Well, well, well: It’s time for water testing


Snow and rain – and the runoff that come from them – can bring contaminants to well water, and the Cortland County Health Department suggests you test your well this month for bacteria and other nasties.

The biggest concerns for private wells are e. coli and coliform bacterias, said Mike Ryan, director of the county Environmental Health Department.

“We don't regulate private wells, but just the same, the one thing that is more or less ubiquitous with wells is you have to worry about bacterial contamination,” Ryan said. “That’s probably one of the most important things in public health.”

The solution: chlorine.

“Chlorine was one of the biggest lifesavers in the history of science because that was what kills bacteria,” Ryan said. “You always want to make sure you don’t have bacteria in your water. That’s just so fundamental … If you do have bacteria, you can address it with chlorine. It’ll shock the well and then you can go test it again.”

Ryan said he recommends Microbac Laboratories, 3821 Buck Drive, Cortlandville. It has a form on its website for those interested in testing: www.microbac.com/contact. A specialist will follow-up, explain next steps and give pricing, based on what tests are needed.

Wells should be tested for bacteria annually, while lead and nitrate should be tested every three to five years, along with: nitrite, arsenic, sodium, iron, manganese, turbidity, pH, hardness and alkalinity, the state Department of Health advises..

Cortland County used to be at higher risk for nitrate and nitrite contamination, said Kathy McGrath, water quality specialist with county Soil and Water Conservation District, but that’s the past.

“It used to be that farms would use high nitrogen levels for fertilizer and also manure runoff,” McGrath said. “It would end up contaminating their own wells or wells downstream. Nitrogen in the form particularly nitrite can be toxic. It can produce a syndrome called ‘blue baby syndrome,’ which is a lack of oxygen in the blood. We are seeing decreasing levels of nitrate and nitrite in groundwater.”

“Wells were vulnerable,” McGrath added. “But we're not seeing the nitrate levels in groundwater that we did say 15 or 20 years ago, which can be attributed to better farming practices.”

Testing the well is not the only care that should be taken annually, states a February county Health Department post from Courtney Johnson, public health sanitarian.

“When inspecting your well, you should first look at the casing,” Johnson said. “Casing is recommended, and now required for new installation, to be 12 inches above ground. After the casing, shift your focus down a little more to the surrounding ground. All lawn, foliage, and tree roots should be kept trimmed and not interfering with the well at the ground level or deeper.”

“Soil around the casing should be mounded into a small hill, to allow water to run away from the casing and not pool around it,” Johnson added. “There should be no gaps or depressions that could hold water around the casing. Lastly, check the cap that it is an approved/updated sanitary well cap and is in good condition. All screens and seals should be intact and providing a sanitary barrier into the well.”