Protecting water quality takes residents and local government working together.
Good, clean drinking water is something we take for granted. It is the foundation for good health. When we camp in the backcountry and travel internationally, we are often more mindful of our drinking water. We take steps to ensure its safety so we avoid suffering the consequences of contaminated water.
In the spring of 2012, Thurston County Public Health & Social Services began a three-year project to protect water quality in the Scatter Creek Aquifer Area. Like nearly all of Thurston County, residents of the area rely on groundwater for their drinking water. Water in the Scatter Creek Aquifer is highly vulnerable to contamination because the sandy, gravelly soils don’t filter out contamination well. And, unlike other areas of the county, the Scatter Creek Aquifer is a sole-source aquifer, which means another aquifer isn’t below it. Protecting drinking water is important everywhere, but it is critical in this area.
All of us drink water, and we share responsibility with local and state government to ensure sewage does not contaminate drinking water. Residents can help by maintaining their septic systems and ensuring they function properly. Septic systems should be inspected every year and pumped when needed, generally every three to five years. Conserving water and spreading water use out by limiting laundry to two loads a day helps extend the life of a septic system. Locating and protecting the septic drainfield is another important step. Government sets rules about where septic systems and wells can safely be located, and sewage treatment standards. The health department also has the responsibility to check to ensure that sewage is not contaminating water supplies and take corrective actions when needed.
The community and government have done much over the years to protect water resources. The Scatter Creek Aquifer project built on those efforts. The project evaluated the effects of septic systems on groundwater quality, continues to monitor groundwater checking on current conditions, and used computer groundwater modeling to predict potential impacts to the aquifer in the future. The Scatter Creek Aquifer Citizen’s Committee, a diverse group of residents or property owners in the area, worked with the community and the Health Department throughout the project. They learned about the aquifer, helped direct computer groundwater modeling scenarios, and have developed preliminary recommendations to protect drinking water now and in the future.
The Scatter Creek Aquifer Citizen’s Committee will present its preliminary recommendations at a community workshop Tuesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Rochester Middle School. The workshop is an opportunity for residents to provide insight to the citizen’s committee members before they finalize their recommendations and present them to the Board of Health.
This kind of community-government collaboration is what can expect to see as Thurston County further implements the strategies of Thurston Thrives. Our good health depends on more than health care; it takes people partnering together toward common goals.
Rachel C. Wood, MD, MPH
Health Officer, Thurston and Lewis counties