Know the Hidden Threat to Your Community's Water Supply

By Ayer, Harriet Hubbard; Yuhas, Barbara | Public Management, March 1997 | Go to article overview
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Know the Hidden Threat to Your Community's Water Supply


Ayer, Harriet Hubbard, Yuhas, Barbara, Public Management


If you are the manager, administrator, or other local official of a city or county, you need to be aware of a hidden source of contamination that often goes undetected until it affects a community's water supply. This hidden source is an on-site drainage system in or near a facility that generates chemical and industrial-grade waste waters.

Some businesses, usually without access to sewer systems, pour their process wastes down the drain into a dry hole, cesspool, or septic tank and drainfield. These types of disposal can release untreated wastes directly into the ground and pollute the ground water. The pollutants can enter lakes, streams, other surface water bodies, private wells or public water supply systems and may have grave consequences for the community. Table 1 summarizes the waste characterizations associated with some common light industries and pathways for ground water contamination.

Just because your community's water supply comes from a surface source, such as a lake or a river, does not mean that it is safe from contamination. Consider that 40 percent of the water going into (or recharging) our lakes, rivers, and streams is derived from ground water, and most of our natural lakes come from this source. In humid regions, ground water may account for as much as 90 percent of this water recharge.

INDUSTRIAL WELLS CAN ENDANGER PUBLIC HEALTH AND DEVASTATE THE FINANCIAL RESOURCES OF A COMMUNITY

Exposure to commonplace chemicals such as dry cleaning fluids, photographic solvents, and other everyday products contained in industrial waste waters can cause serious health problems ranging from skin rashes to death.

[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED]

The monetary costs required to clean up ground water contamination or replace a public water supply can range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars per site, as illustrated in Table 2.

WAYS TO PROTECT YOUR COMMUNITY'S SOURCE OF DRINKING WATER FROM INDUSTRIAL WELLS

Consider the following steps:

* Identify the land area that will need to be managed to protect your community's drinking water supplies (i.e., your source water protection area).

* Involve business and community leaders early in this source water protection planning process.

* Offer incentives to businesses that generate chemical and industrial waste waters within that land area to employ best management practices and to restrict their use of on-site drainage systems.

* Use available management tools to control chemical and industrial waste water disposal (such as zoning ordinances, land-use plans, on-site drainage system design and operating standards, source prohibition, hazardous wastes collection programs, recycling, ground water monitoring and sewer hookups).

* Provide ongoing education to ensure community support.

[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 2 OMITTED]

HOW TO LEVERAGE AVAILABLE RESOURCES TO PROTECT YOUR COMMUNITY'S SOURCE OF DRINKING WATER

Federal and state resources are available that can provide you with technical and/or financial assistance:

* Contact your local or U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Underground Injection Control (UIC) program - The UIC program regulates industrial waste water disposal into on-site drainage systems and other types of"Class V" injection practices. The program also can help you prepare a model health regulation, review drafts of local regulations prior to adoption, coordinate meetings with other managers to encourage information exchanges, and facilitate communication between relevant stakeholders.

* Petition your state for assistance - The 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments require states to define the areas that supply the water used by public water systems and identify threats to drinking water quality within those areas.

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