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What is a Groundwater Study?

Ken Black
Ken Black

A groundwater study is simply any study that seeks to examine the issues surrounding the quality and availability of groundwater. The study may be conducted over a large scale and include vast aquifers over many states, or may be on a microscale such as one done by a business trying to make a site selection. The issues involved in a groundwater study often include groundwater contamination, use, and sustainability.

There could be a number of reasons why a groundwater study is commissioned or funded. For businesses, the main reason is to find a suitable site for a location or expansion. Groundwater could be very important, not only from an environmental perspective, but from a business perspective. Many industrial plants depend on good quality groundwater to aid in their production process. Thus, water that has high amounts of sediment, pollutants or harsh chemicals may alter the quality of the product being produced.

Scientist with beakers
Scientist with beakers

In addition to smaller scale studies, there are larger studies that are often done as well. In the United States, the U.S. Geologic Survey carries out many groundwater studies. In some cases, the study is done after a contaminant gets into the water supply from a spill or other accident. This type of groundwater study can provide information as to how fast different types of groundwater pollution spread, and how long it stays in the system.

Pollution is just one of the issues of concern, however. A groundwater study can also be used to promote groundwater conservation. If, for example, a study finds that an aquifer is being drained at a rate faster than it can be replenished, restrictions may be imposed. Such conservation of groundwater resources would not be possible without first having a groundwater study identify the problem.

Further, a groundwater study can also be used to predict and possibly even correct other problems related to groundwater withdrawal. Surface land elevations can even be lowered by groundwater depletion, a process known as land subsidence. This can be extremely damaging to buildings located on the surface, and cost millions to rectify. Also, seawater intrusion becomes a danger if freshwater supplies are depleted.

Groundwater studies are considered to be important because of the number of people who depend on groundwater for their water supplies. In the United States, as one example, the U.S. Geologic Survey estimates that as much as 40 percent of the nation's population receives its water from groundwater. The remaining population uses surface water supplies, such as those naturally present from rivers or lakes or reservoirs built specifically for the purpose of water storage. In rural areas, the number of those receiving water from the ground jumps to 97 percent.

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