Water Testing: What to Test For
Some people depend on their well, pond, spring or cistern for drinking water. Individual water supplies are private and water testing is usually not required by law. The exceptions are bacteria tests for existing or new construction that is being evaluated for certain loans.
Water testing and treatment can be expensive and time-consuming, but they are the only ways a home owner can ensure a safe and reliable water supply. Individuals using public water supplies pay for water testing and treatment as a part of their water bill. Individuals operating a private water system do not have this benefit and are responsible for the testing and treatment of their own water.
Routine annual water tests are important in establishing a base-line of water quality, even if no obvious water problems exist. In a private household water supply, the most important things to test for are: total coliform bacteria, nitrate, pH (acid or alkaline) level and total dissolved solids.
Total coliform bacteria is an indicator of bacteria. If this bacteria can live in your water supply other more harmful bacteria may also be present. Presence of any bacteria indicates a need for disinfection.
Nitrates can occur naturally in the water supply or be the result of excessive fertilizer use. They may also be present because the water supply is in close proximity to human or animal waste sources. Levels above the established health standard can result in illness.
PH in water should be as close to neutral as possible. On a scale of 0 to 14, 7.0 would be considered neutral. A low ph indicates acidic water and can leach metals such as lead from household pipes.
High total dissolved solids (TDS) is an indicator of excessive concentrations of dissolved inorganic solids. Besides the water looking aesthetically undesirable, it can also affect the longevity of household appliances. Excessively high TDS may have possible health effects.
Proper collection and handling of a water sample is critical for a meaningful water test. Contact your county health department or a certified laboratory for specific directions in water testing and collection.
Source: Missouri Extension publication: Water Testing: What to Test For, WQ100