Well water testing: How often should I do it?

OK, let’s get honest here. When was the last time you tested the safety of your well water? If you’re like many well owners, you have to dig pretty far back into your memory banks for the answer.

For instance, a 2009 Pennsylvania study found that that 44 per cent of well owners had only tested their water once ever, while 30 per cent had never tested it at all. Similarly, recent research found that 27 per cent of rural residents in New York State had never tested their well water.

Your well water can contain some very nasty microorganisms that you can’t see, smell or taste. That means regular well water testing is the only way to tell whether your water is safe to drink.

Test your water at least once a year

Just like your annual medical check-up or your regular trip to the dentist, testing your well water is smart preventative medicine. So, how often are we talking?

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends testing your well water once a year. However, because your water quality changes constantly, one test result is really only a snapshot in time.

While your water may get the “all clear” today, your results could be different next season or even next week. That’s why it’s a good idea to test more than once a year, especially if:

  • You replace or repair any part of your well’s system
  • You notice any change in the look, taste or smell of your water
  • You’ve had flooding, unusually heavy rains or a heavy spring runoff — events that increase the chances of well contamination
  • You or your neighbors add more livestock, spread more manure or convert forests into farmland
  • You or your family comes down with a bout of unpleasant stomach flu — that “flu” could actually be due to water contamination
  • You’re expecting a new baby

Testing your water alerts you to potential problems with your well before they become a major issue; it’s the best way to keep you and your family safe and healthy. While city dwellers can rely on municipal water professionals to test their water, rural residents don’t have that kind of support. If you’re drinking water comes from your own well, it’s up to you to make sure it measures up.

Do it right

For starters, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests testing for coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids and pH levels. You may also want to test for other contaminants depending on how the land around you is used and on your local geology. Ask your local water experts for advice.

To make sure the testing is done properly, send your water sample to a state-certified laboratory. (Contact your local department of health for a list.) In some cases, your public health department may offer free testing.

Once you have your test results, check them against federal drinking water standards. As a private well owner, your water doesn’t legally need to meet these standards — but you’ll sleep a lot better at night knowing it does.

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