If you had a job interview in 2015 and were asked the typical question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and answered correctly with “in quarantine, weathering an economic shutdown amid a pandemic,” I’d like for you to pick out some lottery numbers for me please.
This year has brought many challenges to our country, and indeed to all of mankind, and so far we’ve made it to June. In the groundwater management field, we’ve gotten some unusual questions this year about the safety of local water supplies in regard to pathogens. Of all the topics that go viral online these days, water quality is a pretty important one to do your homework on. So let’s review the facts at this point regarding groundwater and the virus, SARS-CoV-2.
First, surface water (lakes, rivers, etc.) is more susceptible to contamination by disease-causing agents called pathogens than groundwater. This is due to viruses and bacteria being swept off of surfaces by rain and other moving water and transported directly into a lake or river. Groundwater, on the other hand, is less likely to carry pathogens naturally due to filtration by soil, sediment and rocks as the water moves through the ground.
Second, public water systems are already required to treat their water prior to distribution to the customers, and this treatment process (involving filtration, chemical disinfection and other methods) is effective at removing or deactivating pathogens. Many private well owners also treat their groundwater by similar methods, which are also effective if done correctly.
According to the EPA, there have been no reports of the SARS-CoV-2 virus being detected in drinking-water supplies (SARS-CoV-2 causes the COVID-19 illness). Additionally, based on current evidence, the risk to water supplies from this virus is low, and Americans should continue to use and drink their tap water as is normal for them.
The EPA also encourages everyone to avoid flushing disinfectant wipes and other non-biodegradable items down the toilet, so that our wastewater systems can function properly. Currently, the EPA and other official health organizations are reporting that SARS-CoV-2 is mainly transmitted between people through close personal contact/proximity, and by touching contaminated surfaces, then touching your face. Hand-washing, social distancing and other good hygiene and health practices are more important now than ever.
Is my water safe? Can I get my water tested? What should I do to my well to protect my groundwater? These questions have come up more often this year, and while a pandemic is never a good thing, it has raised our collective awareness of health and environmental quality.
According to the National Ground Water Association, there are basically three lines of defense for your private well. The first is called “setbacks” or well spacing. This is a method used by state and local water managers (including the Panola County Groundwater Conservation District) to ensure that wells are kept far enough away from sources of contamination, particularly septic and sewer systems.
In Texas, it is required that water wells are kept 150 feet away from concentrated sources of pollution. There is also a 50-foot setback from property lines and a 100-foot setback from septic absorption fields/spray areas (check with your local groundwater district for specifics). This goes back to the idea of natural water filtration and contaminant dilution in the aquifers underground. Areas with a high density of septic systems, such as subdivisions or lake-front properties, are at a higher risk of having wastewater enter a well or surface water. While this is cause for some concern, especially if wells are not adequately protected, studies have shown in previous coronavirus outbreaks (MERS, SARS) that treated wastewater has a nearly 100 percent viral reduction after two or three days in the treatment system.
The second line of defense is to maintain your well’s construction. Check the well cap, well seal and area around your well casing for cracks, holes or other deterioration. Most often, when a well has been contaminated with pathogens, it’s from runoff water entering at the land surface and then moving down the well bore. If your well has been flooded recently, it will definitely need to be disinfected and tested to determine if it’s safe for consumption.
In general, if you notice any change in the water’s color, taste or smell, it’s smart to have your water quality tested. Annual tests for bacteria and other common items like pH, metals and dissolved solids are also recommended.
The third line of defense for your well is a water treatment system. There are many options and techniques out there to do this, and it will take some research, but it’s worth the effort to keep you and your family healthy. There will be links provided at the end of this article which will contain much more information on private well water treatment. It can be as simple as circulating bleach in your well, or as complicated as reverse osmosis plus ultraviolet light plus microfiltration.
Each well owner is responsible for deciding how to treat their water, but at the Panola County GCD, we can assist you with water sampling and finding qualified professionals for well repair and treatment.
As promised, here are some great resources to learn more about water quality and well maintenance: https://www.ngwa.org/, https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water, http://privatewellclass.org/, and http://twon.tamu.edu/.
In Panola County, the groundwater district offers water testing (including a free test for registered well owners) and assistance with lab reports. For more info, contact us at (903) 690-0143, 419 W. Sabine St. in Carthage or via our Facebook page.
Here’s to good health, good water and a better second half of 2020!