[This article, written by the American Ground Water Trust was originally published in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2003, Number 1]


What causes water quality problems and how can they be prevented? These questions apply to surface water as well as to ground water. These are not new questions, nor are there really any new solutions. It is a matter of cause and effect. Keep contaminants away from water and the water source is likely to remain usable – for economic and environmental purposes. A safe dependable well supply for a home is an extremely valuable asset. Once contaminated – waters sources may be very difficult to restore. Contamination in water is often very costly to fix. Prevention is much preferable to cure.

The poem below describes in graphic detail the causes of “stink” in a river in17th Century England. They knew back then that “filthy putrefaction” (contaminated water) “bred Infection” (was a health risk) and that clean-up (“saw all made clean”) was necessary to put things right. The problem went away when the people causing the problem were “punisht.” Perhaps if they had been “punisht” more often than “now and then,” river conditions would have improved more rapidly. Changing delinquent behavior to protect the environment is still an ongoing challenge today. Education can be more powerful than punishment. Education should always be a complimentary ingredient of regulation. The more that citizens understand the economic and environmental benefit of protecting water resources – the greater the chance of achieving water supply sustainability for our communities and towns.

Observations from river clean-up over 350 years ago in England

I was commanded, with the Water-Bailey, To see the rivers cleaned, both night and daily, Dead hogges, Dogges, cates and well-flayed carrion horses, Their noysom Corpses soyld the water-courses, Both Swines and stable dung, Beasts guts and garbage, Street durt, with Gardners Weeds and Rotten Herbage, And from those Waters; filthy putrefaction Our meat and Drinke were made, which bred Infection, Myself and partner, with cost paines and Travell, Saw all made clean, from Carryon, Mud, and Gravell, And now and then was punisht a Delinquent, By which good meanes away the filth and stink went.

John Taylor, 1644.

[© American Ground Water Trust. This article may be reprinted for non-commercial educational purposes provided it is used in its entirety and that reference is made to its source as an article in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2003, Number 1]