Series No. 873
Should You Have Your Water
Whether to have your water tested is a serious question that concerns your health and that of your family. Your water should be safe to drink and acceptable for all other household uses. Contaminated water can cause illness and perhaps even death. In addition, a variety of less serious problems such as bad taste, off-color, odor and staining of clothes or fixtures are symptoms of water quality problems.
Even water that appears problem-free and crystal clear may not be safe or acceptable. Even so, not all people need to test their water. Testing for all possible contaminants is impractical and unnecessary.
When Should You Test Your
Whether you have a public or private water supply, you should have your water tested if the following situations arise:
|Family members or house guests have recurrent incidents of gastrointestinal illness.||Test for coliform bacteria, nitrate and sulfate.|
|Household water plumbing contains lead pipes, fittings or solder joints.||Test for pH, corrosion index, lead, copper, cadmium and zinc.|
|You are buying a home and wish to assess the safety and quality of the existing water supply.||Test for coliform bacteria, nitrate, lead, iron, hardness, pH, sulfate, total dissolved solids (TDS), corrosion index and other parameters depending on proximity to potential sources of contamination.|
|You need a water softener to treat hard water.||Test for iron and manganese, which decrease the efficiency of cation exchange softeners, before purchase and installation.|
|You wish to monitor the efficiency and performance of home water treatment equipment.||Test for the specific water problem being treated upon installation, at regular intervals after installation and if water quality changes.|
|Water stains plumbing fixtures and laundry.||Test for iron, manganese and copper.|
|Water has an objectionable taste or smell.||Test for hydrogen sulfide, pH, corrosion index, copper, lead, iron, zinc, sodium, chloride and TDS.|
|Water appears cloudy, frothy or colored.||Test for color, turbidity and detergents.|
|Pipes or plumbing show signs of corrosion.||Test for corrosion index, pH, lead, iron, manganese, copper and zinc.|
|Water leaves scaly residues and soap scum and decreases the cleaning action of soaps and detergents.||Test for hardness.|
|Water supply equipment (pump, chlorinators, etc.) wears rapidly.||Test for pH, corrosion index.|
Public vs. Private Water
Many homeowners get water simply by turning on the faucet and making a monthly payment to a municipal or other local water system. They use public water supplies in which individual households are connected to the same water system. Public systems draw water from rivers, reservoirs, springs and groundwater wells.
In private systems, individuals or individual households provide their own systems. Most private drinking water comes from wells, sometimes from springs and ponds.
If your water comes from a public water system, your water is tested regularly for contaminants that are covered by federal and state standards. These contaminants include pathogens, radioactive elements and certain toxic chemicals. However, some public water supplies may have water quality problems caused by inadequate treatment facilities or distribution systems. Some rural water supply districts do not have enough money to hire trained specialists or to comply immediately with expanding government requirements. In addition, corrosive water or deteriorating household pipes may add contaminants to drinking water after it enters the house.
If your drinking water comes from your own well, you alone are responsible for ensuring its safety. Routine testing for a few of the most common contaminants is highly recommended. Even if your water supply currently is pure and safe, regular testing can be valuable because it establishes a record of water quality. This record can be helpful in solving any future problems and in establishing or assessing damages to your water supply.
Testing Private Water
Routine Tests -- The following testing frequencies are guidelines. Test more often if you suspect a problem with the quality of your water supply.
|Your well is in an area of intensive agricultural use.||Test for pesticides commonly used in the area, coliform bacteria, nitrate, pH and TDS.|
|You live near a mining operation.||Test for iron, lead, arsenic, manganese, aluminum, pH and corrosion index.|
|Your well is near a gas drilling operation.||Test for chloride, sodium, barium and strontium.|
|Your water smells of gasoline or fuel oil and your well is located near an operating or abandoned gas station or near buried fuel storage tanks.||Test for fuel components or volatile organic compounds (VOC).|
|Your well is near a road salt storage site or a heavily salted roadway and the water tastes salty or corrosion appears on pipes.||Test for chloride, TDS and sodium.|
Collecting Test Samples
Most testing laboratories or services provide their own sample containers. Use the containers and carefully follow the laboratory's instructions for collecting, preserving and handling water samples. Samples for coliform bacteria testing must be collected in sterile containers under sterile conditions. Some collection procedures call for water to run from an inside tap for several minutes before you fill the sample containers. Other instructions ask you to collect samples in the morning, after water has been confined in the pipes overnight. Samples should arrive at a laboratory within 24 hours of collection.
Laboratories may sometimes send a trained technician to collect the sample or to analyze the sample in your home. Ask if this service is available. You may obtain better samples and therefore more reliable test results.
Record all your water test results as a reference for future testing. Even slight changes in contaminant concentrations are good indicators of new water problems. By comparing recent test results with past results, you may discover you need a change in treatment or that a treatment device is working poorly.
The Authors -- Ernestine Porter is Extension textiles and clothing specialist, Roy Taylor is Extension agricultural engineer and Robert L. Mahler is soil scientist and Extension water quality coordinator, all in the University of Idaho College of Agriculture, Moscow.
|This publication is one of a series on water quality issues produced by the University of Idaho Cooperative Extension System for the people of Idaho. The material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Extension Service, under special project number 90-EWQUI-1-9216.|
Issued in furtherance of cooperative extension work in
agriculture and home economics, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in
cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, LeRoy D. Luft,
Director of Cooperative Extension System, University of Idaho, Moscow,
Idaho 83844. The University of Idaho provides equal opportunity in
education and employment on the basis of race, color, religion,
national origin, gender, age, disability, or status as a Vietnam-era
veteran, as required by state and federal laws.
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All contents copyright © 1997-2002. College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Idaho. All rights reserved. Revised: January 3, 2002