When I was a child growing up in rural upstate New York, I passed the old green well pump in our yard multiple times a day. Even though we didn’t use the hand pump, I knew that it stood over a groundwater well that provided all our water for drinking, preparing food, washing, irrigating the garden, and feeding the barn animals.
Most summers, the water took on a nasty odor, like rotten eggs. It stained fixtures. It made all the clothes washed in it smell bad. It tasted terrible. A few times a week we would drive to the nearby small town and fill up gallon jugs at a free municipal tap. We used this water for cooking and drinking. We hauled our laundry to a laundromat in town to avoid stains and smells.
For me, as a child, it was a minor nuisance. For my mother (responsible for the cooking, cleaning, and laundry), it meant that all the normal household tasks for our family were significantly more complicated and time consuming.
Because of these experiences, I learned about the importance of groundwater in my life at an early age. But these days, for many of us in the United States, groundwater is out of sight and out of mind. March 6 to 12, 2011, is National Ground Water Awareness Week, promoted by the National Ground Water Association and its many co-sponsors. It’s a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of groundwater for human health and the environment, and why we need to protect and conserve it.
Some Groundwater Facts
- About 15% of people in the United States rely on their own private water supplies, which are not regulated under national water quality and health standards [Source: USEPA]
- More than 1.5 billion people worldwide rely on groundwater for their drinking water [Source: USGS Circular 1308]
- Nearly two-thirds of fresh groundwater withdrawals in the United States in 2005 were for irrigation. [Source: USGS Circular 1344]
- Over 15.9 million water wells (of all types/purposes) serve the United States. [Source: NGWA]
- In 2000, the High Plains aquifer provided 23% of the total U.S. withdrawals from all aquifers for irrigation, public-supply, and self-supplied industrial water uses combined [Source: USGS Circular 1279]