Most new housing developments in the booming Atlanta suburbs have city water. But many homeowners still rely on a well for their water. And University of Georgia scientists have found that not everyone who has a well knows how to protect that water supply.
"We're customizing a water quality program for Gwinnett County," said Lisa Kelley, an Extension Service pollution prevention specialist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "We're working with residents to gather information in a survey and on-site assessments."
With the nationally acclaimed 0017 Farm*A*Syst/Home*A*Syst 10A0 program, UGA scientists are helping homeowners figure the likelihood their well could become contaminated.
"We work in a cooperative effort between the state staff and the county agent when approaching the homeowner," Kelley said.
The program helps find current and potential pollution problems. And it finds ways to correct them. On-site water sampling reveals any problems in the water source.
"This survey is totally voluntary," said Gwinnett County Extension Agent Steve Brady. "We leave all assessment information with individuals. All we ask them to do, after they get their water analysis back, is to let us know if they did take any corrective measures. That helps us know the impact of this survey."
Though he does see extremes, Brady said most home or landowners need only minor changes to protect their well.
"One well can have a tremendous impact, not only on the particular homeowner's water quality but with their neighbors, too," Brady said. "Their water source might be the very same source other people are using nearby."
Though Gwinnett County is mostly suburban, many landowners have horses or cattle. And many have large gardens.
Kathy Radford has both. She has horses and uses their manure as fertilizer on her three-acre organic farm.
"I learned animals can cause problems near the well because of the manure buildup," Radford said. "When it rains, it washes the manure down to the well. And if there is a way of it running into the well, it can cause a contamination problem."
Radford made some changes to protect her well. But she's still concerned about potential contamination. She hopes to build a shelter over her well for better protection than the tarp she now uses.
"Actually, I may even consider putting in a well in a different location in the future," she said.
A mile or two away, Dick Waterworth's well is newer. But it's also at risk for contamination. His yard rises steeply from the well site. Several times last spring, Waterworth applied fertilizer to green up his lawn. But that also increased the risk of contaminating his well.
A water sample taken from his pressure tank during his assessment will tell him if the fertilizer has found its way into his water supply. For about $30, he can build a concrete barrier around his well to prevent surface runoff water from entering it.
"I'll probably take some action on that," he said.
Yard fertilizer and animal waste are the two main contaminants in Gwinnett County. But by safely placing the well when it's drilled, most homeowners can avoid problems with these and other contaminants.
"The one thing I think everyone who participates in the program will gain from it is the chance to look at things they wouldn't normally consider," Kelley said.
The Farm*A*Syst/Home*A*Syst Program will be on display at FutureScapes Sept. 3 at the Georgia Experiment Station in Griffin, Ga.
FutureScapes features research exhibits from the UGA CAES, Fort Valley State University and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. The exhibits focus on landscaping, ornamentals and the environment. The event begins at noon, and admission is free.
To learn more, see your county Extension Service agent. Or visit the FutureScapes Web site at www.griffin.peachnet.edu/agshow.
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)