Hesperian Health Guides

Protect your Spring

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 6: Protecting Community Water > Protect your Spring

Springs are where groundwater naturally comes to the surface. Because spring water is filtered through rock and soil and moves quickly, it can be considered safe unless it is contaminated at the surface. To know if a spring is safe, find its source (where it comes out of the ground) and ask these questions:

  • Is it the true source, or is there a stream or other surface water that goes underground above the spring? If so, what appears to be a spring may in fact be surface water that flows a short distance underground. In this case it will likely be contaminated, or may flow only during the rainy season.
  • Are there large openings in the rock above the spring? If so, check the water in the spring after a heavy rain. If it appears very cloudy or muddy, contamination from surface runoff is likely.
  • Is there a possibility of contamination near or just above the source of the spring? This could include pastures for livestock, pit toilets, septic tanks, use of pesticides and fertilizers, or other human activity.
  • Is the soil very loose or sandy within 15 m of the spring? This could allow contaminated surface runoff to enter the groundwater.

Protect the area around the spring

Protecting a spring is cheaper than digging a well or borehole. Once a spring is protected it is relatively easy to run pipes from the spring closer to the community. To protect the area around a spring, fence the area all around it and dig a drainage ditch to carry away surface runoff and waste. This will also keep animals out.

Plant native trees near the spring to protect it even more. Trees will prevent erosion, and make it a more pleasant place to collect water.

A man fills a bucket at a spring box enclosed in a fenced area.

Build a spring box to capture the water

A spring box is a covered container made of masonry, brick, or concrete that helps protect spring water from contamination. A spring box also makes it easier to collect water at the spring or direct water into pipes to community taps or storage tanks. The kind of spring box that is best depends on the lay of the land and the materials that are available.

Parts of a spring box

EHB Ch6 Page 85-1.png
Drainage canal prevents water from flowing over the spring box
Sand or gravel
Water flows from here
Water level
Removable cover to see and clean inside
Overflow pipe with screen to keep insects out
Screen to filter out sand and soil
Outlet pipe
Scour pipe to flush out spring box
This shows one kind of spring box with the hillside cut away to show what is inside.

Pipes and spring boxes need cleaning often

Spring boxes need to be checked to make sure the spring continues to provide safe water. Silt, leaves, dead animals, and other things can collect in the pipes and spring box and block the pipes or contaminate the water. Put a wire screen on the pipe leading into the spring box to prevent unsafe things from entering pipes. Cleaning the screen every now and again will make sure there is a steady flow of water.