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NRCS Protects The Water Beneath Us Too

NRCS and Groundwater

The mission of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is to help farmers, ranchers, and other United States citizens preserve the Nation’s natural resources, including water, by using conservation methods.  Born out of the poor farming practices that led to the Dustbowl, the NRCS, originally named the Soil Conservation Service, focused on keeping soil from eroding away by wind and water.  Today, NRCS’s mission includes protecting all natural resources: surface water, groundwater, air, plants, energy, wildlife, and soil.

Installing liner system to protect ground and surface water from animal waste

NRCS Resource Soil Scientist Rick Griffin watches workers install liner system designed to protect groundwater and surface water from animal waste
at a dairy farm in Tuscarawas County, Ohio.

Conservation practices, such as filter strips, no-till, and cover crops help to keep soil, nutrients (fertilizers and manure) and chemicals (pesticides and herbicides) on the farm and away from surface and groundwater.  Livestock farmers depend on NRCS for help with managing, storing, and diverting animal and other nutrient laden waste with storage structures and other conservation practices that keep runoff out of streams.  Still other NRCS programs and practices encourage properly managed wetlands which can act as filters for removal of pollutants, including nutrients, from runoff before it reaches surface or groundwater. 

Water in Ohio

Protecting groundwater in Ohio means protecting the source of water relied on by 42 percent of Ohioans.  Fortunately, Ohio has abundant fresh water.  The Great Lakes to the north contain 21% of the world’s fresh surface water.  We enjoy a relatively plentiful amount of rainfall, which averages between 33 and 43 inches per year.  To understand how this relates to groundwater, you have to understand the Water Cycle

The Water Cycle and Groundwater

Planet Earth has the ultimate recycling system - not much gets out or comes in, including water.  Gravity causes rain or snow to fall to the earth’s surface where it is either stored as snow or in glaciers as ice, collects in creeks, streams, rivers and lakes, or filters into the ground.  In the ground, water can go down to an aquifer, the spaces between soil particles and rock that hold water.  Some people think an aquifer is an underground lake or river, which usually isn’t the case, but can help one make a mental picture of the concept of an aquifer.  The force of pressure or gravity causes water to move through the aquifer.  That’s why one person’s well can flow slower if a neighbor uses a lot of water in a short time.  Water in an aquifer may eventually flow out to a river, lake, or ocean, just as water from these surface water bodies may flow into an aquifer.  So protecting surface water protects groundwater and vice versa. 

The water that doesn’t go down to an aquifer or run off to a river or lake either evaporates or is used by plants and animals.  The animals and plants eventually release water back into the air.  When conditions are right, precipitation forms and the water returns to the Earth starting the cycle all over again.   

Groundwater in Ohio

Most of Ohio also has plentiful groundwater in the Silurian and Devonian rock of the Midwestern Basins and Arches aquifer system.  This system is largely unconfined, meaning there is no layer above it creating pressure or keeping water from flowing in from above.  Portions of the aquifer system may be locally semi confined or confined by relatively impermeable layers of Devonian age shale or glacial till.  In some areas, thick sand and gravel aquifers remain where glaciers filled in deep valleys with deposits released when the glacier melted.  These deposits, such as the aquifer material under Dayton, can yield very large amounts of water in wells. 

Protect Your Groundwater

We make choices every day that impact the quality of our water.  Watering lawns, washing cars, disposing of household hazardous waste, and many other activities we don’t even realize impact water may in fact do exactly that.  Visit these websites to learn how you can protect the water you, your family, and your community relies on every day. 

Ohio Natural Resources Conservation Service

Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency

National Groundwater Association