Water quality crises are becoming more common, from algal toxins in Toledo to lead in Flint, Michigan; Sebring, Ohio and other communities. Could those crises happen here?
It’s possible—but not likely—because this region pulls almost all of its drinking water from groundwater stored in the buried valley aquifer, not from rivers and streams as these highlighted cities do. Why is groundwater better?
Groundwater offers several benefits over surface water (rivers and streams) for drinking.
- Treating groundwater so it can be used for drinking water can be simpler than treating surface water. Groundwater may only need to be disinfected to kill bacteria and viruses, while surface water must be disinfected and filtered for other pollutants.
- Groundwater in our region tends to be alkaline and not as corrosive to pipes as natural waters from other parts of the state.
- Groundwater is commonly ‘softened’ during treatment which tends to reduce the buildup of scale on pipes and plumbing fixtures.
- Surface water can be affected by polluted runoff from many different land uses including rural and urban land activities. This runoff can include bacteria and chemicals that are difficult or costly to treat.
- Algal blooms, which are fed by polluted runoff flowing into rivers and streams, do not occur in groundwater because algae cannot live underground.
- Spills of toxins or other contaminants into rivers and streams can flow downstream quickly for hundreds of miles, potentially reaching the intakes to water supply. Groundwater typically moves slowly, so there is time to prepare or to clean up contamination before it reaches water supply wells.
Protecting groundwater is key
The key is protecting groundwater and preventing contamination. Contaminated groundwater tends to stay contaminated for a long time. Once groundwater becomes contaminated, it’s often very difficult and costly to cleanup.
Advances in groundwater cleanup technologies have been made over the last several decades, but groundwater quality often can’t be restored to previous conditions.
Fortunately, for those of us who live, work and play in the Miami Valley, we can rely on the buried valley aquifer system to provide us with a reliable source of drinking water. Provided, that is, we are willing to do the things necessary to be good stewards of this resource and protect it for our future.
Communities can help
Every community in the Miami Valley has an important role in keeping our water clean and safe.
Make sure that your community has an up-to-date and thorough source water protection plan that is implemented. A source water protection plan protects your community’s water supply.
Communities can protect water by updating their development policies including zoning, codes, ordinances, and subdivision regulations. There are easy and economical ways to do a better job of developing land while protecting water.
Municipalities can also take steps to help residents learn how to ensure the quality of our groundwater. Educate your residents:
- About the dangers of pouring household cleaners, paint and other chemicals onto the ground, and share information about proper disposal.
- How to report spills.
- How to use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly.
- How to carefully change the oil in their cars, avoiding spills that could make their way to the storm drain. Ensure your community has an oil drop off program.
- How to responsibly dispose of unwanted medication, and provide prescription drop-off events.