Testing the water: Celebrate National Groundwater Awareness Week

This year, National Groundwater Awareness Week (March 8 to 14) celebrates one of the earth's most important water supplies. Half of the United States population relies on groundwater as their source of drinking water, including many residents living in the Skaneateles Lake watershed.

Many residents draw groundwater directly from private wells, while others draw water for drinking right from the lake. In either case, drinking water is ultimately coming from groundwater. Protecting groundwater is one of the best ways to promote the health of Skaneateles Lake, drinking water supplies and the local community.

Wells draw upon water in an aquifer where water has filled the tiny spaces between rocks, sand and soil. When rain and snow melt seeps from the earth's surface into the ground, it recharges the aquifer as these spaces fill with water. Other residents obtain water directly from Skaneateles Lake, which is connected to the aquifer.

Surface water, like lakes and streams, and groundwater are intertwined, making it even more important to take special precautions to avoid contaminating this water resource.

A major source of groundwater and surface water contamination is storm water runoff. Runoff is water that does not soak into the ground and it occurs in developed areas with lots of impervious surfaces, like parking lots and streets. As runoff flows over these surfaces, it washes off pollutants like pet waste, fertilizers, pesticides and automotive fluids. This storm water eventually reaches storm drains, which ultimately empty into lakes and streams. Likewise, this storm water can also reach wells if they aren't properly sealed. Poorly maintained septic systems can also contaminate both groundwater and surface water.

To celebrate National Groundwater Awareness Week this year, you can take the following actions to protect the health of groundwater:

* During spring cleaning, don't dump any chemicals down the drain unless they are intended to be used with water in the kitchen, sink or shower. Hazardous chemicals like pesticides and herbicides, antifreeze, paint and oil should also not be buried underground. Contact your local waste removal authority for proper disposal.

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