Where does drinking water come from?
The quick and easy answer to this question is - either a body of water or an underground water source. What does that mean? An underground source, like a well, fills with groundwater (that’s what we call water in the ground). When groundwater like rain or snow soaks into the ground, it creates an “aquifer”- allowing the well to fill. Bodies of water, on the other hand, include streams, rivers, and lakes. Unlike underground sources that rely on groundwater, these water body sources are reliant on air, rain, and water that flows down to the source.
Remember… we said that was the quick and easy answer. So, what about everything else? The truth is a lot goes into making sure you get that refreshing and clean glass of water. We have to make sure to protect those underground aquifers and those above ground bodies of water. This means doing our part to eliminate contaminants - a job for all of us!
The issue of contaminants - the obvious and the not so obvious.
Think about that rain we mentioned - it’s what flows to our bodies of waters and also soaks into the ground. That’s right, rain and stormwater has a direct path into your drinking water. So, you want to do everything you can to keep that water as pure and clean as possible. (Think: eliminating health risks. Think: saving money on water treatment.) When rain falls onto homes and buildings it “runs off” the buildings instead of infiltrating into the ground and vegetation. It runs off the buildings and begins to make its way to our bodies of water - taking any pollutants and contaminants it finds along the way. (Think - pet waste, cigarette butts, fertilizers, oil, sediment, and so much more.) Rain that falls on undeveloped properties typically “infiltrates” straight into the soil or “evapotranspires” back into the atmosphere.
Developing neighborhoods and communities isn’t all bad news though. But being aware of the impact it has on water quality is an important piece of it all. As members of neighborhoods and communities - and (newly appointed) experts in water quality - you have an opportunity to take a role in preventing stormwater runoff from accruing too many pollutants before it makes it to our water sources. More on that later (See page 2: Protecting Water Quality: There’s a lot You Can Do to Help). Remember, even if you cannot see a body of water, your stormwater still carries pollutants through the storm drains!
There’s also a “big picture” issue of contaminants as well. This is where we usually come in. Using GIS technology, we work with water authorities to locate potential sources of contamination near and around water sources. (Think - oil tank storage sites or farms with regular animal waste.) Locating these potential sources of contamination as well as managing them through databases and calculating their risks all allow the water system to flow effectively and efficiently. An oil leak is not as scary when we are prepared and aware. In many cases, the community you live in, shop in, or work in have all been designed with management of stormwater in mind.
Protecting Water Quality: There’s a lot You Can Do to Help.
There are many reasons to take a role in protecting water quality and there are many ways to do it.
1. Think - less is more. Try to limit your use of fertilizers and pesticides. Remember, yard waste swept into storm drains or the street will all be collected by stormwater runoff and will make its way into our water sources.
2. Consider different ways for your rain to be collected. Instead of your rain gutter going into the road or driveway where it can easily pick up pollutants, adjust your gutter to the grass - allowing a direct opportunity for that water to infiltrate into the soil. Or - you can even consider a rain barrel or DIY rain garden. A quick search online will show you some tips!
3. The most important thing you can do is stay informed and stay conscious! Be mindful of your impact on the world and take the small steps you can to help protect our water sources. Do it for the animals who need high water quality to survive. Do it for the money - because the less treatment required means more money in your pocket. Do it for the future - because protecting water resources will preserve our ecosystem and improve the quality of life for future generations. Whatever your reason may be - just make sure you do it!