I tend to have some knowledge with respect to varying well depths in different parts of the valley just because I’ve been involved in real estate in the area for so long. However, I noticed a question on my Facebook feed relative to what types of minerals naturally present in our Idaho water. Typically, when people ask how Idaho Water is, the response they get is: “It’s the best you’ve ever had!”
But… is it? Are there potential contaminants that find their way into our water or natural elements that can cause health problems?
I contacted Teton Microbiology Lab in Idaho Falls to learn more. They told me what we normally hear, “Idaho has good water”. They did mention rare cases of pockets with arsenic and fluoride, with an emphasis on “rare”. I asked about sulfer as I have personally experienced it, but they had not. They mentioned that the water (without any outside elements causing contamination or bacteria) usually consists of a high content of calcium and magnesium – aka hard water. Hard water is very easy to test for using test strip kits readily available. It’s also easy to remedy with a water softener. Aside from those rare cases mentioned above and my lack of experience with respect to the potential for radon in water, problems with our well water usually comes from outside sources as described below.
I already knew what types of tests we normally see as part of home inspections, which typically include testing for:
-E.coli and Coliform
-Nitrates and Nitrites
I split these into two groups because there are two different tests that require two different test methods. The E.coli and Coliform test is the most common type of test with respect to real estate transactions. E.coli or Coliform is usually present due to bacteria from insects, animals or animal waste. I usually recommended a test for those close to a dairy farm, but again, other outside elements can cause issues. Teton Microbiology Lab cited a couple of examples, one included earwigs that had found their way into a wellhead, another with respect to a dead animal buried near a wellhead, and a third was a damaged sewer line near a wellhead. Uncommon, but these things can happen. Once remedied, the water is usually naturally clean. High levels of Nitrates and Nitrites are normally a result of nearby fertilizing, such as a large farm. Today’s wells are sealed with bentonite, so this is less common with newer wells.
Lead or Copper:
The lab I spoke to mentioned that cases of lead and copper are usually a result of lead and copper pipes, not minerals naturally present in the water.
There are other bacteria that can find their way into wells, most commonly we see iron bacteria. Iron bacteria is not harmful to humans, but it can form a biofilm or slime barrier which can (in rare cases) trap harmful bacteria like E.coli. Iron bacteria can also feed on manganese. While it wasn’t extremely clear as to how the bacteria finds its way into your well or plumbing, it was clear that it can be hard to get rid of. Its presence can usually be determined by simply checking out your toilet water ring. A white, opaque ring around your toilet is probably just hard water. However, a slimy yellow or brownish color scum indicates iron bacteria. Most people assume it’s from toilet water or hard water, and never think anything of it. Again, it’s usually not harmful and I’ll bet there’s quite a few people who have the bacteria in their water system. Getting rid of it usually consists of cleaning out your wellhead, but because it can form a scum, it will usually requires pulling the pump, and actually hiring a well drilling company to scrub your well casing with a brush. It’s expensive, but if you feel so inclined, it’s an available service. It doesn’t guarantee the problem will go away either, because the scum can build up on the inside of your house plumbing pipes.
Sulfur bacteria was the final bacteria that was mentioned. This is usually present in old water heaters, and you’ll know it’s there because you can smell it. Something with failing water heater filter elements can cause the issue. Replacing your water heater filament should clear things up, but there are cases in which a water heater replacement may be necessary.
To conclude, and to include my usual disclosure, I can’t tell you which types of water tests are most appropriate, and what types of contaminants or natural elements may be present in your water. I can tell you that I’ve been drinking it for years, and I’m kind of okay.