Protecting aquifers

Aquifers are underground areas of groundwater that provide water for drinking, agriculture use, and industrial use.

Protecting aquifers is important. The water supply gets polluted when contaminants — like chemicals or manure — seep into groundwater. 

The quantity of groundwater needs protection too. Groundwater levels can decline if too much water is pumped from an aquifer.

What are aquifers?

Aquifers are layers of underground rock that are saturated with water. Water from rainfall, snow-melt, lakes, streams, and wetlands seeps into the ground and collects in the spaces in the rock, similar to water in a sponge. Wells are drilled into aquifers to extract water for homes, businesses, agriculture, and industries.

Why are aquifers important?

A large portion of drinking water comes from aquifers. Polluted aquifers lead to health risks and great expense. Contaminated water and ingestion of toxic chemicals can cause illness.

What are we doing to protect aquifers?

Cleaning up groundwater is overwhelmingly expensive. In Washington, city wells have had to be shut down, treatment systems installed, and new wells drilled to a greater depth in order to access cleaner water. Responsible parties incur costs, often in the millions of dollars, for cleaning up contaminated soil and groundwater.

Local, state, and federal government have programs to prevent or clean up groundwater contamination. Businesses that use hazardous materials are required to follow rules designed to prevent groundwater contamination.

Declining groundwater levels in many areas of the state show that groundwater is being pumped out faster than it can be naturally recharged.  Aquifer storage and recovery can increase existing groundwater supplies by artificially recharging an aquifer.

How can you help protect aquifers?

Preventing contamination is far less expensive than cleaning up contaminated groundwater. No one wants to find their well water is contaminated. Everybody can help by limiting their use of fertilizers and pesticides. Also, don’t dump chemicals on the ground, down a well, or into a septic system.