By Cindy Kerschner, Carbon County Groundwater Guardians
The Times News, © 2002

August 10, 2002

Less than one percent of all the Earth’s water is considered “fresh” water. This tiny fraction of drinkable water is made up of streams, rivers, lakes and groundwater. Misuse, development, pollution and drought reduce this number even further. But there are things you can do as well owners to help curtail the decline of potable water.

Pennsylvania law states that you do not own the water under your property; but you are entitled to “reasonable use”. Federal and State laws do not regulate private wells, but usage laws are regulated on a community level. Practical usage should include water conservation and monitoring the water supply.

Everyone is familiar with water saving measures. Yet did you know that the average American uses 80 gallons of water per day and 40 percent (about 32 gallons) of that water goes straight down the drain? That figure covers indoor use only. Showers and faucets run at 4 to 6 gallons per minute, top-load washers use 40 to 50 gallons per load to wash and rinse and toilets range from 1.5 to three gallons per use. You can purchase more efficient appliances and better plumbing accessories, but ultimately, people need to change their habits to conserve. These measures can be painless such as shorter showers, water your lawn and garden in the morning, wash your car where the water is recycled or collecting the cold water for plants or cooking while waiting for your water to heat up.

Keep in mind that more people in an area not only means more water consumption, but also more runoff and possible pollution.

Think about what a housing development brings to an area. Streets, driveways, pavement and parking lots are impervious surfaces to water. This means none of the water from rain soaks into the ground. Rain is vital to “recharging” or replenishing the supply of water for your well. This does not mean we need to stop development; but we should take the area water supply into consideration. This is where monitoring comes into play.

Monitoring starts in your own backyard. Only use licensed well-drilling companies. Present legislation proposed under bill 1591 is moving towards only allowing new wells to be drilled by certified companies. This new law will be focused on educating and training well drillers on construction, proper placement and evaluating the water supply before drilling wells. Upon completing the course, well drillers receive a state approved certification. It is still up to you to check credentials before signing any contract.

A reputable driller will check your property in concern for the depth and yield of the available water bearing zones, slope of your property and properly place and seal the cap high enough above ground. They will also provide a well log for your records. Take into account that your old well or any abandoned wells will need to be filled in.

Talk to your neighbors. Sometimes news travels faster by word of mouth. What’s being built in your area? Are there any proposals for factories in your area? If so, what kind?

Twenty thousand new wells are dug yearly in Pennsylvania. Be aware of any new construction or expansion and how it could effect the water supply.

When it comes to pollution, know where your water falls. Have your water tested. Monitoring your water is the only way to keep pollution in check. Even though you may have done nothing to contribute to pollution, remember, we share the water. A baseline evaluation will give you something to compare against future samples. Test your water every three years and during different seasons of year. Water levels, pH, and farm fertilizing are examples of factors that can change your water at different times of year.

Sometimes symptoms appear in the form of change in taste, color or smell. Some common examples are cloudy water due to high mineral or air content, red stains from iron, rotten egg smell of sulfur, black stain from manganese, blue-green stain from copper or blue stain of possible lead contamination. Other factors like bacteria or pesticides can show no noticeable changes in the water, but flu-like symptoms in you. This is why testing is so important.

Not all changes in water quality are harmful. White residue from minerals in hard water can be annoying, but not dangerous. You can control some of these factors entering your water supply. Make sure your septic system is functioning properly. Have it emptied when necessary and check and correct any leaks.

Keep your well properly capped. Make sure your well cap is at least one foot above ground and drainage is sloped away from your well. Vents with screens can help keep undesirable elements out. Remember, rodents and insects can enter through chips and cracks. Never tie a dog or other animal to the pipe. Excrement will enter your water supply.

Be choosy when selecting garden and lawn care products. Fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, even when properly used can contribute to groundwater pollution.

Oil, gas, paint, anti-freeze and solvents are considered hazardous waste. Never dump these products in your yard, along the street or down the drain. Recycle or dispose of properly.

Fresh, clean drinkable water is not only everyone’s right, but also everyone’s responsibility.