Groundwater: Out of Sight, Yet Vitally Important
By Edwina Teye, Ph.D
For most people, where our water comes from is typically out of sight and out of mind. Since we do not see or interact with groundwater as we do with surface waters, we tend to relegate groundwater to the back of our daily water conversations and interactions; however, it is a vitally important part of our water systems.
March 22 is World Water Day and the theme for this year’s celebration is Groundwater – Making the Invisible Visible.
Groundwater is the water found underground in the cracks and spaces in soil, sand and rock. It is stored in and moves slowly through geologic formations of soil, sand and rocks called aquifers.
Groundwater supplies are replenished, or recharged, by rain and snow melt that seeps down into the cracks and crevices beneath the land’s surface. In some areas of the world, people face serious water shortages because groundwater is used faster than it is naturally replenished. In other areas groundwater is polluted by human activities.
This winter, one storm in our region brought up to 6 inches of snow. Where did all the snow go once melted?
While we know precipitation runoff feeds our rivers and streams, some of it also seeps into our groundwater aquifers. From here, we see the nexus between our surface waters and groundwater through groundwater discharge into the streambed. In other words, our rivers contain groundwater and in times of no rainfall, groundwater seepage keeps water in our rivers.
- Almost all liquid freshwater in the world is groundwater.
- Groundwater may be the only water source for people living in the driest parts of the world.
- Groundwater supports drinking water supplies, powers sanitation systems, helps farming systems, and supports other industries.
- In Ohio, groundwater plays a major role in the state’s economy – about 900 community water systems supply approximately 2.8 million Ohioans with water using groundwater.
Like many natural resources, groundwater is a finite resource, meaning it has a limiting factor, and therefore, it is important for us to safeguard this resource. Groundwater resources are threatened by pollution and exploitation. What happens on the surface affects and finds its way underneath to groundwater?
Much like surface water pollution, groundwater pollution and contamination occur through several sources and actions, including runoff from pesticides and fertilizers applied to lawns and crops; industrial discharges; leaking fuel tanks or toxic chemical spills; and more. These pollutants migrate into our groundwater aquifers and water tables. In areas that depend on well water, the contaminants compromise the water quality.
How do my everyday choices and my community’s actions impact groundwater?
With the impacts of climate change, including extended periods of droughts and floods, groundwater provides us with a safety net. However, climate change can also significantly impact groundwater quantity and quality if we ignore it.
Individual actions can make a difference, especially if we are collectively working toward the same goals. For example, planting natives for your landscape means using less water or fertilizer; proper disposal of unused chemicals and other potentially toxic substances means reduced chemical seepage into our groundwater sources; and using water wisely are a few of the activities you can implement to protect this life-sustaining resource.
On the regional level, sustainable planning and development is key. We must be guided by the principle of balancing the needs of our residents and our planet. Consider participating in water conversations and take a moment to learn about your local water sources including what it’s access means to you. To learn more about how MORPC is providing planning services to help communities in our region update or develop more comprehensive water quality management plans, visit www.morpc.org.