Local extension offices to offer water testing clinics

By Kim Walter

Local Virginia Cooperative Extension agents are urging residents using private water supplies to get their water tested this month through an inexpensive clinic.

Not only do the clinics offer affordable water testing, but residents also will receive help interpreting their water results and information about possible treatment options.

The water testing covers 14 common contaminants, including iron, manganese, sulfate, hardness, sodium, copper, nitrate, arsenic, fluoride, pH, total dissolved solids, coliform bacteria, E. coli bacteria and lead.

Because localities have helped supplement a large portion of funding for the testing, participants in Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties will have to pay only $5 for a sample kit.

Karen Poff, senior extension agent, said normally water testing could cost anywhere from $150 to $200.

“We’re really hoping that locals take advantage of this,” she said. “If they have a private water supply, they need to know what’s in it.”

Participation is limited to the first 90 residents from each county, so Poff said those interested should contact their local extension office as soon as possible.

The clinics will consist of three separate meetings, and participants are required to attend all of them. The kick-off meeting will introduce community members with water quality information and instructions on how to properly collect water samples. Sample kits also will be ready for pick up.

Sample collection simply will require participants to drop off their kits at a designated location. About four weeks later, after testing is done at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, results will be available.

Individual results will be confidential, but participants can stay to see a general overview of how often contaminants showed up in their county.

Poff said even if interested residents were unable to take their own sample, they should still consider attending the last meeting so they can learn what to look for in their own water supplies.

While Poff said she doesn’t think that the valley necessarily has more private water supplies than other parts of the state, she said the local geology could impact drinking water quality.

“Because of the karst geology around here, it’s easier for contaminants to get down into water through the limestone,” she said.

Clincs were offered last year, and some results stood out to Poff. She said coliform bacteria were present in almost 48 percent of samples taken in Warren County and almost 41 percent of samples from Shenandoah County.

“By itself it’s not really a health concern, but it does indicate that conditions in the water are right for other bacteria, like E. coli, that could be very harmful,” she said. “People need to test their water, because they wouldn’t necessarily know that from the look or taste.”

Some of the health concerns are easily fixed, and participants will get that information at the final meeting.

The clinics are part of a bigger picture in that results will go toward research on water quality throughout the state.

If the extension offices are able to offer the clinics again, Poff said the price likely would go up to about $50 per kit.

“There’s a lot to learn about having your own water supply, and how to maintain it,” she said. “But there’s no way to really know if it’s safe unless you get it tested.”

For more information: Frederick County residents should call 540-665-5699, Shenandoah County residents should call 540-459-6140, and Warren County residents should call 540-635-4549.

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com