Get well water tested free of charge

DALLAS — Not sure when the last time your well was tested or want to know how often it should be tested?

Oregon State University Extension in Polk County has a person for that.

Chrissy Lucas, Extension’s ground water quality outreach program coordinator, has begun working with Polk County residents.

Polk Extension added the program in its 2017-18 budget, and Lucas started in the county in August.

The program offers residents with wells or septic systems advice and expertise on how to maintain their systems and keep them healthy.

Testing wells isn’t required by law — except for when a property is sold — but periodic testing can inform owners about what is in their water.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about how often well water should be tested,” Lucas said.

She said wells should be tested every one to three years for coliform bacteria and nitrates.

Wells should also be tested for arsenic once to see if it is present and at what level. Arsenic in water typically comes from surrounding soil and rock, not from a surface contaminant, unlike coliform bacteria and nitrates.

“The level of arsenic doesn’t tend to change,” Lucas said. “You either have it or you don’t.”

Lucas said well users too often don’t think about testing their wells until something is noticeably wrong, like the water smells, tastes or looks different.

Serious problems with water quality and safety may not present themselves that way, so testing could be critical for your health.

“Fecal coliform bacteria can make you very sick,” Lucas said.

Long-term arsenic exposure is associated with many health conditions, including cancer, she said.

Exposure to nitrates, which can come from pesticides, can cause health risks after long-term exposure, including hindering the body’s ability to absorb oxygen, Lucas said.

The presence of nitrates is a warning sign for more serious contamination.

Nitrates in your water indicates that surface contaminants are finding their way into your water — which is how coliform bacteria makes its way into a well, Lucas said.

As part of the ground water program, OSU Extension offers free nitrate testing. Bring a half a cup of water in a clean container to the Polk office, located at 289 E. Ellendale Ave., Suite 301, Dallas, for testing. Office hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. The phone number is 503-623-8395. 

Testing can be done on the spot if someone is available. If not, results will be available within a few days.

Like with well water testing, Lucas said many people don’t how often their septic systems need to be checked and pumped.

Maintenance on septic systems is a little more complicated and varies based on the size of the system and size of the family using, Lucas said.

She suggested if people are unsure to have it inspected by a professional.

She said at the least, a septic system needs to be pumped every 10 years, but it very well could be needed more frequently.

Lucas said she’s available for assistance with testing and answering any questions about well and septic system maintenance.

“We are really excited to offer people this service,” she said.

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