What's in your water?
Good water is the most important substance for human life. The human body can survive for weeks without food but will perish within days without good water.
Thousands of Pocahontas County residents rely on wells for water. Many of those wells are old, poorly maintained and have never been tested. Poorly maintained wells can become contaminated and cause serious health problems.
Bacteria e. coli, salmonella and shigella; viruses hepatitus A, enterovirus and norwalk and protozoas cryptosporidium and giardia can be found in well water and make a person very sick.
Symptoms of illness from these organisms include nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
Healthy individuals may have mild or no symptoms and will often recover without long-term health problems. But persons with weakened immune systems, including very young and elderly persons, may become seriously ill.
E. coli, found in human and animal waste, is especially dangerous and can cause kidney failure in young children and elderly persons.
A well must be at least 50 feet from a septic tank, if the well is uphill from the tank, or at least 100 feet if the well is downhill from the tank. Enclosed septic drainpipes should be no closer than 10 feet from a well. The top of the well casing can not terminate in a basement or other space below ground where it could be flooded with surface water.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) recommends annual water testing and regular inspection of water wells, to include the casing, well cap and electrical conduit. Water testing also should be done whenever the taste or appearance of well water changes.
Most well caps are made of aluminum or plastic and usually include a vented screen. The cap prevents small animals or other pollution from entering the well. Well caps keep out insects, such as earwigs, which prefer a dark, damp environment. Insects can cause major problems in a well. Bacteria levels can rise from their droppings, and the bugs fall into the water and decompose.
The well cap, casing and conduit should be checked regularly for leaks and cracks that could allow pollution or animals to get into the well.
The county Health Department, located in the courthouse, will test your water for $15. You can either call them to come collect a sample or you can pick up a bottle to collect your own sample. The water sample must be drawn on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and delivered to the Health Department the same day. The sample is sent to a lab in Charleston for testing and the results are returned within 10 days.ﾠ
In the event your well is contaminated, it must be disinfected. The DHHR has published well disinfection instructions on the internet at: http://www.wvdhhr.org/phs/water/Fact%20Sheets/HowtoDisinfectaPrivateWaterWell.pdf.
If your well retests positive for dangerous bacteria, it may be necessary to install a household disinfection system.ﾠ
Buck Turner, water systems expert with Richardson's Hardware, said a chlorination system, suitable for a residence or small business, can be installed for between $2,000 and $2,500.
The Health Department test determines if your water is safe to drink, but not how good it tastes.
Minerals and other substances can give well water a bad taste and awful odor, but pose little threat to your health.ﾠ High mineral content also can clog pipes and reduce the effectiveness of household detergents.
Iron and iron-reducing bacteria are common in parts of Pocahontas County, as well as calcium, manganese, magnesium and sulfur.
Richardson's Hardware provides free water testing to determine the best type of softening system to install.
Turner said years of testing had revealed water quality patterns in Pocahontas County.
Iron and iron bacteria are the main problem in Green Bank, Durbin, Frost and Seebert, while calcium is the biggest problem in the Hillsboro area, according to Turner.
Water high in mineral content is called "hard" water and a variety of systems are available for homeowners to soften their water. Two softening systems are widely used in the county: salt-based conditioners and oxidizing iron filters.
Turner said a salt-based conditioner is very good for removal of calcium, manganese and magnesium, but will also remove moderate amounts of dissolved iron and iron bacteria.ﾠ
Drawbacks of a salt-based conditioner include the need to buy salt and production of large amounts of salty backwash water.ﾠ A 40-pound bag of salt costs between five to nine dollars and a typical household uses about four bags per month.
A typical salt-based conditioner will discharge about 25 gallons of salty water every two-to-seven days.
The cost of a salt-based conditioner is very reasonable and a quality household unit can be purchased for as little as $500.
An oxidizing system is excellent for removing iron, manganese and sulfur gas from water, but does not remove calcium.ﾠﾠ
The great advantage of an oxidizing system is that it is virtually maintenance-free. There is no need to fill it with salt or other chemicals and there are fewer moving parts than on a salt-based unit.
An oxidizing system is more expensive than a salt-based conditioner, but a household unit can be installed for as little as $1,300.ﾠ
If you're lucky, your well water tastes as fresh as good spring water. You should still have it tested by the Health Department every year. And if your water is safe to drink but tastes or smells foul, a water test at Richardson's can tell you what kind of system you need.
It's a good investment for your health, your quality of life and your property value.