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Don't take groundwater for granted

Protect your Groundwater Day took place this week and is a good reminder of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind resource that is essential to our survival on this earth. As we enter this new era of climate change, the water storage capacity of underground aquifers will become more and more important for water supply and replenishment of our streams during dry summer months.

A large percentage of Southern Oregon properties depend on groundwater for their drinking water supply. In addition, several homeowners, even within the city limits, have installed wells for irrigation use. Groundwater wells represent access to water that in some cases has been in the ground for decades, centuries, or millennia. It is a renewable resource but, depending on the source, is not renewable at the rate we are using it.

Protect your Groundwater Say is an opportunity to remember that groundwater is a precious resource and should be used sparingly and wisely. Well owners have a responsibility not just to prevent overuse of well water, but also to ensure that the groundwater does not become contaminated through a poor well seal or cap, use of chemicals in the vicinity of the well, and ensuring that once a well’s use is ended, it is properly decommissioned.

Those of us who don’t own wells also have a responsibility to ensure that groundwater does not become contaminated by our surface activities, or chemical spills and leaks.

Water conservation neasures you can take

  • Decrease your lawn size and plant drought tolerant, native plants instead.
  • Water plants when it’s cool — in early morning. Turn off irrigation when it rains.
  • Regularly check for leaks, broken nozzles, misdirected spray.
  • Wash your car using a bucket and sprayer that can turn off.
  • Cover your pool to reduce evaporation, inspect for leaks.
  • Use a broom, not a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks.
  • Run dishwashers and clothes washers only when full.

Contamination prevention measures

  • Check your heating oil tank for leaks.
  • Properly collect and dispose of motor oil.
  • Make sure your well has a sufficient seal and tight cap.
  • Ensure your septic system is maintained, pumped every three to four years.
  • Properly store chemicals to prevent leaks and spills from reaching the soil.
  • Keep livestock at a distance from your wellhead.
  • Properly decommission unused wells — these provide direct conduits to groundwater.

Additional resources are available by emailing domestic.wells@state.or.us or at www.oregon.gov.

Amy Sager Patton is a consulting hydrogeologist and former manager of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Groundwater Protection program. She can be reached at pattonenvironmental@gmail.com.

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