Although the following was written for OHIO, we in the Rocky Mt. Region also have the same interests in our water sources. If you need help, contact your local water department or your County Extension Office. I have included the web for the Colo. Health dept:
"Colorado Dept. of Public Health & Environment"
This web: http://gardensimply.com/extension.shtml (About Master Gardener) can steer you to each State Extension Office,
Ohio State University Extension
Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
590 Woody Hayes Dr., Columbus, Ohio 43210
People in more than 750,000 Ohio households depend on their own well,
spring, or cistern for drinking water. Individual water supplies of this
sort are private. Water testing or water treatment is usually not required.
The exceptions are bacteria tests for new or altered private water systems
and dairy water supplies, which must be tested for bacteria and meet dairy
Water testing and treatment are expensive and inconvenient, but are the only
way a homeowner can ensure a safe and reliable water supply. Individuals
using public water supplies pay for water testing and treatment as a part of
their water bill. Individuals operating a private water system do not have
this benefit and must see to the testing and treatment of their water.
Choosing Water Tests
Testing water for every contaminant is possible but very expensive and not
necessary. It is more important to test on a regular basis for a few
indicators of contamination and to maintain a record of water quality. This
helps to identify changes in the supply, contamination of the water source,
or deterioration of the water system. Good records of water quality are also
important should you need to prove that your water has been contaminated by
some outside activity such as mining or waste disposal.
Standard laboratory procedures identify the amounts of specific bacteria,
chemical compounds and other components that affect water quality. Most
important are routine annual water tests, even if no obvious water problems
Household water supplies
total coliform bacteria
total dissolved solids
Livestock and poultry water supplies
pH total dissolved solids
total coliform bacteria
fecal coliform bacteria
total plate count
Testing Nuisance Waters
Other tests identify particular problems and help in selecting water
treatment equipment. Nuisance water may not be satisfactory for all uses but
still may present no health hazard. Common complaints include staining of
fixtures and fabrics, off-color appearance, unusual taste or odor, and
deposits and pitting of metals. Listed on the next page are useful
laboratory tests for nuisance water.
Laboratory Tests for Nuisance Water
Symptom Appearance Test
Stained fixtures and clothes red or brown iron
reddish-brown slime iron bacteria
green or blue copper
Off-color cloudy turbidity
black hydrogen sulfide, manganese
brown or yellow iron, tannic acid
Unusual taste and odor rotten egg hydrogen sulfide
metallic pH, corrosive index, iron, zinc, copper, lead
salty total dissolved solids, chloride
septic, musty, earthy total coliform bacteria, methane
alkali pH, total dissolved solids
gasoline or oil hydrocarbon scan
Corrosive water deposits, pitting corrosion index, pH, copper, lead
Testing for Suspected Contamination
Water tests are especially important if the supply is threatened by nearby
activities. Good records prior to contamination will be needed to prove that
the supply was damaged. Listed below are activities that may affect a water
supply and useful laboratory tests.
If you suspect/observe Request these tests
Leaking fuel tank hydrocarbon scan
Coal mining total dissolved solids, iron, sulfates, acidity, pH, corrosion
index, manganese, aluminum
Gas and oil drilling total dissolved solids, chlorides, sodium, barium,
lead, pH, corrosion index, strontium
Road salt total dissolved solids, chloride, sodium
Landfills total dissolved solids, pH, COD, volatile organic scan
Sludge utilization bacteria, nitrate, metals (lead, cadmium)
Septic systems fecal coliform bacteria, fecal streptococcus, nitrate,
Intensive agricultural use total coliform bacteria, nitrate, pesticide
scan, pH, total dissolved solids
Collecting Water Samples
Proper collection and handling of a water sample is critical for a
meaningful water test. Sample containers should always be obtained from the
testing laboratory because containers may be specially prepared for a
specific contaminant. Sampling and handling procedures depend on the water
quality concern and should be followed carefully. If the water is being
treated, it may be necessary to sample both before and after the water goes
through the treatment equipment.
Water samples for bacteria tests must always be collected in a sterile
container. Take the sample from an inside faucet with the aerator removed.
Sterilize by flaming the end of the tap with a disposable butane lighter.
Run the water for five minutes to clear water lines and bring in fresh
water. Do not touch or contaminate the inside of the bottle or cap.
Carefully open the sample container and hold the outside of the cap. Fill
the container to overflowing, and replace the top. Refrigerate the sample
and transport it to the testing laboratory within six hours (in an ice
chest). Many labs will not accept bacteria samples on Friday so check to
find out the lab's schedule. Mailing bacteria samples is not recommended
because laboratory analysis results are not as reliable.
Iron bacteria forms a very obvious slime on the inside of pipes and
fixtures. A water test is not needed to identify it. Check for a
reddish-brown slime inside of a toilet tank or where water stands for
Sample bottles used to collect water for chemical analysis often contain a
fixing compound to prevent loss or breakdown of specific chemicals. Always
obtain these sample bottles and instructions from the testing laboratory.
Run water at an inside tap for five minutes to clear the lines and bring in
fresh water. Follow instructions for filling sample bottles and transport
samples to the testing laboratory as quickly as possible via personal
delivery or overnight mail service.
Hydrogen Sulfide Sampling
Hydrogen sulfide is a gas with a distinctive odor (rotten eggs). The gas
escapes from water very quickly, so if needed, measurements of hydrogen
sulfide concentrations must be made immediately, on site. In most cases this
will not be necessary. If the odor is present, hydrogen sulfide is present.
When sampling for evidence of corrosion, allow the water to stand in the
water lines overnight or longer. Do not let the water run before collecting
a sample because water held in the pipes will have corrosion products. Take
the sample from an inside faucet with a laboratory container. Deliver the
samples to the laboratory in person or use an overnight mail service.
Organic Chemical Sampling
Many organic contaminants are volatile and will escape from solution when
aerated. Take extra care when collecting these samples. Remove the faucet
aerator and let water run for 5 minutes to clear the pipes and bring in
fresh water. Partially close the faucet until a slow steady, non-aerated
stream of water flows. Hold the laboratory sample bottle at an angle to
reduce aeration when filling. Fill the bottle completely and replace the
cover. Invert the bottle and check for air bubbles. If bubbles are present,
empty and take another sample. Take the sample to the laboratory in person
if possible or use an overnight mail service.
Sampling for Court Cases
Sometimes water samples are taken for evidence in a court case to show
pollution or damage to a water supply. These samples should always be
collected by a disinterested third party, trained in proper sample
collection, who can testify as to how the sample was handled. Use an Ohio
Environmental Protection Agency/Ohio Department of Health (OEPA/ODH)
certified laboratory for all water testing. Your record of routine sampling
provides evidence about your water supply before pollution or damage.
The laboratory sends out water test results anywhere from a few days to a
few weeks after receipt of samples. Water test results often list the
drinking water standards to help you interpret the results. Contact your
county Extension agent, your county health department or the Ohio
Environmental Protection Agency for assistance in interpreting test results
and determining corrective action. File your water test report in a safe
place for future reference.