Steps to safe groundwater

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Agricultural chemicals are an important part of many farm operations. Used properly, they help Kentucky farmers produce an abundant, safe food supply. If mishandled, however, they can contaminate groundwater, which is a source of drinking water for many residents.
As May is Water Awareness Month, Amanda Gumbert from the University of Kentucky Extension Plant and Soil Sciences department, offers producers some helpful advice to reduce the chance that improperly used agricultural chemicals will contaminate groundwater by following these eight steps.
Read the manufacturer’s label for each chemical you apply and follow the directions for safe use and disposal. Never pour chemicals together before disposing of them, because it might cause a dangerous reaction.
Mix and store chemicals at least 50 feet from a well, sinkhole or surface water sources such as ditches, ponds, streams or marshes. This is because you can’t always detect which way a chemical will flow after a spill. Plus, subsequent rains can wash chemicals further, or in a different direction, than you think.
If you spill a pesticide on a hard surface, don’t wash down the area, because it might carry the material to other water sources. Instead, surround the contaminated area with dirt or sprinkle an absorbent material such as sawdust or kitty litter over the spill. Then, put the absorbent material in a strong plastic bag and dispose of it in a safe manner.
Always keep the filling hose above the tank water level when filling the sprayer to prevent back-siphoning. Put a clamp on top of the tank to hold the hose if necessary. Be sure someone is paying attention to the sprayer the entire time it’s being filled.
To prevent back-siphoning, install back-flow prevention or anti-siphon devices on the fill pipe between the water source and sprayer. A pump won’t always prevent back-siphoning, because a voltage drop or uneven water supply could cause a pump to “cough” chemicals out.
Triple-rinse or pressure-rinse agricultural chemical containers prior to disposal and empty the rinse water into the spray tank. Rinse containers as soon as they are emptied to prevent residue from drying out. Dispose of the containers according to label instructions. Many counties have plastic container recycling programs.
Store chemicals in a dry, well ventilated, cool location, preferably with an inward-slanting concrete floor. Keep chemicals in the original, labeled container that’s tightly sealed. Try to keep the containers off the floor by putting them on pallets or shelves.
Plan your required inventory and chemical purchases for the crop year so you can buy only what is necessary for that year. Try to use or give away leftover products instead of discarding them.
Inspect your well periodically. Pollutants can enter the well directly from the surface, openings in or beneath the pump base or soil next to the well. Be sure seals are tight between the pump and pump base and between the casing and wall of the bore hole. Check the pump for leaks. Locate and cap old wells.
For more information, contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service at 502-255-7188 or the Kentucky Division of Environmental Services. The state environmental services division can assist with pesticide laws and recommendations as well as pesticide disposal and container recycling. Their website is http://www.kyagr.com/consumer/envsvs/index.htm or call 502-573-0282.
Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.

Michael Pyles is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for agriculture.