Spotting Potential Drinking Water Contaminants

Scientists in our area have developed a model that will help communities keep ground water safe. Water is one of our most valuable resources. About 90 percent of it comes from aquifers, water beneath the ground that we depend upon. It can also be contaminated.

Jon Arthur, Florida's assistant state geologist, says, "It could be a spill; it could be someone changing their oil and pouring it into the ground in the backyard. It could be an underground storage tank that leaks.”

But now scientists have a model called the Florida Aquifer Vulnerability Assessment Model, FAVA for short. It's designed to pinpoint areas that have higher contamination potential.

Richard Drew, the chief of water facilities regulation for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says, "It's a very valuable tool as communities, counties, cities start developing new well fields around the state."

The model identifies soil types and thickness, sinkholes, and other things that can allow undesirables to seep into the aquifer. Thicker clay soils make it harder for contaminants to penetrate, but sandy soils in Wakulla and Taylor Counties make those areas more vulnerable.

Jon Arthur adds, "The most vulnerable area is the Big Bend down into west-central Florida and that is due to soil properties. They are highly permeable and there's an abundance of sinkholes."

The water in those areas are still safe, but the development of these models will help future planning, and according to Arthur, we need to also be good stewards of our most valuable resource.

The FAVA model and the Vulnerability Assessment Project cost about $600,000 and were jointly funded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Geological Survey. It is already in use across Florida.