Regular testing of private wells helps ensure water quality and safety of drinking water
March 16, 2014
Whether for drinking, irrigation, industry or as part of a healthy ecosystem, groundwater is a vital natural resource affecting all walks of life. The Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD) and Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation (WNRF) held National Groundwater Awareness Week March 9-15.
Groundwater is a renewable natural resource that comes from precipitation that soaks into the soil and moves downward to fill openings in beds of rock and sand. These geologic formations that contain groundwater are called aquifers.
In many areas of Wyoming, surface water is fully appropriated and residents are relying more and more on groundwater. More than 75 percent of Wyoming citizens depend on groundwater for part or all of their drinking water supply. Nationwide, groundwater supplies nearly half of all drinking water and 40 percent of irrigation water, according to the National Ground Water Association (NGWA).
It is the sole responsibility of well owners to test, protect and maintain private drinking water wells. Well owners should be aware of potential groundwater contaminants, their health risks and how to test for them.
According to the Wyo. Department of Environmental Quality, Water Quality Division (WDEQ/WQD), the most common contaminants are nitrates, bacteria, arsenic and uranium. Consuming polluted groundwater poses serious health risks for anyone, but is especially harmful to infants, young children, pregnant or nursing women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
Testing groundwater can help ensure its safety. The Water Quality Rules & Regulations Chapter 23A provides a complete list of common contaminants for which to test, but the WDEQ/WQD recommends at least annual testing for bacteria. Well owners should also test when there is an unexplained illness in the household, someone in the household is pregnant or nursing, there is a spill of chemicals or fuels near a well, neighbors find a contaminant in their water or if there are changes in the color, taste, or odor of water. There are several water quality laboratories located around Wyoming and in adjacent states. These laboratories can explain to homeowners how to collect water samples and what constituents to analyze for.
For proper well maintenance, the NGWA also recommends keeping a "clean" zone of at least 50 feet between wells and hazardous materials. Regularly check the well cover or cap to ensure it is in good repair and securely attached. Well owners should also have their septic tank cleaned and serviced every two years to eliminate the opportunity for waste backing up and unwanted materials leaching into the soil. This will affect the operation and life of the system and leachfield.
While there is no government agency that regulates water quality from private drinking wells in Wyoming, homeowners can get information about groundwater safety from the following sources:
• A local Conservation District. Visit www.conservewy.com for local contact information.
• The Wyoming State Engineer's Office at 307-777-6163.
• The Department of Environmental Quality, Water Quality Division at 307-777-7781.
To learn more about groundwater and how to keep your drinking water supply safe, visit www.conservewy.com, www.ngwa.org and www.knowyourwell.org.