Want clean water? Filter with soil

Soil is the planet’s biggest water filter.

One of the great joys of studying nature is that we occasionally learn that something can also be its opposite. This is the case when it comes to soil, which is often referred to as “dirt.” Soil is the planet’s biggest water filter. When water passes through soil, it is cleaned via physical, chemical and biological processes.   

In addition to soil’s physical filtration capacity, soil contains important biota that helps transform and decompose certain chemicals and other contaminants from soil, thus helping filter them out of the water.  This short video is jam packed with many helpful concepts about how soil cleans and captures water. 

Understanding how the soil can clean water is useful for water managers who work to ensure that current water use doesn’t limit our ability to use water in the future. By choosing activities that protects the soil’s natural water filtering abilities, we can prevent source waters from becoming contaminated.  

2015 is the international year of soils. The Soil Science Society of America is sponsoring many events to inspire new understanding and appreciation for soils and the services they provide. Others are finding creative ways to help youth gain scientific literacy. One such event, the Track and Explore learning Event held at Michigan International Speedway in May, allowed more than 1,400 students the opportunity to measure the filtration capacity of different types of soils. Since 2012, Adrian College faculty and student teachers have been offering in-depth, hands-on water quality lessons for area youth. Youth who participate in this type of program help develop confidence to successfully develop bioengineering solutions needed to water challenges of the future.

For more information about programs that inspire new understanding and appreciation for soil and the services they provide, visit the Soil Science Society of America webpageor the Michigan State University Extension webpage. 

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