Conservation district starts cost-share program for well testing

In an effort to encourage people to get their domestic wells tested, the Madison Conservation District has recently approved a cost-sharing program.

“The Madison Conservation District is helping cost-share for residents to get their domestic wells tested for contaminants,” said Madison Watershed Coordinator, Sunni Heikes-Knapton.

The conservation district will reimburse people $25 who get their well water tested, she said.

It’s a test people who have wells should do at least once a year, Heikes-Knapton said.

“Well owners should be submitting samples for analysis on a yearly basis just to make sure their well water is suitable for drinking,” she said.

The idea for encouraging the testing came, in part, from another program Heikes-Knapton coordinates – area stream monitoring.

“There are some problems that we’ve seen with the stream monitoring linked to arsenic and other things we certainly don’t want in our water and since surface water and ground water are connected, the conservation district sees it as a worthwhile thing to keep tabs on,” she said.

In Montana, somewhere around 50 percent of domestic wells have never been tested, said Adam Sigler, with the Montana State University Ground Water Quality Program.

“As a private well owner it’s important for people to understand that there’s no government infrastructure or testing to make sure their well water is safe,” Sigler said. “It’s the responsibility of the well owner to test their water quality and make sure it’s safe.”

In the Madison Valley, arsenic can be a particular problem because of the area’s proximity to Yellowstone National Park, he said. Arsenic occurs naturally around geothermal features.

“The levels of arsenic in the Madison are higher than we would typically see in nature for natural reasons,” Sigler said.

Arsenic is a known carcinogen and long-term exposure to elevated levels in drinking water can present health problems, he said.

However, other contaminants can cause more immediate problems. One of the more basic water quality tests just looks at bacteria and nitrate levels.

Bacteria can get in a well when the well head is flooded or from other sources. Nitrates can get into well water from septic systems, animal waste or fertilizers.

“We typically recommend that people test their water every year for bacteria and nitrates,” Sigler said.

To test your well water, stop by the Madison Conservation District office in the Lone Elk Mall in Ennis and pick up a test kit. Follow the instructions in the kit for testing and mailing in a sample. Bring the results back to the conservation office to receive your $25 reimbursement.

The costs of the tests can vary depending on the level of testing, Sigler said. If people have never had their well tested, he recommends the most comprehensive test, which is more than $80. But if the well has been previously tested, the basic bacteria and nitrate test should be adequate and it costs $25.

Ultimately, it’s important for people to know what they’re drinking and so encouraging well testing is a great idea, said Janet Endecott, conservation district supervisor.

“We just decided that since there’s been so much development in the area and a lot of wells drilled and septic tanks put in that we would offer a cost-share if people wanted to test their private wells to see if the quality is still good and staying good,” Endecott said. “It doesn’t hurt to check to make sure what you’re drinking and giving your kids is good quality.”

For more information, call Heikes-Knapton at 682-3181.

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