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July 2016

Ground Water Contamination

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Nearly one-third of Canadians rely on ground water extracted from aquifers for private and municipal use. Besides being the only source of drinking water in many rural areas, ground water is also used for crop irrigation and livestock, and by numerous industries in Canada.With life dependent on access to clean water sources, a push for further research and greater understanding of current waste contaminants and emerging contaminants in ground water is being echoed across the country.

Because ground water cannot be observed, we typically discover that the ground water is contaminated once a well or surface water body becomes contaminated. Surface water contamination occurs quickly and can be stopped at the source. However, ground water contamination may commence years after the waste source is in place. The slow release rate causes it to take years to thousands of years to move through the ground water flow regime, and ground water can be difficult, if not impossible to remediate, and costly. Ultimately all contaminated ground water will discharge to surface water. Thus, should serious ground water contamination occur, the destruction of drinking water supplies and aquatic ecosystems occurs for decades to hundreds of years.

Given the significance of the issue, identifying contaminants and their sources, as well as minimizing their entry into the water system, is crucial. There’s no doubt, we are discovering more and more contaminated ground water, but it may be because we’re becoming more concerned about water quality so we’re doing more testing.

In the 2001 Environment and Climate Change report, the writers note poor solid waste management practices of the past have caused severe water quality issues and the developing nature of the problem is prompting experts to identify new contaminants and set up better disposal practices. The report outlines five categories of waste that are contaminating the ground water system in Canada, including:

  1. Municipal/hazardous/industrial solid waste
  2. Mining waste
  3. Agricultural waste
  4. Municipal biosolids & septic systems
  5. Other wastes that include contaminants from the petroleum industry, excess road salt, waste sediment from dredging of harbours and channels, and radioactive waste from nuclear reactors.

In Canada, the most common contaminants include arsenic, nitrate, hardness, iron, manganese, and radon & hydrogen sulphide gases. Nitrates are a huge problem anytime you have a lot of agricultural activity, whether it’s crop production or animal production, and is usually the result of over-fertilization. In the case of ground water contamination caused by a leaking septic tank, that’s an issue where it is 100% human error resulting from the septic being placed way too close to a well.

While a concerted effort into identification, remediation and prevention of ground water contamination is carried out at a broader level, individual homeowners can also take measures to purify their drinking water for added peace of mind. Point-of-entry systems, such as water softeners, iron filters & UV systems will treat water as it comes into the house, while point-of-use systems provide treatment at the tap. Families with young children who are likely to drink from an outside tap or from the shower, a point-of-entry system may be a better option to treat the whole house. For more information on which water treatment options are best suited for you and your family, contact the experts at Hunter Plumbing & Heating.

From homeowners to water well drillers to farming and industry, every Canadian has a responsibility to protect our ground water. But this can only be achieved through a greater understanding of this precious resource and the contaminants that threaten it.