Hesperian Health Guides
Protect Water Sources
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Water is either surface water (from rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds) or groundwater (water that collects underground and comes up from springs or wells). Because surface water is often contaminated, it should not be used for drinking unless it is treated first. Groundwater is usually free of germs because it is filtered when it seeps through sand and soil. However, groundwater can be contaminated by natural minerals such as fluoride or arsenic, by leaking sewer lines, septic tanks, or toilets, by waste dumps, or by toxic chemicals from industry and agriculture.
When land and waterways are not well cared for, the amount of groundwater can also become dangerously low. Where land has been cleared of trees and vegetation, rain that once soaked into the ground and was stored as groundwater can run off to rivers and the ocean.
The best ways to protect both groundwater and surface water are to:
- practice sustainable farming.
- build and use safe toilets.
- protect the area where water collects, called the watershed or catchment area.
As more people settle around and use a water source, it becomes harder to protect. In places with industrial activity, water may be overused and polluted and the people who need it most may not be able to prevent the problem. These problems can be solved only when a community organizes for water security, puts pressure on governments, and enforces rules on industry.