There are two fundamental categories of groundwater protection:
Before examining what you can do to protect groundwater, however, you should know that sometimes the quality and safety of groundwater is affected by substances that occur naturally in the environment.
Naturally occurring contamination
The chemistry of the groundwater flowing into a well reflects what’s in the environment. If the natural quality of groundwater to be used for human consumption presents a health risk, water treatment will be necessary.
Examples of naturally occurring substances that can present health risk are:
- Microorganisms (i.e., bacteria, viruses, and parasites; these tend to be more common in shallow groundwater)
- Radionuclides (i.e., radium, radon, and uranium)
- Heavy metals (i.e., arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and selenium).
Public water systems are required to treat drinking water to federal quality standards. However, it is up to private well owners to make sure their water is safe.
Contamination caused by human activities
Human activities can pollute groundwater, and this is where every person can help protect groundwater — both in terms of groundwater quality and quantity.
Some common human causes of groundwater contamination are:
- Improper storage or disposal of hazardous substances
- Improper use of fertilizers, animal manures, herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides
- Chemical spills
- Improperly built and/or maintained septic systems
- Improperly abandoned wells (these include water wells, groundwater monitoring wells, and wells used
in cleaning contaminated groundwater)
- Poorly sited or constructed water wells.
An emerging concern in recent years is the occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water. Much research remains to be done to assess the health risks of trace amounts of these items. Nevertheless, disposal strategies for these substances are increasingly being advocated.