One item on our list of inspection services that we don’t talk about often enough is well water testing. We recommend that any buyer of a home on a private well, whether that well serves a single home or many homes, have the water tested prior to purchasing the home and then every year thereafter. We can coordinate that process, and typically rely on the services of the Water Quality Lab within Thurston County’s Public Health and Social Services Department for the laboratory analysis.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules that protect public drinking water systems does not apply to individual water systems. If you have a well you are on your own! It is up to you to make sure that your water is safe to drink.
Water testing is one of those services that could go on and on, as tests can be run for dozens and dozens of possible contaminants. In our region it is common at the time of purchase to test for two specific contaminants… total coliform bacteria and nitrates.
According to the EPA, Total Coliform bacteria “are microbes found in the digestive systems of warm-blooded animals, in soil, on plants, and in surface water. These microbes typically do not make you sick; however, because microbes that do cause disease are hard to test for in the water, “total coliforms” are tested instead. If the total coliform count is high, then it is very possible that harmful germs like viruses, bacteria, and parasites might also be found in the water.”
Again according to the EPA, Nitrates are “naturally found in many types of food. However, high levels of nitrate in drinking water can make people sick. Nitrate in your well water can come from animal waste, private septic systems, wastewater, flooded sewers, polluted storm water runoff, fertilizers, agricultural runoff, and decaying plants. The presence of nitrate in well water also depends on the geology of the land around your well. A nitrate test is recommended for all wells. If the nitrate level in your water is higher than the EPA standards, you should look for other sources of water or ways to treat your water.”
The other contaminants that could be tested for include fecal coliform, pH, total dissolved solids, volatile organic compounds (benzene, toluene, trichloroethylene, etc.), and elements such as lead, arsenic, mercury, radium, etc. We would never say you shouldn’t test for something, but most people purchasing homes served by wells start with total coliform and nitrates.
It has often been the case in the past that the buyer or the real estate agent has done the collecting and paperwork and gotten the samples to the county lab. However, we had two instances in just the past few months where the lender was requiring the process to be conducted by an unbiased third party. That’s where we come in.
Most public agencies recommend you test your water on an annual basis, and often include recommendations for tests that include total dissolved solids and pH levels. They also will recommend additional testing if the area near the well has experienced flooding or land disturbances, if you repair or replace any part of your well system, or you notice a change in water taste, color or odor.
It would probably be a bit too cute for me, sitting less than a mile from the shuttered Olympia Brewery, to say that “It’s The Water”… but it’s true. Up to 60% of your body is water. Make sure you are drinking water worthy of becoming part of you. And call us if we can help.