Farm Water: Potential Contaminants Every Landowner Should Know
October 27, 2021

Farm Water: Potential Contaminants Every Landowner Should Know

If you are a landowner with an agricultural operation, your water system is especially vulnerable to potential contaminants. When it comes to protecting the quality of your groundwater, there are many things that you can do.

One of the most critical factors is limiting exposure to potential contaminants present in surface runoff or seepage from other sources on your property. Find out more about some of these contaminants and what you can do about them.


Fertilizers are used on farms for a variety of reasons. Most fertilizers, however, contain high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that can easily contaminate groundwater if not properly handled or disposed of.

With the contamination of groundwater comes the contamination of water supply for surrounding communities. This is because groundwater supplies drinking water to many farm families and their livestock.

The best way to avoid this problem is by limiting exposure to fertilizers through runoff from other areas such as crop fields or lawns. A solid irrigation system that applies just enough water for crops or plants is also a good option.

Having a system in place to handle runoff is another way to avoid contamination. It is also essential to ensure that runoff goes through the proper treatment processes before reaching water systems such as rivers or lakes.

Insecticides and Pesticides

Along with fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides are significant contaminants of farm waters. These chemicals function by killing organisms such as insects that threaten crops, livestock, pets, or humans; however, there can be unintended consequences when these chemicals find their way into the water supply.

Fish kills are a common result of insecticides and pesticides in farm waters, but it is not the only one. These chemicals can also impact wildlife populations that rely on the water for drinking or food sources such as fish.

Some of these chemicals are known to harm bees, which are an integral part of crop production. Without bees, there's little pollination taking place, and productivity will drop.

Using the right pesticide while following application procedures to the letter is the surest way to avoid leaching. It's safer to use chemicals that don't easily seep into the soil. Alternatively, always mix your chemicals on a non-permeable surface like concrete in case of spillage.

Pathogens that Cause Diseases

Another potential contaminant of farm water is disease-causing pathogens. These can be spread by both humans and animals and through animal waste runoff that contains bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella.

In the USA alone, up to 560,000 people acquire severe waterborne diseases. This is because drinking water and water used for recreational activities such as swimming or fishing can be contaminated.

Water used for drinking and livestock should always be tested beforehand to ensure it doesn't contain any potential contaminants, including parasites, viruses, or other harmful microorganisms that could lead to sickness.

Treating waterborne illnesses in both man and livestock is expensive and can be deadly. A severe case of diarrhea can lead to dehydration, while worm infestation can greatly hamper livestock and poultry productivity.


Most farm machinery and equipment rely on fuels to run. When these fuels are stored in open containers or if they spill, water sources can be contaminated, and toxic fumes released by the spilled fuel may lead to respiratory complications such as asthma

When fuel mixes with irrigation water, it can lead to crop death and a loss of harvest. Not to mention the danger it poses to livestock and wildlife, which could ingest the polluted water. Aquatic life can also be affected since fish and other aquatic creatures cannot survive in water with petroleum products.

Always store fuel in leak-proof containers. Plastic is a good option since it doesn't rust and is relatively lightweight. Also, avoid spilling fuels by placing a drip pan under your equipment and using protective shields during fueling to catch spills.

If you spill fuel, clean it up immediately with absorbent material such as sawdust before the spilled liquid is exposed to water sources. Remember to keep fuel from heat sources and not smoke near the spill to avoid a fire.

Heavy Metals

Water contamination with metals like arsenic continues to be a concern globally. Fortunately, this problem is well-recognized by the state's water agency, and regulations have been put into place to protect these resources from arsenic or other heavy metals contamination.

Arsenic is a known carcinogen as well as a neurotoxin. It can be found naturally in groundwater, but it is typically introduced by fertilizers or livestock waste in agricultural land nearby.

Water contaminated with heavy metals should not be used for drinking and crop irrigation without treatment to remove those contaminants from the source first, as oral ingestion is the most common way such metals find their way into the body

Septic Systems

Poorly constructed septic systems allow bacteria and other contaminants to seep into groundwater sources. This can also contaminate water with chemicals such as nitrates or methane gas.

Water used for irrigation of crops is kept separate from the drinking supply. However, it still needs to be tested regularly for pathogens, especially where septic tanks are located near the irrigation water source.

To avoid contamination, always hire professional contractors for all your waste management installations. Before buying a property, make sure to check your water supply for any signs of contamination as part of the due diligence process. This will save you from costly repairs in later years and can help avoid health risks as well.

How a Professional Farm Management Company Can Help

A property management company can help you plan and organize your farm infrastructure, thus reducing the risk of contamination. We recommend a proactive approach: maintaining good farm management practices such as proper disposal of animal manure and complying with regulations for fertilizer application.

If these sound like too much work, give us a call at Cotton Grave today- our team will make sure all goes smoothly, so you don't have to worry about anything other than running your business.

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