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February 21, 2013   Email to Friend 

Test, Don't Tread, Water
Melissa Martin

Water expert Marlon Cook said in addition to testing well water for quality, it’s important to monitor water quantity. He is shown here measuring water levels in rural Baldwin County.
Farmers routinely check fences, replace worn parts and tune-up equipment, but these otherwise-cautious rural residents may be overlooking one maintenance practice —testing groundwater.

In honor of National Groundwater Awareness Week, March 10-16, the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) encourages individuals who rely on wells to routinely test their water and verify equipment isn’t damaged. Water analyses could detect bacteria strains such as E. coli, excess mineral deposits that adversely affect the taste of water and other underlying issues.

“As with any mechanical system, wells require regular maintenance. Screens clog, pumps wear out and electrical components fail,” said Marlon Cook, director of the Geological Survey of Alabama’s Groundwater Assessment Program. “It’s also beneficial to monitor water levels. Regular measurements ensure an adequate amount of water is available... a useful fact during seasons of drought.”

National Groundwater Awareness Week was established 15 years ago to remind private well owners to test water before peak use season. In Alabama, 201,111 households (521,000 residents) are served by privately owned, individual wells.

Cook said most private well owners have never tested their water because of associated costs. A full-suite water test that covers all nutrients, bacteria and inorganic materials could cost around $1,000, but cheaper options are available.

“Some well owners may only need to test for iron, lead, manganese or chloride. Others may only need to test for bacteria,” explained Cook. “While we do encourage annual testing, frequency can vary based on which part of the state you live in. Well owners should check with state or local health departments for testing recommendations.”

U.S. residents use 79.6 billion gallons per day of fresh groundwater. Groundwater — which serves households, business and agriculture — is funneled through nearly 16 million wells nationwide.

Agricultural irrigation accounts for the largest use of groundwater nationwide: 53.5 billion gallons per day. Nearly 300 farms in Alabama use a well system for irrigation, totaling 74 million gallons of groundwater per day and covering more than 22,000 acres of land. In light of Alabama’s recent irrigation tax incentive program, those numbers may be on the rise.

“Farmers may not use the well water for personal consumption, but it’s still important they test their water to make sure it isn’t harmful to their crops or livestock,” Cook said. “In the case of agricultural or aquacultural water supplies, particular contaminants can damage crops or threaten the health of animals and fish. It is prudent to have a chemical and bacterial analyses performed on all water sources.”

Visit epa.gov/safewater/labs or call 800-426-4791 to locate a state-certified testing laboratory. For additional well maintenance tips, visit WellOwner.org.


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