As a well owner, you are on your own, and the (possible accidental) Chief of your Own Water Supply (“COWS”😊). You are responsible for maintaining both needed water quantity and desired water quality.
We should start by saying that wells are mysteriously wonderful and generally reliable necessities. They produce naturally cleaned water, filtered over years traveling through sand, soil, clay, and rock. It is a journey unlike any other man-made filtration system. And the water is generally bacteria free and pure, but can through its journey collect undesirable and unhealthy elements.
In terms of who should conduct water testing, generally we recommend state certified laboratories that can collect and/or test the quality of the water for any contaminants. In general, “home test kits” available to the public are not that sophisticated, reliable or suitable if you want key information. In some states, and for real estate transactions and lenders, those collecting the water sample must also be trained and certified. So be sure that the water sample is collected properly, so that the results are not inaccurate with either false positives or negatives.
In terms of frequency of testing, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that every well owner test their water each year. Further, State and local regulators recommend both water testing and well inspections every 1-3 years. Please consult your local authorities for additional guidance, which cannot be generalized.
For what elements should you test? Water can be tested for more than 250 naturally occurring and man-made elements. Testing for all possibilities is expensive and not recommended. Rather, a good cross section of quality can be achieved by testing for Bacteria, Nitrates, Turbidity and pH. This is the basis for water that is both health and does not damage the fixtures. But due to lender requirements (VA/FHA), we frequently also have requests for testing Nitrites, Lead, Radium, Radon and Arsenic.
Our best advice is to ask your local experts/labs about elements found to be harmful or undesirable that have been found to be resent in the local water, and test for those items if they concern you. Safe water is best for your long term health, and we have summarized some of the effects below.
In additional to qualities for healthy water, water can also be monitored and modified for your preference, including hardness/softness of the water, and removal of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) amount other things. These are not health related, but rather deal with your preferences of the “feel” of the water. Also, water can be treated for Iron (orange stains), Magnesium (blue-green stains) and other non-toxic elements where the effects are simply non-desirable.
Most water is safe, but should be tested to ensure the long term health of both your family and the plumbing system of your home.
How to interpret your water results – a Brief Explanation of the basic elements
So you as Chief of your Own Water Supply (“COWS”😊) have had your water tested for basic safety elements. What does it mean? What if the results are out of “normal ranges”?
Below is a short description of why each item should be tested and what the results mean. You should consult your water treatment or well adviser for additional information.
Bacteria – Total coliforms are a group of closely related, mostly harmless bacteria that live in soil and water as well as the gut of animals. The extent to which total coliforms are present in the source water can indicate the general quality of that water and the likelihood that the water is fecally contaminated. Total coliforms are currently controlled in drinking water regulations (i.e., Total Coliform Rule) because their presence above the standard indicates problems in treatment or in the distribution system.
Bacteria – Fecal coliforms. Fecal coliforms are bacteria that are associated with human or animal wastes. They usually live in human or animal intestinal tracts, and their presence in drinking water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination. Your water was tested for the presence or absence of bacteria.
Nitrates – milligrams per liter –Infants below the age of six months who drink water containing nitrate in excess of the MCL could become seriously ill and, if untreated, may die. Symptoms include shortness of breath and blue-baby syndrome. High concentrations of Nitrates are also unhealthy for seniors and those with compromised immune systems. Ten (10) is the level determined by the EPA to be critical, requiring mitigation efforts.
Turbidity – NTU –Turbidity is a measure of the cloudiness of water. It is used to indicate water quality and filtration effectiveness (e.g., whether disease-causing organisms are present). Higher turbidity levels are often associated with higher levels of disease-causing microorganisms such as viruses, parasites and some bacteria. These organisms can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches. The standard for turbidity is 10 Nephelometer Turbidity Units (NTU). If the standard is exceeded, an iron test is required to determine whether the turbidity is due to high iron, or a defect in well construction, or non-use of the well.
pH – pH is a general measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a water sample. The symbol pH stands for potential for hydrogen. The pH of water, on a scale of 0 to 14, is a measure of the hydrogen ion concentration. Water contains both H ions and OH ions. Pure distilled water contains equal number of H and OH ions and is considered neutral (pH 7), and is neither basic nor acidic. If water contains more H than OH ions the water is considered acidic with a pH less than 7. If water contains more OH ions than H ions, the water is considered basic with a pH greater than 7. The US EPA standard range is 6.5 to 8.5. Acidic waters tend to be corrosive to plumbing and faucets, particularly if the pH is below 6. Alternatively, alkaline waters are less corrosive but can lead to accumulation within plumbing and potentially adversely affect water flow. Waters with a pH of above 8.5 may tend to have a bitter or soda like taste. The pH of water may have an effect on the treatment of water.
In so many ways, “Water is Life”. But no one cares about the water supply until there is none!