AMES, Iowa -- As floodwaters in Iowa begin to recede, many questions about wells and drinking water have been submitted to ISU Extension by rural homeowners. Here are a several of the more common concerns identified by rural residents and Extension field staff. Answers have been provided by Tom Glanville, ISU Extension agricultural and biosystems engineer who specialists in water systems.
Do I need to test my well after the flood?
Surface water is always contaminated by bacteria, so any well that has been submerged beneath flood waters or high groundwater tables (for well heads located below ground in well pits) definitely needs to be tested. Even if a well has not been submerged, the current saturated soil profile throughout Iowa increases the risks of pollutant transport into shallow wells and groundwater, and so now would be a good time for all rural well owners to consider having their well water tested for coliform bacteria and nitrate.
Is my well at greater risk of contamination if I live close to a livestock operation ?
Not necessarily. The risks of private well contamination go up during wet weather regardless of whether a well is located near a livestock operation. This is due to the fact that bacteria reside in the topsoil and in surface water at all times, and that many of the private wells used in rural Iowa are old, shallow and leaky. Even during “normal” years about 30 percent of private water well samples submitted voluntarily to the University of Iowa Hygenic Laboratory (UHL) by well owners are found to contain unsafe levels of coliform bacteria and/or nitrate.
Where can I send well samples for testing ?
Both the Iowa City and Ankeny branches of the University Hygienic Lab (UHL) are operational and are currently offering free water test kits to residents of counties that are included in the Governor Culver's disaster declaration. These kits are available through local county health departments. The best local point of contact to obtain the test kits are through your county environmental health officer/sanitarian.
Several commercial labs throughout the state also offer water quality testing. To make sure, however, that a commercial lab is properly qualified and equipped to perform accurate drinking water testing, clients should inquire whether the lab is state-certified to test water for Iowa public water supplies. Personnel and equipment at state-certified commercial labs are periodically tested and reviewed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and UHL to insure that their work is accurate and done according to approved procedures.
Where can I get more information about the process of cleaning up a flooded well?
The April 2008 issue of the ISU Extension Acreage Living Newsletter contains a short article entitled Clean Up Flooded Wells Before Using.