Monday, October 15, 2012

Water Clinic in Prince William

The Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Office will be hosting a drinking water clinic for well, spring and cistern owners in Prince William County as part of the Virginia Household Water Quality Program. The Prince William VCE welcomes our neighbors from Loudoun, Fairfax, and Fauquier (and anyone else in Virginia willing to drive to the clinic to join us). A statewide grant from USDA Cooperative State Research, Extension and Education Service that allow Virginia to hold and subsidize the cost of the analysis for the water clinics in a dozen or more counties each year. To sign up for the program please call 703-792-6285 or email Please register as soon as possible so that the Prince William VCE Office can order enough test kits.

The program consists of two meetings- one to get instructions and test kits, and the other a month later to get results and provide interpretation and recommendations. Samples will need to be dropped off at the VCE Prince William Office for analysis a day and a half after the first meeting. The samples will be analyzed for 14 chemical and bacteriological contaminants and cost only $49. Comparable analysis at a private commercial lab would cost $150-$200. Samples will be analyzed for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria.

 The Kickoff Meeting will be on November 5, 2012 at 7 - 8:30 pm at the Old Courthouse, 9248 Lee Avenue  in Manassas, VA 20110
A brief presentation will be given to discuss common water quality issues in our area and instructions for how to properly collect the water samples from your tap. Water sampling kits will be distributed with written sampling directions and a short survey about your water supply for data gathering purposes. Checks (or money orders) for $49 to cover the cost for the analysis and sampling kits will be collected. A friend or neighbor may drop off your check and pick up your sampling kit.

The samples should be taken early Wednesday morning and then dropped off on Wednesday November 7, between 6:30am and 10am at the VCE  Prince William Office, at 8033 Ashton, Suite 105, Manassas  20109

Results Interpretation Meeting will be held on December 5, 2012, 7-8:30 pm once more at the Old Courthouse 9248 Lee Avenue, Manassas, VA 20110
Participants will receive their confidential water test results. A presentation will be given that explains what the numbers on the test report mean and what possible options participants may consider to deal with water problems. Experts will be on hand to answer any specific questions you may have about your water and water system. I will be one of volunteers present to help with the program. Come join us.

Just because your water appears clear doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to drink. You cannot taste bacterial contamination from human and animal waste, nor nitrate/ nitrite contamination which can in excessive levels be deadly to newborns and infants. Since bacterial contamination cannot be detected by taste, smell, or sight, all drinking water wells should be tested at least annually for Coliform bacteria and E Coli. Testing is the only way to detect contamination in your water. Testing is not mandatory, but should be done to ensure your family’s safety. The Virginia Private Well Regulations only specify construction requirements. There are no requirements for maintenance or water testing after a well is approved either on a state or national level. Maintenance of your well and ensuring that water is safe to drink is the responsibility of the owner.

 Under the Safe Drinking Water Act the U.S. EPA requires that all public water supplies be tested for a list of 80 primary contaminants on a regular basis and meet these minimum standards. In addition, EPA has secondary standards for less hazardous substances based on aesthetic characteristics of taste, smell and appearance, which public water systems and states can choose to adopt or not. Neither the primary nor secondary safe drinking water standards apply to private wells, but these standards can be used as guidance to determine what levels of water constituents is too high and should be addressed.  Contamination from human and animal waste and chemicals can be real health hazards and should be addressed immediately. However, most of the water quality issues with private wells are from naturally occurring contamination or impurities. While many natural contaminants such as iron, sulfate, and manganese are not considered serious health hazards, they can give drinking water an unpleasant taste, odor, or color and be annoying and persistent problems and EPA has established secondary standards that can be used as guidance. Excessive levels of sodium, total dissolved solids, harness, can be an annoyance and impact appliances.  Several of the naturally occurring contaminants that commonly appear in well water are primary contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act and can be a health hazard at excessively high levels- nitrate, lead, arsenic, floride, and copper. The VCE Drinking Water Clinic will test for these.  

The goal of the Virginia Household Water Quality Program is to educate well owners, improve the water quality and protect the health of Virginians with private water supplies, such as wells, springs and cisterns. This all begins with testing and understanding your water and properly maintaining your water system. In 60 of Virginia’s 95 counties more than half the households rely on private wells, springs, and cisterns. In total there are more than 1,500,000 households in Virginia with private water supplies. Homeowners relying on private water supplies are responsible for all aspects of their water system’s management, but may lack the knowledge and resources to effectively and properly manage and maintain their wells and water systems. Until a big problem arises, many homeowners ignore their private water systems, but they should be routinely tested every 1-3 years (every year for bacteria). If there is a pregnant woman or infant in the home the water should be tested. If there is any change in the taste, appearance, odor of water or your system is serviced or repaired then water should be tested to confirm that no contaminants were introduced.  

In addition running  the drinking water clinics VCE has established the Virginia Master Well Owner Network (VAMWON), a group of Virginia Cooperative Extension educator/agents and screened volunteers trained in proper well construction and location, appropriate maintenance and protection of wells and springs, interpretation of water tests, and water treatment options. These educator/agents and volunteers form an excellent resource base for homeowners. If you are a private water system owner, consider contacting a Master Well Owner in your area if you cannot join us for the water clinic.

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