Here in the increasingly urbanized suburbs, we're used to relying on the state and the town to follow federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines to keep our water clean.

The supply and protection of water has always been a complicated issue -- most of us would rather throw up our hands, say, "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown," and leave the matter in the hands of government officials.

However, we also need to realize that we play a large role in ensuring that our water is clean and safe. A good way to start is by looking at the way we treat our ground water.

March 7 marks the beginning of Ground Water Awareness week, which is especially pertinent in areas like ours, where we are surrounded by so many natural water ways, and where so many still rely on wells to supply their household water needs.

Wells are heavily affected by the health of the ground water, which can become contaminated very easily if we're not conscientious about what we're putting into our environment. While the EPA heavily regulates the health of public water systems, private wells are not regulated by the EPA's Safe Water Drinking Act, so water authorities, as a rule, aren't required to regularly check what comes out of the tap in the households that use well water.

Often the same households that rely on well water also use septic tanks in the removal of waste. An estimated 25 percent of U.S. households use on-site, unsewered systems. A leaking septic system can drastically affect what gets into the ground water, and therefore into the water that comes into all of our homes, not just the homeowners with wells.

People using septic systems should get them checked every two years, at the most -- once a year would be more desirable. And the systems should be pumped by a professional every three to five years.

But those who are connected to the public water system are also affected by the health of the ground water running through the town. The EPA estimates that 90 percent of the drinking water in public water systems is supplied by ground water -- lakes, rivers, reservoirs and aqueducts are all affected when contaminants get into the environment. This not only affects us, but the species that inhabit those waterways.

Contaminants can get into the water supply in a number of ways, including through a leaking sewer system, and we rely on our town's officials to stay on top of that. Private citizens are responsible for ensuring that they aren't contributing to the pollutants that get into our sewer systems to begin with.

As outrageous as it sounds, according to the EPA, each year the average American dumps down his or her drain (or flushes) at least one pound of toxic substances like pesticides, motor oil, household cleaners, medicines, even flea collars. Don't. These products are not just harmful to the ground water, but to the environment in general. Plus, the wastewater treatment plants aren't able to treat most of these hazardous substances.

Throwing these materials in the garbage doesn't make matters much better, because rain and snow can eventually carry the toxic chemicals into the ground water as well. Obviously we shouldn't be pouring these substances on the ground, either. Instead, dispose of these products through community household hazardous waste collection days -- and let's encourage our officials to sponsor more of these.

As residents sharing the waters above and below ground here, we need to be aware of what we are releasing into the environment. As a society, we need to be aware that development of our land also impacts the health of our ground water.

According to the Ground Water Protection Council, "Land-use decisions that fail to consider the long-term quality, availability, and susceptibility of ground water resources create conditions that contribute to loss of ground water recharge, overuse of water resources, and human health and ecological impacts resulting from ground water contamination. On the other hand, land-use practices that protect and conserve water resources and maintain or even increase aquifer recharge are key to maintaining long-term water availability and economic vitality."

So we also ask our town officials to view incoming development proposals with a discerning eye toward protection and conservation of the ground water on which we so heavily rely.

For the many ways in which we utilize ground water, we urge residents and town officials to pay attention to this vital component of our daily lives -- not just next week, but every day.