This week, March 10-16, is National Groundwater Awareness Week.
Although most people know very little about it, groundwater is worthy of public recognition because of the role it plays in human lives and the environment, said Jennifer Hunnell, program coordinator for the Michigan Arbor Day Alliance.
The drinking water supplies of 44 percent of Americans rely on groundwater-the water that fills cracks and other openings in beds of rock, gravel, and sand below the ground's surface.
In rural areas, the number is about 96 percent, Hunnell said.
Those facts alone justify the need for Groundwater Awareness Week, started 15 years ago by the National Ground Water Association.
But groundwater is important in many other ways as well. Consider:
- An estimated 99 percent of all available fresh water in the world is in the form of groundwater.
- Groundwater provides much of the flow of many streams; often lakes and streams are "windows" to the water table.
- Groundwater adds 492 billion gallons per day to U.S. surface water bodies. In large part, the flow in a stream represents water that has flowed from the ground into the stream channel.
- Scientists estimate U.S. groundwater reserves to be at least 33,000 trillion gallons - equal to the amount discharged into the Gulf of Mexico by the Mississippi River in the past 200 years.
- The United States uses 79.6 billion gallons per day of fresh groundwater for public supply, private supply, irrigation, livestock, manufacturing, mining, thermoelectric power, and other purposes.
- Groundwater is tapped through wells placed in water-bearing soils and rocks beneath the surface of the Earth. There are nearly 15.9 million of these wells serving households, cities, business, and agriculture every day.
- Wells are constructed by the 8,100 contracting firms employing nearly 45,000 people dedicated to providing and protecting our nation's groundwater supplies.
- Irrigation accounts for the largest use of groundwater in the United States, about 67.2 percent of all the groundwater pumped each day. Some 53.5 billion gallons of groundwater are used daily for agricultural irrigation from more than 407,913 wells.
- Irrigation is a major reason for the abundance of fresh produce and grains in the U.S.
- One ton of groundwater used by industry generates an estimated $14,000 worth of output.
"These facts underscore the important role people play as stewards, or managers, of groundwater," Hunnell said. "People can adversely affect the resource. Fortunately, there are simple steps that will help protect groundwater."
Groundwater protection is particularly important for people with water wells that provide their household water supply:
- Keep hazardous materials away from any well.
- Never dump such materials, motor oil, or anything else that could impact water quality onto the land surface, into a hole or pit, or into a surface water supply.
- Always use licensed or certified water well drillers and pump installers when a well is constructed or serviced, or when the pump is installed or serviced.
National Groundwater Awareness Week is also a good time to schedule a water well system inspection to assure proper well operation, prolong the well system's life, and monitor groundwater quality, the National Ground Water Association says.
"Water wells are expertly engineered systems that, like a car, need to be examined periodically to make sure they are in good operating condition," said National Ground Water Association Public Awareness Director Cliff Treyens. "When water well owners stay on top of their well system's maintenance, it reduces risks to their water supply and their health."
The National Ground Water Association said the inspections should be done only by a qualified water well system professional. Following are the main areas of a water well system inspection.
The water well system professional should:
Visually inspect the wellhead to:
- Ensure proper location in relation to flooding, potential contamination, physical dangers, and geological or geotechnical hazards.
- Determine if its elevation is above any surrounding contamination sources.
- Make sure the ground directly surrounding the wellhead slopes away from the well casing to keep runoff away from the well.
- Verify that the well casing above the ground surface is the proper height and in good condition.
- Ensure the well cap and well seal are in good shape.
- Document any other variables that have the potential to adversely affect the well system or the safety of persons servicing the well.
Visually inspect well system components, principally aboveground pumping equipment and related parts, for:
- Loose connections.
- Proper joint seals.
- Adequate function of gauges and pressure relief valves.
- If one is used, proper operation of the water meter.
Conduct a physical inspection or test of well components, including:
- Testing the pump.
- Checking valves.
- Testing the electrical components.
- Examining any water storage tanks for microbiological contamination, physical security, and sufficient seals to prevent insect, animal, or bird intrusion.
Other well system components that should be visually inspected include pressure tanks; booster pumps; liquid level control devices; control boxes and connections; water heaters, softeners, conditioners; and filtration equipment.
Upon completion of the visual and physical inspection of the water well system, a written report should be provided to the well/property owner detailing the system specifications observed.