Where The Farm Waters Flow

On one of those surprising cool summer evenings we had recently, I took my “red-neck” golf cart out for a late evening drive around the back forty just to enjoy the night. Mine is one that was bought on the conservative side but fits my lifestyle perfectly. It doesn’t hold golf clubs, but instead has gun racks, floodlights and army green coloring with a slightly altered gas engine allowing it to do over 20 mph. It’s not what you will see on the back nine, just on my back forty, hauling me around.  
On this particular evening, I was checking the backfields after we had just enjoyed a really good rain and I was following some dry streambeds, which now were overflowing to a nearby sinkhole. Having grown up on a Middle Tennessee dairy farm, I was taught early to respect the groundwater that supplied our rural area of this planet and to understand that it was up to us to keep those waters safe for future generations to come. Our farm contained numerous sinkholes then and still does today. My father informed me regularly, in no uncertain terms, that they led directly to our underground water sources. He stressed we must all be careful to make sure those sinkholes were not places where we discarded anything that could contaminate the groundwater that flowed under them. In years past, that was not always the case on many other properties, due to the lack of understanding of how our groundwater sources work. Those holes in the ground in earlier years were the perfect source for disposing of anything a person may have wanted to get out of sight, regardless of the nature of its content or makeup, if you know what I mean. But today, with efforts carried out by our land grant universities, governmental departments of agriculture and environment, along with a general education of our population of teaching everyone the importance of protecting our groundwater, we have seen improvement in water quality.  
With most of us getting our water supply today from local utilities and right out of the tap whenever we need it, we often forget that 95 percent of all available freshwater in this country comes from aquifers underground. With most of our surface water bodies connected to the groundwater in some way, it is very important that we all understand we have a stake in maintaining the quality of groundwater supplies. All across Tennessee there are still privately owned wells that provide drinking water for families, along with fresh water for livestock and irrigation to water crops. Safe water will always remain important and protecting the natural resource of groundwater should be a top priority of all of us.  
I have read that it is suggested that Americans are the largest water users, per capita, in the world. With all of the people I see with plastic bottles of water walking the streets everyday just around my part of the country, I would say that is pretty much on target, give or take a drop. As our population continues to increase, so will our water usage, making it even more important for us to protect our water supply.  
There are two fundamental categories of groundwater protection listed by the National Groundwater Association: keeping it safe from contamination and using it wisely. That’s pretty simple advice, but very important. By just maintaining septic systems, preventing improper storage and disposal of hazardous substances such as insecticides, pesticides and other chemicals, we can protect groundwater quality. For years, many have blamed agriculture for groundwater problems, but with the increase of multiple houses in the same location, plus the overuse of chemicals on lawns and landscaping, runoff is also increasing from the suburbs. There is even an increase in the concern for the occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products showing up in our water supply. Fingers can no longer be pointed in just one direction. Instead, the effort includes all of us working together to protect groundwater and helping to reduce risks to our water supply.  
For more information on how you can protect our groundwater, along with keeping private wells safe, and just why you have a stake in doing so, go to www.ngwa.org. The things my father taught me all those many years ago are still so important when it comes to protecting our groundwater. Farmers have always known what was at stake when it comes to looking after the water on top and under the ground of their farms. Let’s all do a better job of protecting it each and every day.    
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pettusr60@gmail.com