Editor: National Groundwater Awareness Week is March 9-15, 2014.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Private well owners are encouraged to have their well water tested regularly, but when they do, they’re often stumped when trying to decipher the lab results.
And with more Ohio well water being analyzed under a mandate that shale energy companies provide such tests for any wells within 1,500 feet of proposed horizontal drilling sites, more Ohioans have been left scratching their heads when trying to interpret the findings.
That’s why Ohio State University Extension has teamed up with the Ohio Department of Health and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to provide a free online Well Water Interpretation Tool.
The tool is available through OSU Extension’s Ohio Watershed Network at http://ohiowatersheds.osu.edu. Click on “Know Your Well Water.”
“A lot of people were contacting the health department and the Ohio EPA because they had questions about their lab results,” said Anne Baird, program director with OSU Extension in Ohio State University’s School of Environment and Natural Resources. Both OSU Extension and the school are part of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
“The information that could help people was available, but it was scattered around on different websites,” Baird said. “So they (Ohio EPA and the Ohio Department of Health) approached us (OSU Extension) to see if we could help consolidate everything.”
The result is a website that helps people actually test their well water if they haven’t done so recently, understand the results, and protect their well water and groundwater resources for the future, Baird said.
The site provides:
- Links to a list of labs certified to conduct well water testing.
- Recommendations on what to test for.
- Guidance on whom to contact with questions regarding well water.
- A tool to type in lab results to get an assessment of the results and recommendations about whether the well owner should take remedial action.
- Guidance on well maintenance and groundwater protection.
The site also has information for media and educators, as well as other resources helpful for well owners, Baird said.
Rebecca Fugitt, program manager for the Residential Water and Sewage Program at the Ohio Department of Health, said the state agency, as well as local health departments, often get questions about interpreting well water lab results.
“They’ll get the results but don’t know how to read the report and don’t understand what the results mean,” Fugitt said. “Lab results are complicated, and people need some help navigating through them.”
About 705,000 Ohio households rely on private wells for their water, said Cliff Treyens, director of public awareness for the National Ground Water Association.
“If you’re the owner of a private well, you are the manager of your well system,” he said. “It’s up to you to test and treat the water, if necessary.
“The bottom line is that the private well owner is ultimately responsible for the quality of their drinking water, but, surprisingly, many people are not aware of the basic guidelines for testing their water.”
Many well owners don’t even think about testing their well water unless they suspect a problem, Treyens said.
“But some things that present a health risk have no odor, taste or appearance,” he said. “A great example is arsenic, which can occur in groundwater naturally in some areas.
“You may not notice that arsenic is in the water, but if you ingest it over a long enough period of time at a high enough level, the damage may be done.”
Treyens said the Well Water Interpretation Tool and the other information offered on the website will be a real benefit to private well owners.
“This resource will help demystify the whole process of testing your well water,” he said. “Most people don’t really know what to test for, how to get a test or how to interpret the results when they get them back.
“People can be paralyzed by not knowing what to do. This website walks you through the process in a way you can easily understand.”
Treyens said he hopes word of mouth by people who use the tool will help others become more aware of it. He said he’s also pleased that OSU Extension is such a big part of the project.
“At the National Ground Water Association, we often partner with Extension across the country because the organization works with people who are hard to reach, in this case the rural landowner,” he said.
The project was funded in part by a research and development grant from the Ohio Water Development Authority.