Well water testing

Homeowners that use wells for drinking water can request free water sampling kits from Delta County, take the samples at their home and send to a laboratory, which will return a document with water quality results to the homeowner. (Courtesy photo)

Only 6 percent of the wells eligible for free water quality analysis in a six-county area have been tested since funding was secured in September 2015. Local public health officials encourage private well owners in Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel counties to take advantage of the free well water testing, before funding ends in September 2020.

“Well water testing is important for well owners’ peace of mind, knowing their health is not in jeopardy or discovering that there are contaminants that put your or your family's health at risk, so that you can treat the water appropriately and mitigate those risks,” said Kenneth Nordstrom, director of environmental health at the Delta County Health Department.

Nordstrom’s office is the coordinator of the well water testing grant from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that made $109,409 available per year to the West Central Public Health Partnership. The partnership consists of public health agencies in the six rural counties, covering 9,569 square miles and 93,440 people.

The funds pay for homeowners whose primary source of drinking water is a private well to receive a water sampling kit, mail it to the testing laboratories and receive results that help them understand their water quality. However, homeowners must voluntarily request the kits, collect the water samples and give the public health offices permission to publish their well’s results anonymously with aggregated results for the whole area. Of the estimated 9,600 wells at private residences in the area, sampling kits have been requested for 756 wells and results have been received for 600.

Gary Roberts is a local rancher who tested his well. Also a board member of the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership, which is helping promote the service in Ouray County, Roberts said, “A number of us folks with private wells have always wondered what is in our well water and this is an excellent opportunity to find out at no cost. The sample collection is quite simple and everything you need is in the kit that is mailed to you. I was amazed at how much information the tests provided on our well water.”

Wells should be tested periodically, because aquifers or well structures can change, resulting in new contaminants entering the water. The free tests would normally cost $500 or more. They provide results for pH, alkalinity, hardness, bacteria (Coliform and E. Coli), 22 heavy metals and minerals, including lead and mercury, and nearly 75 other substances, including nitrates, chloride and a wide range of chemicals such as those found in pesticides, herbicides and fossil fuels. A guide provided with the results shows the standard contaminant levels for safe consumption, potential health effects from exposure, common sources of the contaminants and recommended treatment technologies.

“We discovered an area where many of the wells have high levels of arsenic. The groundwater in our region is very hard and high in total dissolved solids,” Nordstrom said of well water results analyzed in the first three years. “We have not found any wells contaminated with pesticides. Arsenic contamination is our biggest concern.”

Arsenic in levels above EPA health standards is known to lead to cancerous tumors of the skin and lungs, and may cause problems with the nervous system. However, arsenic can be removed from well water and brought to safe levels through reverse osmosis, distillation, activated Alumina and other absorptive media

“If a well owner does find a high concentration of any contaminant, they should contact a water treatment specialist. There are many options for filtration and other technology to remediate any problems discovered,” he added. “People should choose treatment providers and decide on their recommendations carefully. Some treatment systems and their installation may be very costly, and they may not perform or be too expensive to maintain.”

Well testing applications from homeowners will no longer be accepted after May 2020. For more information or to request a sampling kit, visit uncompahgrewatershed.org/activities/free-private-well-water-testing/. Interested people can also contact Nordstrom by phone (970-874-2165), fax (970-874-2175) or email (knordstrom@deltacounty.com).