What is Groundwater?
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. It is, therefore, a renewable resource, although renewal rates vary greatly according to environmental conditions.
It also is an abundant natural resource.
Of all the freshwater in the world (excluding polar ice caps), 95 percent is groundwater. Surface water (lakes and rivers) only make up three percent of our freshwater.
Why is Groundwater Important?
500 billion gallons of groundwater flows into our streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and creeks each day. Kevin McCray, Executive director of the National Groundwater Association, explains that 80 billion gallons of groundwater is used every day in the U.S. for public and private supply; agriculture, irrigation, and livestock; manufacturing; mining; thermoelectric power; and other purposes. As the most common groundwater use, irrigation makes up more than 65% of daily groundwater usage, helping provide plenty of fruits and vegetables to feed our families.
According to the Kentucky Division of Water, roughly two million Kentuckians rely on groundwater. Their drinking water comes from private wells and underground springs.
Groundwater becomes drinking water, therefore polluted groundwater equals polluted drinking water.
The costs to clean up groundwater, once contaminated, are great. Many contaminated sites costs tens of thousands to millions of dollar to clean up. The cost to replace drinking water sources is also very expensive. So protecting groundwater from contamination is not only environmentally sound, it is also economically sound.
What Can I Do To Protect Groundwater?
Help protect our groundwater from contaminants! Common groundwater pollutants include:
- Garbage (including improper disposal of hazardous chemicals)
- Leaking septic systems
- Excessive use of deicing salts
- Improper pesticide management
- Over-application of fertilizer
The easiest way to help protect groundwater is to simply pay attention to your environment.
Do you pick up after your dog? Is there any litter in your yard? Does your car leak oil or other fluids? If you apply fertilizer or pesticides, are you following all of the directions printed on the packaging? Those with septic systems or private wells should also have these underground systems checked periodically.
Oldham County Groundwater Conservation
Oldham Countians are helping conserve and protect groundwater in a variety of ways.
The automatic waterer depicted above provides the sheep with clean, fresh water. Livestock watered by ponds or streams pollute their water source with fecal matter and reduce the amount of vegetation along the banks, increasing erosion. Limited access points may be constructed, allowing livestock to drink from ponds and streams without polluting or damaging these waterways. Contact the Oldham County Soil & Water Conservation District for more information.
Oldham County is also home to many rain gardens. Comprised of drought-resistant, Kentucky native plants, rain gardens slow the movement of water and reduce contaminants. The Extension rain garden, installed and maintained by Oldham County Master Gardeners, is a demonstrative rain garden that includes native plants such as great blue lobelia, purple coneflower, black chokeberry, and red columbine.
The rain barrel is another popular groundwater conservation tool. Rain barrels collect runoff from roofs and divert it into gardens. The plants benefit from the extra watering while also helping reduce stormwater pollution.
For more information on groundwater and other Kentucky natural resources, contact the Oldham County Extension Office at (502) 222-9453.
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