Understanding Well-Water Pollution on Farms
The agricultural industry is essential for many communities, but it unintentionally harms them. Well-water pollution caused by farming practices contaminates residents' only source of clean drinking water. To prevent this, farmers should know how it happens and what they can do to fix it.
How Does Well-Water Pollution Affect Farms?
Pollutants get into well water over time and slowly make it undrinkable. The Middle East and Africa have the most limited access to water worldwide, so they must protect what they have. Farmers must have clean sources of water to drink and use, but many need help to keep it that way.
Placing new wells is challenging because of their terrain and need for groundwater. Farmers' limited resources often give them little choice, but using polluted water is unsafe. Clean wells are foundational for rural communities, so they need solutions.
How Do Farms Pollute Well Water?
Most pollution is not the fault of farmers — rainwater carries harmful substances directly to water sources. However, human agricultural practices can contaminate well water. Overwatering or improper irrigation has a significant effect on water quality.
Excess watering wouldn’t be an issue if there were nothing dangerous it could transport, but the agriculture industry uses many materials that shouldn’t end up in drinking water. Most farms rely on materials that can pollute their wells.
The primary sources of well-water pollution come from sources that are essential to farms:
- Fertilizer: Fertilizer contains nitrates and nitrites, which are harmful to consume because they prevent blood from carrying oxygen. High amounts will deteriorate a person’s health in a few days at most.
- Livestock waste: Animal waste is full of coliform bacteria and E. coli, which harm humans. Rainwater and overwatering carry it into bodies of water and groundwater.
- Pesticides: Farmers frequently use pesticides to protect crops. They’re harmful if ingested, which is an issue when too much water rinses them off plants and into groundwater.
- Field irrigation: Field irrigation can cause overwatering and erosion, which makes it easier for groundwater to become polluted. They can wash contaminants into nearby bodies of water or leak them into the ground. Agricultural practices in Africa and the Middle East rely on pesticides to keep crops alive.
There isn’t typically excess overwatering since it’s a limited resource, but many farms are located next to bodies of water for that exact reason. Their proximity to each other is usually the cause of contaminated water.
What Is the Largest Source of Agricultural Water Pollution?
Some impurities affect well water over time, but water runoff is a primary source of pollution. It carries pesticides, fertilizers and waste, which ultimately contaminates drinking water.
This occurs when farmers overwater their crops or when there is excess rainfall. Farmers can prevent some situations by limiting the amount they use. It’s already good to conserve water because it’s such a limited and critical resource, so farmers will benefit their farms in multiple ways.
How Can Farmers Reduce Pollution?
Farmers can keep their well water clean if they change how they set up their farms and deal with their crops. Since animals and pesticides are the main contributors to contamination, farmers should focus on those two elements.
Keep Livestock Away From Water
Livestock waste is natural and unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean it has to be in drinking water. The nitrates in their excrement can leak into groundwater, so they should stay away from wells.
Be Mindful When Using Pesticides
Farmers should limit their pesticide use when treating crops. Bugs and diseases are serious issues, but there are better alternatives — and they can’t substitute drinking water. If farmers want to continue using the same amount, they should only spray after storms because rainwater would wash pesticides off and carry it into the water.
Test Well Water Regularly
Testing well water is an excellent idea for any farmer because boiling water won’t remove all pollutants that come from agriculture. Farmers should check it to be safe. Experts recommend well water testing every 1-3 years to ensure it is safe to drink. Testing lets farmers know what is contaminating their well so they know how to stop it.
Use Different Irrigation Methods
African and Middle Eastern soil may become too dry when it goes without water for extended periods, making water runoff more likely. Farmers must water their crops, but they should do so slowly.
Alternative watering or small-scale irrigation will help in areas without broadly available water. Drip or slow watering ensures fields stay healthy, reduces the risk of overwatering and won’t erode the soil.
Create Barriers Against Pollution
Farmers can plant grasses or other plants near their wells to create natural barriers against pollution. Grasses and plants soak up excess water from runoff or overwatering, and keep contaminants from leaking into the ground where the drinking water is.
Causes and Effects of Farm Well-Water Pollution
The Middle East and Africa have minimal water, so their wells must stay clean. Farmers should keep livestock and pesticides separate from the wells. It’s also essential to water slowly to keep the soil and groundwater intact. Small changes in agriculture can keep communities safe.