Water Testing in Skagit, San Juan and Island Counties
People often ask themselves if their water is safe, but getting an answer isn’t as simple as looking, tasting or even testing. Since water tends to dissolve or suspend most substances it comes in contact with, it can be very costly to answer this seemingly simple question. Some rural people use the old adage–If it smells and tastes like water and looks clean like water, then it’s probably okay. Although taste, odor, color, and clarity are important, they only address water’s physical aspects. The bacteriological and chemical content of water should also be tested. If your water comes from a public water source such as a municipal water system, then your concern may be minimal as public water must meet certain set criteria before it can be used for human consumption. However, if your water is a private source, such as your own well or dugout, then it is your responsibility determine whether the water you drink is truly “safe” for you and your family.
The best way to minimize testing is to know your area and your water source. Your local Health Authority may have records on the chemical characteristics of water in your area that may assist you to narrow your search. However if you are in the mountain areas local Health Authorities may not have data for your specific area. Then a comprehensive test may be warranted.
If you are concerned about certain types of chemicals and pesticides that have been used in a close proximity to your wells or dugouts, then indicate those concerns to the persons doing your water tests. This will be extremely helpful in determining what you should be testing for to ensure you have a potable water supply.
There are two common tests for well water: bacteriological and chemical. Bacteriological is used to determine if the water is safe for human consumption. Chemical looks at the specific minerals and chemicals in the water Tests start around $100 and results are usual available in in a week.
Bacteriological or Coliform bacteria is the most important and commonly done with each real estate transaction involving a well. If coliform bacteria are found in a water sample, steps are taken to find the source of contamination and restore safe drinking water. There are three different groups of coliform bacteria; each has a different level of risk. Total coliform, fecal coliform, and E. coli are all indicators of drinking water quality. The total coliform group is a large collection of different kinds of bacteria. The fecal coliform group is a sub-group of total coliform and has fewer kinds of bacteria. E. coli is a sub-group of fecal coliform. When a water sample is sent to a lab, it is tested for total coliform. If total coliform is present, the sample will also be tested for either fecal coliform or E. coli, depending on the lab testing method.
Common test packages
Please call for pricing on tests
Is there salt water in my well?
If you are on an island or have a well within a few miles of Puget Sound you will also want to test for salt water intrusion. The most frequently used test is called a conductivity test. Well waters ability to carry an electrical current by means of ionic motion is measured through conductivity. Salinity is the measured mass of dissolved salts (ions) in a solution. As such, conductivity readings provide a good indication of salinity. In general, as salinity increases, the total dissolved solids (TDS) of a solution increases, and so too does conductivity.
Drinking Water Quality Regulations
Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, signed into law in 1986, empower the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine and set standards for potential contaminants to drinking water.
The EPA requires local agencies to enforce these standards in their jurisdictions. The Washington Department of Health and Environment (WDHE) is the regulating agency for Washington. These agencies monitor all regulated contaminants to water.
Potable water is defined by the EPA and WDHE as being water that meets these regulatory agencies’ standards. Currently, there are 83 chemical or biological constituents that must be monitored in Skagit County.
Chemical constituents are subdivided according to chemical characteristics. The classifications are inorganic (chlorine, pH, alkalinity, hardness, fluoride, nitrate/nitrite, sulfate, specific conductance, solids, and metals), and organic (trihalomethanes, volatile organic compounds, and pesticides).
Biological constituents are also monitored on a regular basis. Monitoring includes routine testing for the presence of coliform bacteria as indicator species, and turbidity as a measure of particulate matter. The absence of coliforms as a bacterial indicator means that most other known bacterial pathogens have also been removed or inactivated by disinfection. Low turbidity indicates a lesser likelihood of the presence of pathogens that are large enough to appear as particulates. The combined information from this testing provides a good measure of water potability in respect to biological pathogens.
For more information about water quality regulations, please call:
Dept. of Health Office of Drinking Water (360) 236-3100
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (800) 426-4791.
You can also visit the U.S. EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.
Water Quality Association
Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory Newsletter# 513 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.
Follett, R.H. and Soltanpour, P.N. Fact sheet .506, Irrigation water
quality criteria. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. 1992.
Soltanpour, P.N. and Raley, W.L. Fact sheet 4.908, Evaluation of
drinking water quality for livestock. Colorado State University Cooperative
United States Environmental Protection Agency. Fact Sheet: National
Primary Drinking Water Standards and National Secondary Drinking Water
Standards. Office of Water, Washington, DC 20450. 1989.
Self, J.R. and Waskom, R.M. Fact sheet .577, Nitrates in drinking water.
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. 1994.