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Culprit behind polluted aquifers

January 31, 2015
Urban pollutants and agriculture run off effect an aquifers' quality ©

Urban pollutants and agriculture run off affect aquifers’ quality ©Neer Foundation, Meerut India

Its no news that agriculture (farming practices, irrigation and others) and rapid urbanization are two major factors to change the land usage and availability. Recent US Geological Survey  report reveals that concentrations of natural and man-made pollutants that could persist for decades otherwise known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in essential underground water sources can change the chemistry and physical properties of the nation’s aquifers leading to greater concentrations.

The report:

About 130 million people in the United States rely on groundwater for drinking water, and the need for high-quality drinking-water supplies becomes more urgent as our population grows. Although groundwater is a safe, reliable source of drinking water for millions of people nationwide, high concentrations of some chemical constituents can pose potential human-health concerns. Some of these contaminants come from the rocks and sediments of the aquifers themselves, and others are chemicals that we use in agriculture, industry, and day-to-day life. When groundwater supplies are contaminated, millions of dollars can be required for treatment so that the supplies can be usable. Contaminants in groundwater can also affect the health of our streams and valuable coastal waters. By knowing where contaminants occur in groundwater, what factors control contaminant concentrations, and what kinds of changes in groundwater quality might be expected in the future, we can ensure the availability and quality of this vital natural resource in the future.

Major Findings:

  • Contaminants from geologic or man-made sources were a potential human-health concern in one of every five wells sampled in the parts of aquifers used for drinking water
  • Differences in geology, hydrology, geochemistry, and chemical use explain how and why aquifer vulnerability and concentrations of contaminants vary across the Nation
  • Changes to groundwater flow have also altered groundwater quality
    Our actions today are determining groundwater quality for decades to come

These finding are not something unique to just the US aquifers. The type of soil (porous limestone in to volcanic basalts and from frozen surfaces in the high altitudes to parched deserts) have a unique chemical property and alter the composition of groundwater aquifers in countries like India and others.

Detection of pollutants in water or aquifers is not always a bad news. Its the affect that these pollutants might have on human health and organisms that raises a red flag. Moreover, you cannot define the aquifer boundaries as easily as land can be divided. In lay terms, if one farmer or city is causing pollution, then the chemicals and pollutants can easily bleach into the neighboring city’ (or farmer’s) aquifer.

We need to take the historic account of how much groundwater has been drawn by us over the years. Each day more than 288 million (76 billion gallons) are pumped from aquifers for farms and cities. 

This article has been adopted from the original article that appeared on Circle of Blue and USGS’s report. To read the original articles, please click on the hyperlinks above.

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