Ground Water Guardian, A National Initiative

Deep below the city lies the Floridan aquifer, one of the most productive ground water reservoirs in the United States which supplies about 50 percent of the ground water used in the state. Most of the water we drink in Chatham County is pumped from the groundwater from the Upper Floridan aquifer, a layer of buried carbonate rock underlying parts of Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama. It is one of the most extensive aquifers in the nation, and provides water for millions of people. The shallow, surficial aquifer is also being used more and more for irrigation purposes reducing some of the pressure on our main aquifer. Groundwater Guardian is a program of The Groundwater Foundation, a private non-profit educational organization that informs and motivates people to care about and for groundwater. The Groundwater Guardian program is made possible through grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the United States Geological Survey, the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, Section 319.  Additional financial support is provided by ConAgra, DuPont Agricultural Products and Union Pacific Railroad.

The Chatham County Groundwater Guardian team was formed in February 1996 and consists of thirteen members representing four areas of our community: citizen organizations and interested citizens, business and agriculture, education, and government. Our mission is to raise awareness in the community concerning groundwater protection. We do this by distributing information on water conservation and ground water protection at trade shows, by public speaking, and by using a ground water flow model to educate the general public on the importance of ground water protection.

Former initiatives include ongoing programs — Educational Outreach, Xeriscape Education, Adopt-A-School (assisting a local elementary school in developing an on-site wetland to be used as an outdoor classroom),
Source Water Assessment (earmarked to create a regional watershed protection plan), Alternate Water Source For Golf Courses (switching golf course water supplies from the Upper Floridan Aquifer to the surficial aquifer), Countywide Storm Drain Marking Program, and Plumbing Retrofit(replacing older toilets with new low-flow models). As of 2005, the Team had participated to retrofit 1620 single residential homes and 458 public housing units, saving 11.6 million gallons of water per year.

The only source of surface (ground) water utilized in Chatham County is Abercorn Creek, a tributary of the Savannah River. This water is used to supply industry, and parts of residential Pooler and Garden City. Surface water requires more treatment than groundwater and is a more expensive water resource.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
New Georgia Encyclopedia: Groundwater
Savannah’s Thick Aquifer
Georgia ‘s Ground Water Resources
GA, SC Open Savannah River Talks
The Battle Between Georgia and South Carolina Over Groundwater in the Florida Aquifer

What Is Groundwater?

Water is always moving. When rain falls to the ground, the water does not stop there.
Some of our water flows along the Earth’s surface in streams or lakes, some of it used by plants, some evaporates and returns to the atmosphere, and some sinks into the ground. Imagine pouring a glass of water onto a pile of sand. Where does the water go? The water moves into the spaces between the particles of sand.

Groundwater is water that is found underground in the cracks and spaces in the soil, sand, and rocks. The area where water fills these spaces is called the saturation zone. The top of the saturated zone is called the water table. The water table may be only a foot below the ground’s surface, such as with most of the Savannah area, or it may be hundreds of feet down.

Groundwater is stored in, and moves slowly through, layers of soil, sand, and rocks called aquifers such as the Floridan Aquifer where Chatham County pulls most of its drinking water. Aquifers typically consist of gravel, sand, sandstone, or fractured rock (like limestone). These materials are permeable because they have large connected spaces that allow water to flow through.

What Is So Important About Groundwater?
Groundwater is used for drinking water by more than 50% of the people in the United States, including areas such as Savannah and Chatham County. The largest use for groundwater is to irrigate the crops that will help to provide tonight’s dinner.

Where Can Groundwater Be Found?
Groundwater can be found almost everywhere. The water table may be deep or shallow, and may rise or fall. Heavy rains or melting snow may cause the water table to rise, or an extended period of dry weather, or drought, may cause the water table to fall.

If Groundwater Is Underground, How Do We Get It Out?
Water in aquifers is brought to the surface naturally through a spring or can be discharged into lakes and streams. Groundwater can also be extracted through a well drilled into the aquifer. A well is a pipe in the ground that is used to obtain water from an aquifer with the power of a pump. Some wells, called artesian wells, do not require the use of a pump due to natural pressures that force the water up and out off the well.

Can We Run Out Of Groundwater?
Groundwater supplies are naturally replenished, or recharged, by rain and snow melt. In some areas of the world people face water shortages because groundwater is used faster than it is naturally recharged.

Groundwater can become polluted, making it unsafe to drink. In areas where the material above the aquifer is permeable, pollutants can sink into the groundwater. Groundwater can become polluted by sources like landfills, septic tanks, leaky underground gas tanks, and by using too much fertilizer and pesticides. If groundwater becomes polluted it will no longer be safe to drink, which is why we all need to pay close attention to what is placed on the ground or near waterways.

It is important for all of us to learn to protect our groundwater in order to protect our future!

FUN FACTOID:
51% of the people living in the United States depend on groundwater for their drinking water needs.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
The Groundwater Foundation: Chatham County a Participant since 1996

Every year, the local Ground Water Guardian team selects Result Oriented Activities (ROAs) that will help educate the public about groundwater and its protection. As of 2005, the Team had participated to retrofit 1620 single residential homes and 458 public housing units, saving 11.6 million gallons of water per year.

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