Those living in Stanislaus County who rely on a well for their drinking water can now get a free well assessment.
Through a national program that began last year, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation is providing well assessments for well owners throughout four western states, including California, free of charge.
During 2017, RCAC staff will perform well assessments for well owners in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and California. Various counties in each of the states have been chosen for the Individual Well Program, including Stanislaus and Merced counties in the Central Valley, which provides the well assessments for those not regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. Funded by the U.S. EPA, counties in each state were chosen based on their proximity to the RCAC field staff in an effort to maximize educational opportunities.
A well assessment is an evaluation of a well’s on-site conditions to help owners learn how to keep their own drinking water safe. Some common contaminants found in domestic wells include arsenic, uranium, boron, lithium and radionuclides. Drinking contaminated water can cause deficiency in cognitive development in infants and young children leading to lifelong learning disabilities, cancer, thyroid problems and other serious health issues.
Since private drinking water wells do not have the same regulations that community water systems have, owners often don’t know how to best protect their water, said RCAC Rural Development Specialist Julie Connel.
“The well assessment tool identifies well vulnerability based on well specification, nearby threats and contamination in the specific well area,” said Connel.
Assessments include possible contamination sources, such as nearby agriculture and septic systems, visual inspection, well construction and water source evaluation. Trained professionals will perform in-person visual inspections to check for proper sanitary seals, a well cap screen and casing to reduce the risk of well water contamination. In addition, RCAC’s staff will perform sanitary surveys, water quality surveys and test for nitrates at each assessment.
“We will also perform a field test for nitrates, which can help determine if there is any septic contamination at the well,” said Connel.
After the assessment, the well owners receive a copy of all information accessed and gathered so that they can better understand their water source, helping to ensure that their well drinking water is reliable and safe. An estimated 43 million people in the U.S. rely on private water wells as their sole drinking water source, according to a U.S. Geological Survey, and the free well assessments provided by the IWP can help to identify potential threats before they become hazardous to water quality and safety.
Six months ago, well owners throughout Stanislaus County weren’t as concerned about the quality of their well water as they were with the lack of it. Through a Temporary Water Assistance Program, water tanks were placed at homes across the county where domestic wells had run dry due to the state’s drought.
Since the program’s inception in July 2015 to July 2016, 50 water tanks had been installed, with 21 having been removed due to successful drilling of new wells or repair of old wells, leaving 29 tanks still in service.
According to Connel, those with water tanks placed by the TWA program cannot have the tanks themselves assessed for any contamination. They can, however, apply for low-interest loans through the RCAC that can be used to help replace a well that has gone dry. Once the well has been replaced, Connel, who will perform the assessments throughout the Stanislaus, Merced and Madera region, can come out to the well and provide management tips for the new structure.
“…that’s a bit of a special situation, since through the well assessment program, they need to be actually drinking the water, and these people are on a temporarily different source,” said Connel.
To request a well assessment or to find out more about the assessment program, visit http://www.rcac.org/environmental/individual-well-program/. Those interested in the TWA program may visit stanemergency.com or call the TWA hotline at 209-552-3880.