If you live in the country, you probably get your water from a well. Whether you hire a driller yourself or buy a house with an existing well, the most important thing is having clean water. (The second most important thing is that the well shouldn’t cave in, but we’ve talked about cheap wells elsewhere.)
At Walker Water Systems, we don’t just want to provide a reliable well and water system, we want to make sure your water is clean. We work with the Department of Environmental Quality, the Idaho Department of Water Resources, and a local testing laboratory to make sure your water is clean and safe. We have also drilled monitor wells for environmental firms, so they can test and record the quality of water in a particular area. Often, monitoring wells are used to check nitrate levels, arsenic levels, and other substances that may be present in the water supply.
If you’re concerned about nitrates, bacteria/coliform, or other substances in your water, we can help. We can talk about the groundwater conditions in your area, as well as the kinds of tests you want to run. Unfortunately, we can’t just fill a sample bottle and “test for everything.” The lab has to have a separate sample bottle for each test you want to run. And that can get expensive (as in thousands of dollars). But we’ve been working with groundwater in Magic Valley and Wood River Valley for long enough that we’re familiar with common contaminants, and can help you pick tests that will give you the most information for your money.
One last note: all water has some stuff dissolved in it. (Except distilled water that you buy at the store.) Usually the materials are completely harmless, like calcium (which causes the hard water spots). For some substances, there are maximum amounts – so anything under a particular threshold is safe for drinking. For example, in Twin Falls county, there is a certain amount of amount of arsenic dissolved in the water. But the amount is below the threshold that causes health concerns, so the water is considered safe to drink.
The problem is not just the type of stuff dissolved in the water, but also the amount. For example, consider the levels of arsenic in Twin Falls water. Scientists have done studies to find out the level at which arsenic causes health problems – which is 10 micrograms per liter of water, or 10 parts per billion (ppb). If your drinking water has less than that, the Division of Environmental Quality considers it safe to drink. More than that can cause health problems. You can find more information about water quality here.
Sometimes, substances can seep through the rocks or around the seals of wells and get into the underground aquifer. Normally, the soil and rocks act as a natural filter and remove contaminants. But sometimes, either the soil isn’t enough of a filter or faulty well seals can allow contaminants to enter the groundwater. In Idaho, it’s usually nitrates or bacteria that get into your well and affect your water supply.
Not all wells are at risk for pollution. In fact, it’s pretty rare for a well to become polluted. Our standard practice is to install a thick seal that isolates the well and groundwater from potential contamination. Also, the Idaho Department of Water Resources recently enhanced the standards for wellhead protection to avoid groundwater contamination. But if you’d like some peace of mind, you might want to think about getting your well tested each year for bacteria and nitrates.
One advantage to testing annually is that you know the status of your water. If it’s clean, you get peace of mind; if it’s dirty, you can take steps to get it cleaned up. More importantly, though, if you have several years of clean samples and then all of a sudden your water comes up polluted, you have a way that you can show damages (if you have a need for such a thing).
If you do find that your well is polluted, we can help. First, we can interpret lab results and tell you not only what’s in your water, but also how that will affect the potability. Second, we can talk about how to resolve the issue. If it’s a bacteria problem, such as Coliform, we can disinfect the well and retest, and if that doesn’t fix it we can install permanent disinfection systems. For nitrates, you’d want to look at a Reverse Osmosis filtration system, or something like it. If it comes down to needing to drill a new well, we could do that too, but we’d want to save that as a last resort. To drill a new well and keep it from getting contaminated, we would need to install a lot of casing and a deep well seal to isolate the good water from the contaminated water.
In a pinch, if your water is polluted, you can actually use household bleach to disinfect your water. Household bleach – or NaClO (Sodium Hypochlorite) is pretty effective at destroying most of the microorganisms that can get into well water. It won’t destroy cryptosporidium or giardia, so if you suspect those you’ll want to boil your water. Also, household bleach can lose its potency over time, so make sure it’s fresh.
Liquid chlorine disinfectant is usually NaClO. Bleach comes in at about 3 – 8%, while the commercial disinfectant can be as strong as 12.5%. You can also get tablets, which are CaClO – Calcium Hypochlorite, which is a lot stronger, and also more hazardous. As usual, if you have any questions, please give us a call.
Types of Water Quality Tests
A bacteriological sample (or Bac-T, as it’s sometimes called) is a test that checks for microorgamisms in your water. When taking a sample, it’s important to avoid contaminating the sample or the sample bottle – so we recommend choosing someone with training and experience, like the crew at Walkers.
A bacteriological sample doesn’t try to identify every orgamism growing in the water. In fact, there may be things in the water that are perfectly harmless. What it does instead is check for bacteria called “markers.” E. Coli and other “coliform” bacteria are not necessarily harmful themselves (although some strains of E. coli can indeed make you sick). However, they are easy to test for, and if they are found in your water they can indicate the presence of other bacteria that can make you sick.
A positive result on a Bac-T sample doesn’t mean your well is unusable though. Sometimes it can be a bad sample, and we can retest a well to see if a positive result comes back. (If you’re on a public water system, the retest is mandatory.)
If your well consistently comes back with positive results on a a Bac-T test, though, you’ll want to install some sort of disinfectant system. One option is a chlorine pump, which delivers a small amount of liquid chlorine into the system to neutralize any bacteria. A second option is a UV disinfection system, which pipes the water through a clear tube and past a special UV light on the water -the light kills off the bacteria. A third method is a reverse-osmosis system, which passes the water through a membrane to strain out contaminants. We’ve installed and maintained a number of these systems, so call us if you have any questions or are looking for a price.
Nitrate is typically found as a byproduct of farms and dairies. Most farms use nitrogen-based fertilizers, which can wash down from fields into a supply of drinking water. Human and animal waste also contain nitrates, and even if there is no presence of actual waste, the nitrates can leach into the ground and water supply.
Nitrates can cause health problems in the very old, the very young, and in folks with lowered immune systems. IDWR has set the Nitrate limit at 10 milligrams per liter of water, the limit at which health effects begin to be seen in humans. (A gram is about the weight of a paperclip, and there are 1,000 milligrams in one gram.)
Part of our job in maintaining public water systems is to take regular samples for Nitrates. In the Twin Falls region, however, IDWR has discovered a trend of increasing nitrate levels in the water supply. Because of this, they have asked all well drillers to take nitrate samples upon completion of a well, and also have modified the standards of well construction to prevent agricultural and dairy runoff from seeping down wells into the groundwater.
IDWR suggests that well owners in the Twin Falls area get nitrate tests every year. It’s not required, but it might be a good idea. Also, if you’re pregnant, you might be more susceptible to nitrate levels in the water, so you might take that into consideration when you’re thinking of testing your water.
Nitrite is a lot like Nitrate – it has one fewer Oxygen molecule, but it comes from similar sources and is treated similarly to Nitrate. We occasionally test for Nitrite, as it can be toxic in high concentrations. Usually, though, the presence of Nitrite is linked to the presence of Nitrate. When you find one, you have an indication of contamination, and resolving it uses a similar process.
Arsenic is another substance that can be found dissolved in water. It can be extremely toxic in high enough concentrations- because of this, it’s important to test for arsenic in water supplies. In fact, if you’ve ever lived in a city or on a public water system, you have likely seen the results of an arsenic test in your water bill.
Arsenic is often found in naturally-occurring deposits, and this is the most frequent way it enters a water supply. Arsenic can also come from runoff from orchards, mining waste, and other various industries.
Lead is a heavy gray metal, and in ancient times was used for pipes. In fact, the Latin word for Lead is Plumbum, which became our word plumbing. Modern plumbers don’t use lead pipes, though, instead preferring copper, steel, or plastic.
Lead is very useful and durable, and some alloy metals such as brass are made with lead. Although they are given a treatment that prevents the lead from leaching into water, heavy corrosion can cause elevated levels of lead in a water supply.
Lead is, of course, toxic. For a time, it was used in some kinds of paints, and you may have received a notice when you rented or bought your home about lead-based paints. It can also come from corrosion of household plumbing in older homes, or from natural deposits. The threshold for drinking water is 0.015 milligrams per liter.
High exposure to lead can cause developmental issues in children, and in adults can cause kidney and high blood pressure problems. If you’re concerned about lead, we can take a sample – but mitigating lead levels in your home will likely require you to hire a plumber. Walkers does not perform in-house plumbing, because we’re not equipped to handle waste. We take care to only use galvanized steel pipe in wells and poly-pipe in trenches, in order to avoid lead contamination.
Copper is similar to lead – it’s a useful and durable metal, but it can cause problems in high concentrations. IDWR lists copper as an essential nutrient, but in high doses (over 1.3 parts per million) it may cause problems with a person’s intestines or kidneys.
If your home is plumbed with copper pipe, it could corrode and leach copper into your system. We would be happy to take a water sample to test for copper in your system, but if your copper levels are high, you’ll need to talk with a plumber to mitigate the issue.