March 13, 2013

Liz Swafford: Keep groundwater safe from contamination

By Liz Swafford

— This week, March 10-16, is National Groundwater Awareness Week, a time to spotlight one of the world’s most important resources: groundwater.

Though unseen, groundwater makes up 95 percent of all the non-frozen freshwater in the world, while water we can easily see, surface water from lakes and rivers, makes up 3 percent of non-frozen freshwater. The National Groundwater Association has determined that 44 percent of the U.S. population depends on groundwater for its drinking water supply — be it from either a public source or private well.

In Georgia, according to the October 2011 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Water System Inventory Data, 1,550 community water systems use groundwater for 1,679,565 people. More than 476,722 households in Georgia are served by privately owned individual wells, which is why Groundwater Awareness Week is the perfect time to have a water well check.

Groundwater is the water that soaks into the soil from rain or other precipitation and moves downward to fill cracks and other openings in beds of rocks and sand. The water can later be extracted through a well, or come to the surface naturally as a spring feeding a river or lake. At any given moment, groundwater is 20 to 30 times greater than the amount in all the lakes, streams and rivers of the United States.

All people by their living habits can protect or harm groundwater, which is the world’s most abundant freshwater supply. The first step toward protecting groundwater is to become aware of how it can be contaminated. The second step is to do your part to keep from contaminating groundwater. Besides impacting our drinking water, we can harm the environment and the ecosystems that depend on having clean groundwater.

Keeping groundwater safe from contamination can be done easily throughout the year, whether you have a private well on your property or not. The main thing you can do is to properly store hazardous household substances in their original, secured and properly labeled containers. Hazardous substances include items such as paints, paint thinners, petroleum products, fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and cleaning products. When you’re done using the items, do not pour them down the drain or the toilet. Please dispose of them at the Household Hazardous Waste facility in Whitfield County at the Old Dixie Highway Landfill and Convenience Center which is open on the third Saturday of each month from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. to collect hazardous waste from county residents. The next day the facility will be open is Saturday. Visit for directions or call (706) 277-2545.

If you have a water well on your property, schedule yearly maintenance such as a water well check. Testing should be done annually to ensure the proper operation of the well, and the quality of the water. To find a local water well contractor that can do a maintenance test visit or call the National Groundwater Association at (800) 551-7379. Wells can provide high-quality drinking water, and about half the U.S. population receives its drinking water from wells. But with well ownership comes the responsibility of keeping the water well in good working order.

Most surface water bodies such as lakes, rivers and streams are connected to groundwater. So whether your water supply comes from groundwater or surface water, conservation matters. There is something every person can do to conserve water. Americans are some of the largest users of water, per capita, in the world. In the United States, Americans use 79.6 billion gallons of groundwater every day — the equivalent of 2,923 12-ounce cans for every man, woman and child in the nation.

Here are some action steps you can take year round that are part of the groundwater conservation pledge for this week’s celebration:

• Never pour water down the drain when there may be another use for it.

• Repair dripping faucets and toilets; one drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons a year.

• Don’t run a faucet when you’re not using the water, such as while brushing your teeth.

• Only run the dishwasher when it is fully loaded.

• Operate clothes washers only when they are full, or set the water level to match the load size.

• Avoid over-watering the lawn; a heavy rain eliminates the need to water for up to two weeks.

• Use a shutoff nozzle on the hose for car washing that can be adjusted to a fine spray.

To learn more about groundwater this week visit the following websites:

• National Groundwater Association: or

• “Discover Water — The Role of Water in Our Lives” from Project WET at

• World Water Day 2013: International Year of Water cooperation:

• The Groundwater Foundation:


Liz Swafford is the recycling and education program coordinator for the Dalton-Whitfield Solid Waste Authority. Contact her at (706) 278-5001 or