Extension and Ag Research News


Everyone Can Help Protect Water Supply

National Ground Water Awareness Week is a reminder that everyone can help protect the ground water supply.

Everyone can help protect ground water and reduce risks to the water supply during National Ground Water Awareness Week, March 8-14.

“Ground water makes up more than 90 percent of the available fresh water in the U.S. and the world,” North Dakota State University Extension Service water quality associate Roxanne Johnson says. “Nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population relies on ground water for its drinking water supply. Ground water also feeds most surface water bodies, such as rivers and lakes.”

Here are some steps anyone, particularly household water well owners, can take:

  • Locate any abandoned wells on your property. An improperly abandoned well can be a direct pathway for contamination into the aquifer. More information about decommissioning wells is available in NDSU Extension publication AE-966, “A Guide to Plugging Abandoned Wells” at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/h2oqual/watgrnd/ae966.pdf.
  • Never dispose of any substance down an abandoned well.
  • Maintain your septic system. A failing septic system may pose a contamination threat to the ground water. Learn the signs of a failing septic system and have your system pumped every three to five years. More information is available in NDSU publication AE-892 at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/ageng/structu/ae892-3.htm.
  • Properly use, store and dispose of hazardous household substances. Hazardous household substances include gasoline, oil, paints, paint thinner, fertilizers, weed killers, pesticides and cleaning products.

“Proper use means always following the manufacturer’s instructions,” Johnson says. “Do not overapply fertilizers, pesticides and weed killers. Also, do not apply or mix such substances close to the well head.”

Hazardous household substances should be stored in sealed containers in a secure place and should not be dumped on the ground, poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet. Instead, contact local waste authorities about proper disposal.

If you’re planning to construct a water well, work with a qualified contractor to determine the best location for the well, Johnson advises. Chose a qualified contractor to construct the well through a listing on the State Water Commission’s Web site at http://www.swc.state.nd.us/4DLink2/4dcgi/contractsearchform/Map%20and%20Data%20Resources.

If you have a well, give it a maintenance checkup annually to reduce risks to your water supply and prevent costly and inconvenient breakdowns. An inspection should check the well’s flow rate, water level, pump performance, pressure tank and pressure switch contacts, as well as equipment to determine if it is sanitary and meets local codes. Also, every well owner should check the well cover or cap and the well casing above the ground periodically to make sure they are in good shape. Testing water quality regularly is another major responsibility for well owners.

“First, determine if your well is clean,” Johnson says. “A dirty well, for instance one with accumulated sediment or debris in the bottom, can create an environment suitable to bacterial growth and impair effective disinfection.”

Well owners also should test annually for bacteria, nitrates and anything of local concern, such as contaminants from landfills, industrial sites, hazardous substance spills or improper disposal of hazardous household wastes, or naturally occurring contaminants, such as arsenic and radon.

You should have the water tested more frequently if:

  • You notice any change in the water’s taste, odor or appearance
  • You have a problem, such as a broken well cap or a new contamination source
  • A family member or houseguest has recurrent incidents of gastrointestinal illness
  • A pregnant woman or infant lives in the home
  • A dangerous contaminant shows up in your neighbors’ water
  • You need to monitor their home water treatment equipment’s efficiency and performance

An NDSU publication listing qualified water testing labs in North Dakota is available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/h2oqual/watsys/wq1341.pdf. If local labs do not test for substances you want checked, national water testing labs such as National Testing Labs (http://www.ntllabs.com) and Underwriters Laboratories (http://www.ul.com) may be able to help.

You can check your test results by using the Northern Plains Interpretation Tool (http://wsprod.colostate.edu/cwis435/regional_index1.cfm) or contacting Johnson to review the results and discuss treatment options. You also can check your test results against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant levels at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/contaminants/index.html.

“Should any contaminants above levels of health concern remain after any necessary maintenance, well owners can talk to a qualified water well system contractor about options such as installing a new well, rehabilitating the well or installing a water treatment technology to address the specific water quality issues,” Johnson says.

For more information about ground water and wells, contact Johnson at (701) 231-8926 or roxanne.m.johnson@ndsu.edu.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Roxanne Johnson, (701) 231-8926, roxanne.m.johnson@ndsu.edu.
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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