Friday, June 5, 2009

My Water Test Results and Hard Water

Water is the fluid of life. The water I drink comes from a private domestic well drawing from the ground water beneath my land. Ground water is the world's largest source of fresh water. Scientists estimate the amount of ground water is 400 times greater than all the fresh water in lakes, reservoirs, streams, and rivers. All water, on the earth's surface and beneath the surface, moves through the hydrologic cycle: Precipitation falls on land; some water evaporates and returns to the atmosphere, some flows to streams and rivers, and some seeps into the soil. Water not used by plants and their root systems move deeper into the ground, downward through cracks, into empty spaces or pores in the soil, sand, and rocks layers until the water reaches an impermeable layer of rock. The water then fills the voids above the rock layer. The top of the water in the soil, sand, or rocks is called the water table and the water that fills the empty spaces is called ground water.

I take seriously my duty as care taker of a portion of the watershed. Part of that is the care and monitoring of my private domestic well, the source of my own water supply. One of the precautionary steps I take is to test my water annually, though in the Commonwealth of Virginia this is not required. The annual water analysis just came back for my well. I had my water tested for total Coliform bacteria at my local laboratory and had the WaterCheck with pesticides analysis performed at National Testing Laboratories, Ltd.

Private wells are usually only tested for total Coliform bacteria and fecal Coliform bacteria. Coliform bacteria live in the intestine of warm-blooded animals and serve as an indication of other bacterial problems. Testing for Coliform bacteria is easier and less expensive than testing for specific, disease-causing microorganisms. Coliform bacteria itself is rather harmless, but are indicators that the water supply is contaminated and that disease-causing bacteria may be present. Coliform bacteria can be an indication of contaminated surface water entering the well or water delivery system or the result of a faulty septic system. Fecal Coliform bacteria indicate contamination by human or animal waste. It is unacceptable for fecal Coliform bacteria to be present in any concentration.
There are treatments for contamination, but I prefer my water pure and unadulterated. So, I was pleased to receive the report of:

ABSENT for Total Coliform Bacteria
ABSENT for Fecal Coliform Bacteria

If you do have a bacterial problem, fix it. There are four types of water treatment that can be easily and inexpensively used to remove bacteria. They are chlorination, ozonation, ultraviolet light, and heat. Chlorination is the most commonly used means of disinfection in private water systems. High chlorine concentrations can have objectionable tastes and odors, and even low chlorine concentrations react with some organic compounds to produce strong, unpleasant tastes and odors. To eliminate the excessive amounts of chlorine, the water is then dechlorinated. Activated carbon filters are the most common devices used to dechlorinate water, remove objectionable chlorine tastes, and reduce corrosion of plumbing systems. In addition to removing taste and odor problems, granular activated carbon absorption is a good method to remove other impurities including some pesticide residues, and radon.

In addition to bacteria that may exist in domestic water supplies, other contaminants may be present including minerals, chemicals or metals that occur naturally in the soil or enter ground water as a result of human activities. 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.

The WaterCheck with Pesticides is an informational test packages targeted to be an affordable option for consumers. The WaterCheck with Pesticide covers 15 heavy metals, 5 inorganic chemicals, 5 physical factors, 4 trihalo methanes, 43 volatile organic chemicals (solvents), and 20 pesticides, herbicides and PCB’s. The Minimum Detection Levels, which are the lowest levels at which the laboratory detects that contaminant are below the levels established by the Safe Drinking Water Act so this affordable (relatively) test will serve as a broad screen of drinking water. The WaterCheck with Pesticides test results showed only detectable levels of calcium, magnesium, silica, sodium zinc. My water is slightly more than moderately hard, meaning, in my case, that calcium carbonate is present at 170 mg/l. All other substance tested for were non-detect.

Hard water contains minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. Water containing approximately 125 milligrams of calcium, magnesium and iron per liter of water can reduce the cleaning action of soaps and detergents and can form a scale (limescale) in cookware, hot water pipes, and water heaters. There are a number of simple things you can do to reduce the effects of hard water in your home, without having to resort to treating your water, so called softening. My water has elevated levels of calcium and magnesium. My iron content is very low. High iron content can begin to stain your teeth at 0.3 parts per million (ppm), You may also notice brown/orange stains on tubs, inside dishwashers, sinks and laundry. The simple things to do to address hard water are:
Choose a detergent based laundry product. Some laundry detergents/soaps do not produce as many suds in hard water, these are likely to be soap-based products and do not work as well in hard-water as detergent based products. These days, there are laundering powders and liquids available for a wide range of water hardness. Also, manufacturers often recommend using slightly more detergent to compensate for the hard water. Check the package.
Reduce the temperature of your hot water heater. When water temperature increases, more mineral deposits will appear in your dishwasher, hot water tank and pipes. By reducing the temperature, you will save money and will reduce the amount of mineral build-up in your pipes and tank. Use rinse agents to remove mineral deposits. There are low pH (acidic) products available to remove mineral deposits from pots and pans and dishwasher. Alternatively, you can use plain white vinegar by using the dishwasher dispenser or placing a cup of vinegar on the dishwasher rack. Boil some white vinegar in your kettle to remove hard water deposits. Drain and rinse your hot water heater annually.
In days past, at the first sign of hard water, domestic water supplies were commonly softened by using a tank containing an ion-exchange material, which takes up the calcium, magnesium and small amounts of dissolved iron from water in exchange for sodium. Conditioning the home water supply with sodium is pleasing to some. The amount of sodium in water conditioning systems is a real problem. Personally, I do not care to add all that sodium to my diet while removing calcium carbonate and magnesium (something that is also sold in pill form for stronger bones). Household water treatment services are very profitable because of the monthly bills. Conditioning the water supply may include water softening, iron removal, neutralization of acid water, reverse osmosis, turbidity control, removal of objectionable tastes and odors, and aeration. Water softening and filtering are the most common methods of conditioning well water.
Rather than start playing around with my drinking water, adding chlorine, filtering, adding sodium, I prefer to drink clean natural water. I purchased a home with water I found acceptable in its natural state. I spent the money up front to test (and taste) the water. Annually, I spend the money and test my water to ensure that the water we drink is still beautifully clean ground water fresh from my well.

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