormwater runoff that comes from landfill sites. Encourage your friends, family, and neighbors to contribute to recycling efforts as well. If you don’t have a designated recycling pickup in your area, offer to pick it up for your neighbors and take it to a recycling facility yourself. This is a great way to encourage recycling in areas where it isn’t common yet.

12. Always clean up after animals.

Don’t let animal waste sit in your yard—or in your neighbor’s yard, either! Even if you feel like a little waste left here or there might not be a problem, it’s a sure way to cause bacteria to seep into groundwater in your yard. If this bacteria reaches your drinking water, you’ll be at risk for illness and disease. If you have any livestock at agricultural sites, be sure to properly dispose of animal waste to keep this from happening. And if you use natural fertilizer or manure, store it properly to keep bacteria from reaching drinking water sources.

13. Do not bury dead animals on your property.

While it may feel like a good way to give yourself and your family closure when the family pet passes on, burying animals in your backyard often contributes to bacteria in your soil and in your groundwater as well. If you must do this, be sure to use a container that won’t allow seepage into the soil, and never bury the animal directly in the soil. If you have an agricultural practice, talk to your livestock veterinarian to find out proper ways to take care of deceased animals.

14. Recycle or dispose of old appliances properly.

When you leave old appliances out in the yard or dump them in out of the way, non-designated places, you encourage any chemicals inside those appliances to leak into groundwater sources. These appliances might also be made of metal or plastic that could further seep into the soil and pollute the surrounding groundwater if left for too long. Always recycle these appliances in areas where this type of recycling is available, and if not, at least dispose of them properly at designated landfills.

surrounding groundwater

15. Dispose of all medications properly.

Last but not least, dispose of any medication properly and don’t just throw it away. Most types of medications have certain ways in which they need to be disposed of, and if you aren’t sure, you can always contact your doctor’s office or drug store to find out more. Throwing away medication may cause it to seep into groundwater as well, and this can further cause contamination. Sometimes, harsh prescription-only medications can cause a lot of serious damage if they happen to reach drinking water supplies for humans or animals.

Current Groundwater Protection Regulations

Depending on where you’re located, there may be some regulations in effect already to help protect groundwater. California is one of the most involved states when it comes to cleaning up groundwater and preventing further contamination from taking place. There are many different ways in which this state is making a difference, and several other states are also getting on board with a lot of these regulations. This is a great start toward improving the quality and safety of groundwater around the country.

water contamination
  • Permitting. Around the United States, permits are now required before digging for anything in your yard or on your property. Wells must be permitted, but so must fences, swimming pools, and anything else that could potentially cause harm to the groundwater. If the area isn’t safe for digging, then the permit will not pass.
  • Testing. Areas where groundwater spills have taken place are tested regularly to ensure that the water is not too polluted for human safety. Many of these areas are also under long-term cleanup programs that are working to restore safety to the environment as well.
  • Groundwater Contamination Prevention Program. This program works to clean up groundwater contamination sites and tries to speed up the cleanup process around the state of California.
  • Safe Drinking Water Program. This program provides water treatment facilities at locations where wells are present. This helps keep the water produced at this wells safe enough for human use and consumption.
  • Regional Groundwater Monitoring Program. Through this program, water quality is studied and reported on every year, particularly in areas where wells are present and groundwater is considered threatened. If findings are not what they should be, those areas are further monitored and treated as necessary.
  • Title 22 Groundwater Monitoring Program. This program works to test water from individual drinking water wells around the state of California. The quality of water is tested and reported on, and wells are treated as necessary from there.

Conclusion

It should be clear that there is a lot to be learned about the topic of groundwater contamination. This is a part of water pollution that many people often overlook, simply because they don’t know it exists or aren’t aware of what it is exactly. However, the more you learn and educate yourself on the subject, the better you will be able to inform other people and companies in your community, and the easier it will be for you to reach out and take a stand against this type of pollution.

Remember that there are many different ways you can get involved, and the best option for one area might not work as well for another. Don’t be afraid to get out there and talk to the people in charge in your city, county, or municipality, and don’t be afraid to reach out to corporations in your area as well. The more you talk to the people who have direct effects on groundwater contamination, the less pollution you will see in your area over time.

Of course, there are also ways you can cut back on the potential for groundwater contamination at home, and this is a great place to get started. Whichever way you try to combat this growing problem, you are sure to feel great knowing you’re doing what you can to stop it.

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