Is your well water safe?

Well Water

Well Water

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Gary Hix, well inspector and consultant for In2Wells of Tucson, addresses the crowd during the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension workshop Saturday.

The search for adequate water supply has always been a struggle in Arizona, a state that’s rich in minerals, but poor in water quality because much of it is pumped from underground aquifers.

That’s why it’s important to properly maintain private wells and test regularly for contaminants, said Gary Hix, well inspector and consultant for In2Wells of Tucson.

While state law requires well owners to keep test data up to date, there is no penalty for not filling out the forms, he told about 70 people who attended a three-hour workshop Saturday presented by University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

There are known salt deposits at Red Lake, and the majority of aquifers throughout the Colorado Plateau are high in salinity, beyond drinking water standards, Hix said.

“There’s clay and silt. You can drill through it and deep enough to get a good artesian well, it’s just the odds of where you drill and how far down you drill,” he said.

You could find plenty of good water close to the mountains around Kingman, but it’s going to get more difficult as you move further into the Hualapai Valley Basin, Hix said. Runoff makes its way from the mountains to the center of basins in Golden Valley and Red Lake, where the ground can be tight and impermeable.

Hix showed a map of Mohave County with red dots representing at least one well on a property, some of them representing four or five wells on a 10-acre parcel.

Records for those wells can be found on the Arizona Department of Water Resources web site, but again, even some “mandatory” records may be missing, Hix noted.

Depleting the source

The well expert explained the “cone of depression” left by pumping water from the ground, and how additional pumping by a new neighbor lowers the cone of depression and draws down the water table level.

“And that’s perfectly legal in the state,” Hix said. “It can be a municipality, it can be a farm. If they’re allowed to pump harder, they’re likely to dry up the perennial stream and other wells.”

ADWR established the Groundwater Management Act in 1980 that restricted drilling in Active Management Areas such as Phoenix and Tucson, but Kingman does not have an AMA.

Someone asked if that will change.

“Not in my lifetime,” Hix answered. “Who owns this water? Does this person own that water or does that person? In our state, you cannot say you own the groundwater beneath your land. It’s public property, so we all have an obligation to look out for the reserve.”

It’s going to take a concerted effort from people such as those attending the workshop to make legislators aware of the situation and change the rules, he said.

As it stands now, people still want the ability to drill a domestic well for their house, but when those wells become too numerous, they can deplete the aquifer and everyone will have to drill deeper, he said.

What’s most important for well owners is the recovery rate, or how fast water flows back into the well after the pumping stops. Drawdown is measured by subtracting static water level from pumping water level.

Clean drinking

Janick Artiola, water quality specialist at University of Arizona, said well owners should be aware of potential sources for groundwater contamination.

By law, septic systems must be at least 100 feet from a well, and that’s probably not enough distance, he said.

Nitrates and salts are the biggest threats of contamination because they’re mobile in the soil. Animal waste also produces nitrates, and a lot of farms have diesel storage tanks that can leak into the soil.

“If you don’t want to drink it, try not to put it there,” Artiola said. “Maybe it’s not you to drink it, but people who follow. Eventually we’ll go toilet to tap. It’s coming. This is where the research is.”

George Sedich, water superintendent for the city of Kingman, said the bulk of water for 20,000 municipal accounts comes from wells drilled to more than 600 feet in depth, so there’s very little chance that human or animal waste would ever reach the water level.

The water is pure and drinkable without any treatment, he said.

“We add a little chlorine to carry residual throughout the water system,” Sedich said.

The city has 14 active wells that are sampled weekly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annually and annually, said Nancy Sipe, water quality program manager who spends at least two days a week in the field.

The numbers are far below the maximum level allowed in the Consumer Confidence Report.

Private well owners are not required to test their water, but should test at both the well head and the tap, Artiola said.

“Once degraded or contaminated, it’s difficult and very expensive to treat to drinking water standards,” he said.