Groundwater - Septic Systems

Groundwater - Septic Systems Geological Photo - Jonathan Wells
Groundwater Septic Systems Diagram  

The water department in a moderately sized town in central New England allowed me access to this well site and to their files of groundwater studies of the area. This well is one of five wells that serve the town. I wanted to photograph a site such as this one because roughly half of Americans get their drinking water from groundwater.

In my image I wanted to show where the groundwater is that ends up in the well (and ultimately in our kitchen sink) and to portray a sense of how vulnerable groundwater can be to different types of land uses. A residential housing development covers the land to the east of this well site. The waste from three of the houses is disposed of below ground in private septic systems.

I took photographs the entire distance between the well and the nearby houses—I wanted viewers to see the connection between the homes and the well site. I researched water department files and reviewed groundwater maps of this area and I began to get a picture (at least in my mind) of the three-dimensional extent of this prolific aquifer. The groundwater source is located in a sand and gravel layer that filled the valley floor as the glaciers retreated from the area. This layer appears as the uppermost light tan layer in the image. I wanted the image to show the human constructions below ground, so I photographed different component materials that comprised the well, private septic systems, and water and sewer pipes beneath the street.

Once back in my studio with hundreds of photographs as my palette, I began to construct the image. The landscape and subsurface geologic layers were created as one image and a blue overlay was placed to show the saturated portion of the subsurface. I then digitally constructed the well and three septic tanks and leach fields. The composite image shows the delicate balance between our development of land and the natural resources below.