Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Groundwater Awareness Week is good time to test

Private well owners: Do you know what's in your water?

More than 1 million people in Minnesota rely on private wells as their source of drinking water, but too many of them are not tested on a regular basis for things that can make people sick, such as bacteria, arsenic, or nitrate. While wells can provide high quality drinking water, state health officials estimate that at any given time as many as 25 percent of private wells in Minnesota have detectable levels of total coliform bacteria, an indication that surface contamination has entered the well or water system.

National Groundwater Awareness Week was established more than two decades ago to bring attention to the important role that groundwater plays in the health and well-being of people. Properly maintaining wells that tap into groundwater is critical for protecting personal health and the health of the resource. This year's observance, March 10-16, is a good time for well owners to test their water, say state well management specialists.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recommends that private wells be tested once a year for total coliform bacteria. Testing for nitrate is recommended every two to three years - more often if nitrate has been detected previously in the well or if an infant under the age of six months will be consuming the water. In addition, MDH recommends that every well be tested for arsenic at least once.

Testing your well is up to you. Getting your well tested is a relatively simple process. Your local county health department may provide or arrange for testing services. Commercial (or private) laboratories providing water testing services are usually listed in the Yellow Pages under "Laboratories - Testing." You should check to make sure the laboratory is certified to perform tests that you want. The laboratory will provide directions for collecting and submitting water samples for testing. The costs for analysis are usually in the range of $20 to $40 per test, depending on what is tested. More information on well testing can be found at: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/wells/waterquality/test.html.

People with questions about well water contaminants – or other well-related issues – can obtain advice from MDH, their local health department, or local MDH-licensed well contractors. Well specialists are available to answer questions at MDH district offices in Bemidji (218-308-2100), Duluth (218-302-6166), Fergus Falls (218-332-5150), Marshall (507-537-7151), Rochester (507-206-2700), St. Cloud (320-223-7300), and the Twin Cities (651-201-4600).