Glass of water with shadowPhoto by Enld Martindale

Maybe you choose to buy only organic food; maybe you avoid conventional produce that are members of “the dirty dozen”; or perhaps you keep a trusty scrub brush near your sink for produce.* Whichever camp you fall into, it shows you’ve thought about pesticides in your food. But how many of us have stopped to think about pesticides in our drinking water?

Neither groundwater nor surface water is safe from contamination. Pesticides used in agriculture as well as on home lawns make their way into water through runoff or by leaching into the soil and eventually groundwater. Some pesticides in our drinking water are considered persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Once released into the environment, POPs are resistant to breaking down into safer forms and accumulate while moving long distances through both water resources and the food chain. In fact, nine of the twelve POPs recognized by the United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council are used in conventional agriculture, with more being added to the list over time.

What is being done to protect our water resources? To start, some ecologists, farmers, and other leaders choose not to use pesticides in order to protect our waterways. Many farmers practice integrated pest management (IPM), which approaches pest management through a variety of techniques with the health of people and the environment in mind.

Watercourse, buffer strip adjacent to arable land

Buffer strips hold the soil in place, filter runoff, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Photo by Matt Cartney

Buffer strips, segments of land with perennial plantings between land and waterways, filter out contaminants such as excess nutrients (i.e., nitrogen fertilizers or manure) and pesticides. The government encourages farmers and landowners to implement buffer strips, IPM, and other water-protecting practices through programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Reserve Program.

Some communities engage citizens in water monitoring to track pesticide levels. The research group Lil’ Miss Atrazine focuses its efforts on the infamous pesticide atrazine and measures its presence in bodies of water across the Midwest using the power of citizen science.

As a citizen of the planet, there are many ways you can contribute to the reduction or prevention of pesticide use. Voting with your dollars by buying organic is one way – check out other opportunities for being part of the solution to cleaner waterways through the Pesticide Action Network.

*It’s a common misconception that pesticides can be washed off. The reality is many pesticides permeate produce’s skin, which means they can’t simply be scrubbed away.