County residents, extension agents discuss water quality

Shenandoah County residents received water quality test results from the Virginia Cooperative Extension this week.

Extension agents helped more than 30 county residents interpret the findings of this year’s testing during a meeting Tuesday at Peter Muhlenberg Middle School in Woodstock.

Karen Poff, Extension consumer sciences agent, led the program and guided residents through the interpretation process, and provided solutions for certain contaminants.

Because there are no regulations for private water supplies, Poff noted that the only time they are tested is during installation of the well.

“After that, there is no regulation of private water supplies,” Poff added. “It’s up to the homeowner to maintain the system well.”

Poff and Extension Agent Bobby Clark discussed a variety of contaminants that the residents’ water was tested against, including coliform, E. coli, fluoride and sodium.

For this year’s findings, the samples tested were above the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in four aspects. For example, 24.2 percent of the samples were above the recommended level of 180 mg/L of what is referred to as hardness.

“Hardness is … grains of minerals and deposits,” she said, “In our area, it tends to be things like lime and calcium.”

According to Poff, being above the standard could mean that either “you don’t have a water softener or your water softener isn’t working properly.”

Exceeding the acceptable amount of water hardness, Poff said, is not “detrimental to your health, unless you are tending toward kidney stones.”

Poff also noted that 12.1 percent of the samples tested contained total coliform bacteria, while 3 percent contained E. coli. The DEQ standard for both contaminants is to be absent.

“Actually, both of these numbers are fairly low compared to what we’ve seen across the planning district over the years,” Poff noted.

Poff said that E. coli is a “subset of coliform,” but is also more “hazardous to your health.”

“With E. coli, you want to immediately stop using that water and drink bottled water or water from another source … until the problem is taken care of,” Poff said.

Poff added that coliform is “an indicator bacteria” that may not cause damage on its own, but that its presence can mean “other harmful bacteria” can live in the system.

The solution for coliform, Poff explained, usually means performing “shock chlorination” on the system.

Essentially, this entails running chorine through the system in order “kill” the coliform from the well system.

“You will open up the taps … not just one tap, you want the chlorine to touch every part of your plumbing system,” Poff explained. “You’re gonna run every mechanism that uses water to get the chlorine into your system.”

After letting the water sit for 12 hours, Poff said it is recommended to flush the chlorine out through an outside tap “where the chlorinated water can run out of the system, but is not going to hurt the septic system.”

In comparing the findings from previous samples, Poff said that they found a trend where more populated areas “were more likely to have E. coli and coliform.”

“What that shows is that homeowners need water quality education, too,” Poff added. “We tend to say, ‘it’s gotta be that farmer.”

Poff added the sampling for individual years is not significant enough to make strong assertions about the level of water quality across the county.

“If there’s a problem, it’s a concern for that individual,” she said, adding that the improved results this time could have been a result of this particular sample.

“All we can say is, for these particular people, now they know what’s wrong and now they … have a way to try and deal with it,” Poff said.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or

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