Drinking Water Contaminants
Contaminants have many opportunities to reach your drinking water. The geology of an area, soil conditions, precipitation, condition of your wells and plumbing, and the characteristics and occurrence of the substances themselves are all factors that determine whether a substance reaches your water supply.
No single group of individuals is responsible for what is happening to your water supplies. Homeowners and renters, as well as farmers, city dwellers and industries generate wastes that can eventually make their way to your drinking water sources.
There are many specific things you can do to prevent contamination. First, you must realize that water is a shared resource, used simultaneously by many individuals, municipalities and businesses. Second, you must understand that each of us contributes to the pollution threat. Finally, you must make a conscientious decision to change the way you conduct your daily activities.
Key steps you can take to protect your water include:
- Using and disposing of household, shop, lawn and garden, and auto care products according to label directions.
- Using agricultural chemicals according to recommendations, and using integrated pest management practices where appropriate.
- Protecting the area around wells to ensure that contamination cannot occur.
- Managing domestic septic tanks and disposal fields to prolong their life and maximize their ability to remove pollutants.
- Conserving water a home and at work.
Protecting you water resources will require everyone’s effort. You must protect this resource to assure and adequate and safe supply of water for future use. Your children and grandchildren are depending on it.
Safe Water for Your Health
Water is never just pure hydrogen and oxygen (H2O), because water dissolves minerals and organic compounds as it moves through the air and soil. Unacceptable materials, including bacteria from animal and human waste, synthetic chemicals such as gasoline and industrial solvents, or naturally occurring nitrate and salt, may find their way into water.
Here are the possible drinking water contaminants you should be concerned about:
BACTERIA – One of the most common drinking water safety tests involves testing for chloroforms. Presence of chloroform bacteria may indicate an unsanitary condition and possible presence of disease-causing agents.
NITRATES – Sources of nitrates include septic systems, livestock wastes and nitrogen fertilizer used on farm fields and lawns, high levels of nitrate in water can cause infant cyanosis (“blue baby disease”) in children younger than one year old. Nitrates do not appear to have significant health effects on older children or adults.
METAL – Lead is the metal of most concern. Excessive amounts of lead in our drinking water source can lead to damage of the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells. Other metals of concern include mercury, zinc, copper, arsenic, barium, cadmium, and chromium.
SULFATES and SALTS – High concentrations of sulfates and other dissolved salts can cause gastrointestinal problems in people and animals. Sulfates and salts may also be of concern to those on a sodium-restricted diet.
CHEMICALS – Pesticides, solvents and some substances in petroleum products have been identified as harmful contaminants detected in a sampling of drinking water sources.
MINERALS – Calcium and magnesium are the common minerals that contribute to water hardness. Water that contains large amounts of minerals may not affect personal health, but may make it less desirable for household use. Some minerals also stain laundry and water fixtures.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set concentration level limits for many of the contaminants found in drinking water. While these limits are set for public drinking water supplies only, they can also serve as a guide for private water systems.
The best way to determine the quality of your drinking water is to have it tested. Most water appears clean and problems-free at the tap, but it may not be as safe or acceptable for household activities as you would like. Annual testing by your local health department or by an independent laboratory will indicate possible problems.
Why should you be concerned?
The physical characteristics of your property can affect water quality. Some of these factors include soil type, slope of the land, depth and type of bedrock, and depth of ground water.
Some soils are more susceptible to ground water contamination, while others are vulnerable to erosion that may cause surface water contamination. As most contaminant breakdown occurs in the soil, sites with shallow soils, sandy soils, soils over fractured bedrock, and areas with high water tables will have a higher potential for ground water contamination.
Evaluate your well site by answering the following questions.
- Is your soil sandy or less than 3 feet to bedrock?
- Is the water level in you well less than 10 feet from the surface?
If you answered “yes” or you do not know the answer to any of these questions, look at the following table above to address those issues. The information will help you develop a voluntary plan of action to reduce the risks of contamination to your drinking water supply.
What to do
Who to call
|1||Find out your soil type, the depth, and type of bedrock under your property.||Natural Resources Conservation Service; Soil Conservation District; Colorado Geological Survey Office|
|2||Find out the depth to your water table and test your well for bacteria.||Natural Resources Conservation Service; Soil Conservation District; Colorado Geological Survey; County health department|
Drinking Water Well Management
PRIVATE DRINKING WATER WELL MANAGEMENT
Why should you be concerned?
The condition of your water supply system is an important factor to consider when looking at the quality of your drinking water. Specifically, you should be concerned about the location and condition of your well and the activities around your well that may affect the quality of your drinking water supply.
Evaluate the condition of your private well by answering the following questions:
- Do you own a dug or driven well, rather than a drilled well?
- Is your well more than 20 years old?
- Have you tested your water supply within the last three years?
- Is your well casing (well pipe) less than 12 inches above ground level and 19 feet below ground level?
- Is there an earth depression around your well casing, or does the casing have cracks or holes?
- Is your well downhill from any potential contamination sources (for example, septic system, pesticides, fertilizer, animal manure, petroleum storage, or other pollutants)?
- Do you have any abandoned wells on your property?
If you answered “Yes” or you do not know the answer to any of these questions, look at the table with information that will help you develop a voluntary plan of action to reduce the contamination risks to your drinking water supply.
What to do
Who to call
|Test your water very year for bacteria.||County health department; Natural Resources Conservation Services; CSU Extension; Soil Conservation District; Colorado Water Quality Control Division|
|Measure well casing to ensure it is at least 12 inches above ground and at least 19 feet below ground.||Natural Resources Conservation Services; Soil Conservation District; CSU Extension; County health department; licensed well driller|
|Repair damaged casing and fill in depression.||Soil Conservation District; Natural Resources Conservation Service; CSU Extension; County health department; licensed well driller|
|Relocate contamination sources downhill from well and comply with minimum separation distances. Divert contaminated runoff away from existing wells. Locate and drill a new well.||Natural Resources Conservation Service; CSU Extension ; County health department; Soil Conservation District; licensed well driller|
|Seal all abandoned wells on your property.||Office of the State Engineer; County health department; Water Quality Control Division; Natural Resources Conservation Service; licensed well driller|
Septic System Management
Why should you be concerned?
Rural residents typically used septic system or other types of onsite wastewater disposal systems. While these systems are usually economical and safe, household wastewater can contain contaminants that may harm water quality and septic system performance.
Potential contaminants in household wastewater can include disease-causing bacteria, infectious viruses, household chemicals and excess nutrients, such as nitrogen.
Evaluate the condition of your septic system by answering the following questions.
- Do you have an on-site wastewater treatment system (septic tank and drain field, lagoon)?
- Is your wastewater treatment system closer to your well and other water sources that the local code allows?
- Has it been longer than three years since you had your septic tank cleaned out?
- Do you dump grease, oil, or leftover household chemicals down your drain?
If you answered “Yes” or you do not know the answer to any of these questions, look the table below to help you develop a voluntary plan of action to reduce the contamination risks to your drinking water supply.
What to do
Who to call
|1||Know the location of your wastewater disposal system and test your water supply for all contaminants.||CSU Extension; County health department; septic tank installer or service|
|2||Know the location of your wastewater disposal system and test your water supply for all contaminants.||CSU Extension; County health department; septic tank installer or service|
|3||Monitor septic tank and pump when needed.||Local septic tank pumping service|
|4||Do not dispose of household chemicals down your drain or toilet. Determine where these materials can be recycled or disposed.||CSU Extension; County health department Disposed.|