Ground vs. Surface Water: Treatment Differences

Water is one of the most important elements we need for survival. We can only survive for three days without it, so getting clean, uncontaminated water is a high priority. Our water comes from two main sources: groundwater and surface water. Both of them are open to contamination that could make us ill, but treating them requires different methods.

In industrialized countries such as the U.S., we have the ability to get water by turning on a faucet. More often than not, it is clean and poses no health risks. We have technology and the development of water treatment plants to thank for that. However, if something goes wrong, the possibility of a large portion of the population getting sick exists.

Surface water is any type of water that comes from a source that occurs on the surface of the earth, this can include rivers, lakes, streams, or reservoirs. Surface waters are easy to contaminate because there are numerous things that can get into the water, including trash, fecal matter, and chemicals. However, despite the ease of these things getting into the water, surface waters are easy to treat.
There are various ways to treat surface waters to make them safe for public consumption. Communities throughout the industrialized world use different methods; however, the most common process involves coagulation and flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection. This process ensures that contaminants and pollutants are removed from the water.

Groundwater is any source of water that comes from below the surface. Unlike surface water, groundwater is incredibly hard to pollute, but it can also be incredibly hard to treat once it has been contaminated. Since it is underground, the rocks and soils it flows through act as a natural filtration system. But since it doesn’t flow as freely as surface water, it could take a long time to remove contamination from the system.

There are many ways to treat groundwater, such as biological treatment technologies, which include bioaugmentation, bioslurping, and phytoremediation. There are also chemical treatments, which can include chemical precipitation and chemical oxidation.

There are also physical treatments that can occur, which can include pumping the water to the surface and using biological or chemical treatments to clean it, or air sparging, which uses air to remove the contaminants from the water.

No matter where the water comes from or what process is used to treat it, the goal is to ensure that consumers are getting the cleanest water possible. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has standards that must be met to ensure safe drinking water, and these standards apply to both groundwater and surface water.