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States Rank Septic Tanks as No. 2 Source of Groundwater Pollution

"States Rate  Septic Tanks as No. 2 Source of Groundwater Pollution

Small Flows Quarterly, Fall 2000,    Page 4

In a recently published    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, 31 states listed septic systems as their second greatest    potential source of groundwater contamination. Leaking underground storage tanks headed the list.

This document, the National Water Quality Inventory: 1998 Report to Congress, is the twelfth biennial report to Congress and the public    about the quality of U.S. rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, wet-lands, estuaries, coastal waters, and    groundwater. It was prepared under Section 305(b) of the Clean Water Act (CWA), which requires states and other    jurisdictions to assess the health of their waters and the extent to which they meet state water quality standards    and the basic goals of the CWA. This information is submitted to the EPA every two years and summarized in the    biennial report to Congress.

States have not yet    comprehensively assessed all of their waters, but this edition of the biennial report is based on the assessment of    almost 25 percent of the nation's total river and stream miles; 40 percent of its lake, pond, and reservoir acres;    and 30 percent of its estuarine square miles.

This 1998 report    represents the second 305(b) cycle of data collection based on groundwater guidelines introduced to states as part    of the 1996 305(b) reporting cycle. The chapter on groundwater is the result of data submitted by 37 states, three    territories, four tribes, and the District of Columbia (all collectively referred to as states). States reported    ground-water-monitoring data for a total of 146 aquifers or hydrogeologic sitings.

The report concluded that    while the quality of U.S. groundwater is good and can support the many different uses of this resource, aquifers    across the nation are showing measurable impacts from human activities. Monitoring has detected elevated levels of    petroleum hydrocarbon compounds, volatile organic compounds, nitrates, pesticides, and metals. Improperly    constructed and poorly maintained septic systems are believed to cause substantial and widespread nutrient and    microbial contamination to groundwater.

The significance of this    to the environment as a whole can be seen in the results of a U.S. Geological Survey study (cited in the report)    that included at least 2 streams in each of 24 physiologic and climatic regions nationwide to investigate    groundwater and surface water interactions. Based on daily stream flow values for the 30-year period 1961 to 1990,    the analysis indicated that an average of 52 percent of all the streamflow in the U.S. was contributed by    groundwater. This contribution ranged from 14 to 90 percent. Historically, surface water and groundwater have been    treated as separate entities in the management of water resources.

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