How To Protect Your Water Supply

Water Faucet Icon at Tipton Municipal UtilitiesMost of us tend to take for granted the abundant availability of pure water in our area.  It is a natural resource to appreciate and carefully protect.  But our water supply is fragile and can be contaminated in many ways, the majority are traced to human intervention.  That is a very real threat to all of us.

Many don't realize that their direct actions either aid or hinder the effort to preserve local groundwater quality.  This is why helping people understand how their actions affect water quality is the best defense in the effort to protect our environment and prevent pollution.  

By observing the earth's water cycle stages and following its path, it soon becomes obvious how careless human intervention in its various forms represents the greatest threat to water quality.  Water moves around the earth in a five-part cycle; evaporation, condensation, precipitation, infiltration and surface run-off.  This hydrologic cycle is happening continuously above and below the surface of the earth.

Let's start by following the path of stormwater.  Stormwater is water from rain or melting snow that does not soak into the ground.  It flows from rooftops, across paved areas, bare soil and sloped lawns.  The flow gathers with it whatever humans leave behind, bit it litter, chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, oil, and grease, or pet waste as well as loose soil and other potential pollutants.

To fully appreciate the impact of human intervention, it is important to differentiate between storm and sanitary sewer drains.  The Tipton Utilities service area has both types of sewers.  Water or waste that goes down an inside drain such as a sink, shower or stool flows through a sanitary sewer to a wastewater treatment plant or to a septic system for treatment.  Storm sewers, however, flow directly to rivers and streams without purification or treatment of any kind.  So the water that flows down driveways, streets, through downspouts, and other exterior sources flows directly to nearby streams, fish and wildlife habitats, recreational sites and drinking water supplies.  In some areas where the storm and sanitary sewers share the same transport systems, both sewage and stormwater enter the same system together.  Although some of the flow is directed to the wastewater plant, the overflow of stormwater and raw sewage during a rain event proceeds directly to streams and rivers untreated.

In areas where the sewers are separated, the sewer system transports its contents to the wastewater treatment facility but the storm sewer system empties directly to streams and rivers untreated, polluting lakes, rivers, wetlands and other waterways.

Dangers of Stormwater Runoff

Stormwater Icon at Tipton Municipal UtilitiesOnce the stormwater reaches the streams and rivers, the runoff can have many adverse effects  on plants, fish, animals and people:Sediment can cloud the water and destroy aquatic habitats or make it difficult for impossible for aquatic plants to grow.
  • Excess nutrients can cause algae blooms.  When algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose in a process that removes oxygen from the water .  Fish and other aquatic organisms can't exist in water with low dissolved oxygen levels.
  • Bacteria and other pathegens can wash into swimming areas and create health hazards, often making beach closures necessary.
  • Debris such as plastic bags, bottles, plastic caps or six-pack binders and cigarette butts can choke, suffocate, and disable aquatic life like ducks, fish, turtles, and birds.
  • Households hazardous wastes like insecticides, pesticides, paint, solvents, used motor oil, and other auto fluids can poison aquatic life.  Both people and land animals can become sick from eating diseased fish and shellfish or ingesting polluted water.
Polluted stormwater often affects drinking water sources.  This, in turn, can affect human health and increase everyone's drinking water treatment costs.

You may also have noticed "Drinking Water Protection Area" signs throughout our community.  These signs designate surface and subsurface areas surrounding water wells or wellfields that  supply our public water system.  Protecting these vulnerable areas is especially important since contaminantes are more likely to make their way to the water or wellfields in these locations.

"Water Wellhead Protection" is the term used to describe protecting our community's drinking water supply by protecting the land around the water supply wells from potential contamination hazards.  It is important  to report spills in and around the areas that are designated.

So, if the bad new is that human intervention is the primary cause of pollution, the good news is that every one of us has the potential to become part of the solution.  Listed below are things you can do to be proactive in protecting our water supply:

What Can You Do?

  • Take responsibility for your little piece of the world.  Sweep up driveways, sidewalks and gutters so that storm water won't carry debris from these areas into rivers and streams.  Vegetate bare spots in the yard; and be sure to compost yard waste.  This includes picking up after pets.  Dispose of pet waste in the trash or flush it down the toilet.
  • Make an effort to limit runoff.  Direct downspouts away from paved surfaces.  Considere a rain garden to capture runoff from downspouts.  Wash the car in the yard or take it to the car wash instead of washing it in the driveway.  Minimize runoff by not over-watering your lawn and garden.
  • Maintain waste systems responsibily.  Have septic systems inspected for leaks and service the system every three years.  It is also important to have any abondoned wells plugged since contaminated groundwater can seep into abondoned wells unfiltered by the soil and contaminate the water supply.
  • Recognize chemicals, peticides, fertilizers and other hazardous materials as toxins and treat them with great care.  Limit their use as much as possble; and always follow the label directions.  Try to use the least toxic product or method available.  Avoid pouring things down the drain or toilet that will harm the system, such as hazardous chemicals, coffee grounds, diapers, etc.  Recycle used anti-freeze, motor oil or other hazardous chemicals.  Never pour hazardous chemicals into the ground, storm drains or streams.  They can get into the ground water supply causing serious contamination problems.  The result is toxic to people and animals.  The proper way to dispose of hazardous checmicals is to take them to solid waste management for disposal.
  • Help us spread the word!
It is up to each of us to protect our environment and ensure that our water remains safe for generations to come.