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Water Quality for Small Acreages   arrow

Watersheds and How They Work

How did the water get in your well anyway? Your water comes from a watershed. A watershed is simply all the land that drains to a specific point surrounded by a ridge top. In route to your well, water can pick up debris (various organic matter that provides a healthy food source for bacteria and other unwanted aquatic life which might arrive in your well), motor oil, pesticides, and other pollutants.

A watershed provides three functions:

1. It captures water mainly through rainfall or snowmelt and allows the water to enter the soil at various depths. When land is covered with pavement, concrete, buildings, and the like, infiltration is hindered. Water will also “wash-off” the pavement picking up oil and other pollutants, and eventually allowing those agents to enter the soil to the groundwater.

2. It stores water by allowing the water to infiltrate the soil where it is stored (at various depths) in the earth. It then can be pumped out for various uses one of which being for human consumption.

3. It releases water through springs, wetlands, and floodplains into lakes and streams.

How Healthy is Your Water?

Household or domestic wells can appear to be that long-desired, private, clean, clear, water source every American deserves. However, this often is not the case. Water is often polluted and not healthy to drink. Unhealthy water can be clean, clear, and taste great.

So, how healthy is the water in your well? Pollution can arrive at your well either through point source pollution (pollution from one source such as a feed lot or factory pipe outlet) or non-point pollution (pollution from several sources such as over fertilized lawns, streams, and roads). Private water sources on small acreage’s in rural Colorado usually consist of a well, which can be shallow or deep, and can exist in a vast array of situations. Some wells may exist near livestock pens, cropland, or in a variety of other situations.

As you can probably guess, the quality of water in your well can be determined through a water test. Once the water quality is determined, steps can then be taken to remedy any bacteria problems or other “unwanted” foreign residents.

Bacteria are not necessarily in your well at life threatening levels. However, a simple water test can provide the information necessary to determine whether your water needs to be treated.

Household Hazardous Waste Management

Small amounts of household chemicals such as furniture polish, paints, stains and drain cleaners, when concentrated in a small area can contaminate your underground water supply. Also, petroleum products, antifreeze or lead acid batteries can reach your underground water supply. What about pesticides that you use around your yard? They can also contaminate your drinking water. A simple rule is to stay back a minimum of 150 ft. from your water well.

Fertilizer Management

Let’s address the concern of over fertilization of your yard. Always do a soil test. Apply fertilizer only if you detect a deficiency of a particular nutrient. Develop a fertilizer management plan and store your products in a safe place. When taken, all of these steps will prevent contamination of your water well from misuse of your fertilizer.

Pesticide Management

Develop storage areas for your pesticide containers and follow label directions. Stay at least 150 feet back of your well when mixing pesticides. Use an anti-siphoning device on your hydrant and never rinse out your sprayer tank near your well. These are just some of the things to do to prevent contamination of your drinking well.

Septic Tank Management

There are several potential contaminants in household wastewater that you need to be aware of. They can include disease-causing bacteria, infection viruses, household chemicals and nutrients such as nitrogen. You need to know the exact location of your septic tank system and have it tested once every three years. Never dispose of hazardous household chemicals down your drain. Determine where these materials can safely be recycled and disposed of.

Livestock Management

You should always keep any livestock at least 150 feet away from your well. Any manure should also be kept 250 feet away. Where do you dispose of your dead livestock? Develop a manure management plan to address these issues and protect your underground water supply.

Disinfecting Your Private Well

Through the simple water quality test, you might find your water is fantastic and nothing short of your long awaited rural lifestyle water quality dreams. On the other hand, you may find harmful levels of bacteria and other unwanted microscopic life that can make your water harmful for various uses.

Drinking water needs to be free from viable disease-causing bacteria, viruses, cysts, and worms, – all which are microscopic or smaller. Public water systems have elaborate and expensive facilities to control these pathogens. Private water systems rarely have such water quality treatment facilities.

Wells can all too frequently be subjected to bacteria, pathogens, or other unwanted pathogens.

  • Shallow wells, particularly old wells with unsealed linings of rock or stone can easily be polluted.
  • Deep wells of broken limestone with shallow soil cover can also be in jeopardy.
  • Old wells probably were not constructed properly and readily allow pollutants to enter.

Water from the best-protected water sources can be polluted through any given set of situations. Installing a filter in your water line is a good idea but will not clean certain contaminants from your water source. Some unwanted pollution can be filtered, and should be, but a filter simply cannot catch all those things we do not want in our water. Some commercials are written very well, but regardless of how wonderful the filter is said to work, filters cannot and do not filter out all bacteria and pathogens in water. Some things simply cannot be filtered.

Disinfecting Methods

Depending on what is in your water that you want out, various methods of varying expenses exist to get your water quality to a healthy standard.

1. Chlorination

This is the oldest method and probably is the most common. Chlorine is a strong oxidizing agent. It is also cheap, reliable, easy to use and monitor, and is safe. Chlorine may be injected into the water supply for continuous disinfecting or added to a water volume for a one-time bacteria treatment procedure. Some drawbacks of using chlorine are:

  • It requires time to react and organisms vary in their resistance to the agent.
  • Bacteria, as a rule are relatively easy to kill and viruses are more difficult. Cysts and worms are relatively unaffected by chlorine.
  • Chlorine, reacting with organic matter, may produce an ingredient that is a known carcinogen.

The time required for chlorine to disinfect the water varies with the water temperature and acidity and with the concentration of chlorine being used.

Chlorine is very useful for sanitizing a water supply. A relatively strong chlorine solution of 200 PPM is recommended for sanitizing new wells and water systems or whenever a water system or well is opened or may have been contaminated.

2. Ultraviolet Radiation

Ultraviolet (UV) light has long been known to be able to kill germs. However, this technique in private water systems is quite new. The device is rather simple. The most common design consists of a small cylindrical tank with a cylindrical mercury arc lamp located along the centerline. Water enters one end, flows through the annular space between the lamp and the other cylinder, and exits from the other end within a few seconds. One drawback is that solids in the water easily absorb UV light and thus should only be performed on clear water.

3. Ozone Treatment

Ozone, like chlorine, is a strong oxidizing agent. Ozone is unstable and cannot be transported and placed in the water system. It must be produced at the place where it is to be used. An electrical corona discharge or ultraviolet irradiation of dry air or oxygen produces ozone.

Home devices installed in the plumbing system of a house are simple, where raw water enters one end of the device, travels to the point where ozone is produced, and exits as a mixture of ozone and water. Like chlorine, ozone may not kill cysts and some other large organisms. These possibly can be eliminated by filtration.

4. Pasteurization

This has long been practiced for emergency treatment of water. Boiling the water for three to five minutes completes this process. Home pasteurization devices are available.

The benefits to this process are very favorable to many, especially those of today’s health-conscious league.

  • Nothing is added to the water in the process.
  • Cysts and worms, which are relatively unaffected by other methods, are easily killed with the heat.
  • No residual is produced and left in the water to be taken internally.
  • No contamination is created which will require further treatment.

Years ago, before our world was so totally automated; man and woman did not have to worry about pollutants secretly entering “our world”. But today, houses are closer together, feed lots are popular, and one car garages just don’t work anymore, – try three or four cars! Our world is just more concentrated with lots of things that make up civilization. These things all can contribute to water quality. Constant and regular attention of your domestic water supply is crucial and starts with a simple water test.