Water sampling important in rural areas

Water sampling important in rural areas Eight glasses of water a day may not be beneficial if one relies on a private water system, said Chuck Ullery, Extension water and natural resources specialist at South Dakota State University.

"People on private drinking water systems, basically on farms and ranches and other rural residents, are not covered by regulations of the Safe Drinking Water Act," he said.

Federal regulatory programs apply only to water systems serving at least 25 people in a 60-day period, so those using a private well must rely on themselves to test the quality of their drinking water, he said. The specialist recommended testing water at least once a year for bacteria and nitrates.

Both tests cost just $12 apiece through the state Department of Health.

Ullery reported that 20 to 30 percent of water samples from private wells in South Dakota analyzed each year by the South Dakota Health Laboratory are contaminated with bacteria while 10 to 15 percent are contaminated with nitrates.

Contaminates in water may not severely affect a healthy adult, but can be very threatening to young children and the elderly. Bacteria can cause diarrhea, hepatitis and a number of different illnesses. High nitrate levels, exceeding 10 parts per million as nitrate nitrogen, in water have been known to cause poor oxygen transport in babies, a condition known as blue baby disease.

Sources for both contaminates are widespread. The most common is poor well construction, said Ullery. Even with a properly constructed well, if sources, such as livestock, agricultural chemicals, or septic tanks are too close to the well, contamination can occur. He also said contamination of a flooded well is common in the spring months.

Water sampling kits, available from area Extension offices, should be used to achieve accurate test results, said Ullery.

"You don't want the bottle already contaminated before you put the water in it," he said.

A sample should be taken from a spigot close to the well. The spigot must be disinfected with a flame from a match or a torch to kill any bacteria. Then, let water flow from the faucet for up to a minute to flush out any bacteria that may be in there, explained Ullery.

To take the actual sample, fill the bottle until it overflows. It is important not to touch the interior of the bottle or cap because bacteria on one's hands will show up on the test, he warned.

For best results from a sample, send the specimen to the lab during the first part of the week. If a sample sits in the lab over the weekend, the chances of outside contaminates getting in are greater, he said.

If the water quality test finds contaminates in a system, one should stop using the water and immediately resample.

"You don't want to go off on a tangent and do something you're not sure about," he said.

The second step is to analyze the individual situation and evaluate what is causing the problem and what the options are.

"If you can find the source of contamination and it is practical to eliminate it, then that's one option," he said.

Other options are constructing another well or joining a rural water system, both major investments.

One may also install some type of water treatment equipment.

"The type of treatment equipment you install depends upon what the problem is," he said.

Many types of water treatment equipment are on the market, said Ullery, so it's important to select the right kind of equipment to remove the contaminant in the water.

"In some instances," said Ullery, "it may require several kinds of treatment equipment."

The specialist said reverse osmosis, distillation and chlorination systems remove bacteria, while nitrate levels can be removed using reverse osmosis, distillation, or filter systems.

Ullery recommends working through a local dealer when buying a water treatment system.

"They typically are familiar with contamination problems in the area and must provide good products and services to stay in business," he said.

In addition, Ullery suggests talking with other people in the community about their water treatment systems. "If you go that route, you're likely to come up with a dealer that is going to give you good service and a good product," said Ullery.

For more information about safe drinking water and testing water, contact the South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, local water treatment equipment dealers, county Extension office, or the local public water supply system.

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