Drinking water clinics return to the valley

Residents who make use of private well or spring water systems will have an opportunity to test the water quality.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension is offering four drinking water testing clinics for residents in the northern valley, including the counties of Warren and Shenandoah.

“The process and the goal here, outside of the testing, is to add an educational component of proper maintenance of a well,” said Mark Sutphin, associate extension agent out of Frederick County.

According to Sutphin, the testing gives residents “a benchmark as to what their actual water supply is” and a sense of its quality.

This is the first time that the Extension has offered the clinic to residents in this region since June of 2013.

“The testing lab … only has a certain capacity that they can do in a year,” he said. “Unfortunately it can’t hit every county every year.”

Sutphin explained that because Shenandoah “was skipped” in 2014, it will be first on the docket for 2015. There will be clinics in Frederick, Page, Clarke, Shenandoah and Warren counties.

While registration is underway, Sutphin noted that the Clarke and Frederick meetings are “pretty much at capacity” with over 100 residents signed up for each. They are still hoping for more residents for the Warren and Shenandoah clinics, which have between 40 and 50 people registered so far.

The testing and education is critical since well and even cistern “maintenance falls solely on the homeowner,” Sutphin said, explaining that the “misconception is that most people don’t realize that, when you’re on a public system, that’s being monitored basically on a daily basis.”

Because of this, Sutphin added that monitoring for chemicals can “all too often go out of sight and out of mind” for well owners.

“It can go years, decades without any test and it may or may not be OK,” Sutphin explained.

A lack of maintenance can open the door for contaminants such as sulfate, arsenic and coliform bacteria to enter a well’s system.

“Not all of those pose as health hazards. Some of them are just unsightly or can cause stains in fixtures,” Sutphin said.

Sutphin noted that some bacterial chemicals like e. coli and heavy metals such as copper do pose serious health threats.

These contaminants are a serious risk, Sutphin said, especially to certain sections of the population like “infants, nursing or pregnant women, elderly and those with chronic diseases.”

The clinics are designed to give residents the opportunity to learn how to properly check for chemicals and maintain private water systems to prevent that kind of contamination, Sutphin said.

At the clinics, registered residents will attend an initial informational meeting to receive the proper testing kit and will then return water samples the next day to submit for testing.

The final results, Sutphin said, are given back to the residents in a meeting a month later where the group results as a whole are also discussed.

Sutphin explained that this can tell them if there are “common contaminants or minerals that are present due to the makeup of our geology.”

Because the Shenandoah Valley has a karst geological makeup of bedrock and limestone, Sutphin said “there can be cracks, fissures or sinkholes.”

This can create a “direct conduit from surface water to ground water” and cause contamination “to occur much more rapidly,” he said.

Registration for the meetings is taking place and costs $49 for a kit for each water source. The registration form can be found on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website: http://tinyurl.com/noe7zma.

Sutphin noted that the Extension is also offering scholarships for residents who “might be in a financial burden” to help cut clinic costs to $20.

Sutphin said they would like to see 75-100 residents at each of the four meetings this month.

The kick-off meeting for Shenandoah County will take place Feb. 24 at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock. The Warren County meeting will be Feb. 23 at the Warren County Community Center in Front Royal.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com