Water Well Testing

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New landowners or landowners with a new water well often have questions on the quality of their water that they want to use in the home, garden or to water livestock.

There can be a wide variety of water quality, especially water from private wells. And what makes water suitable for drinking has little to do with water that is good for irrigation in the garden and, furthermore, is different from what is good for pets and livestock.

Drinking water, technically called “potable water”, needs to be able to be consumed without causing harm to us. Most of the drinking water tests will solely look for the presence of coliform bacteria. Surprisingly coliform bacteria will not likely cause illness, yet it’s presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (pathogens) could be in the water system. Most pathogens that can contaminate water supplies come from the feces of humans or animals.

Irrigation water used on plants is concerned with the amount of nutrients or salts, pH, bacteria, or more. Some water sources may be naturally high in nutrient concentrations that, while one would think could be beneficial, may have too much of something that harms plants. The pH of water can also be extremely acidic or alkaline and affect the plants or certainly the soils in which the plants are growing. Bacteria in water can adhere to the surface of the plant and then cause problems when ingested.

Irrigation water can have too high a salt concentration and be problem for some growers. Indeed, the primary water quality concern is salinity levels since salts can affect both the soil structure and crop yield. Now almost all waters contain some dissolved salts and trace elements that were the result of natural weathering from rocks and minerals on the surface and underground.

 If you live in and around Angelina County, you can submit drinking water samples to the Angelina Neches River Authority’s (ANRA) lab for analysis. There are two common tests that I’ve know many to use. First is a microbiology Coliform/E. coli test. This is only $25. The other is their “Basic Water Scan Package” that looks at 12 parameters (such as alkalinity, chloride, fluoride, nitrates, nitrites, pH sulfate, hardness, and more, in addition to these metals: calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and lead.

If you are interested in more information on either of these tests, reach out ANRA at 936-632-7795 or email the lab at lab@anra.org. ANRA does plenty other testing that may be of interest. Their full website can be accessed at www.anra.org.

Reading their very informative website, ANRA advises that if a well has been flooded from the recent unusually high rainfall should be disinfected and tested before being used.

If you are looking to examine irrigation water, consider the Soil, Water, and Forage Testing Laboratory at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in College Station, Texas. They offer five water tests ranging from the $25 routine analysis to a $75 test that covers metals, heavy metals, and the routine analysis.

These water tests can analyze samples from wells or standing water that are being considered for use with livestock, irrigation of crops, aquaculture, or domestic use. You can reach the Laboratory at Texas A&M at (979) 321-5960 or email the lab at soiltesting@ag.tamu.  Their full website can be accessed at https//soiltesting.tamu.edu. 

Years ago, I remember helping the ladies at the Monastery of the Infant Jesus in Lufkin. It was just prior to Y2K and they had questions about the water in the well they used. There were two water sources: an old shallow well and Lufkin city water. 

Now the water from the old shallow well was much preferred because it tasted much better than Lufkin’s water. But the well water had a problem. It killed everything in the vegetable garden.

We ran a number of tests on both water sources. Both passed the test regarding bacteria with high marks. No problems there.

But on the irrigation test, the old shallow well had high levels of the element boron and thus was harming plants. Boron is a mineral found everywhere in food and the environment. In fact, some folks take boron supplements to build strong bones and for other health benefits. Yet, too much boron in the soil will harm plants. 

Indeed, Lufkin’s municipal water passed the irrigation test with high marks, proving itself an excellent source of both drinking and irrigation water.

What was also interesting is that not more than half a mile away is a blueberry farm that has a private well for irrigation. Now blueberries are notorious for demanding high quality irrigation water.

The blueberry farm’s water had never been tested but the successful growth of the orchard was evident. The difference? The new well was much deeper and drew from a completely different underground water source. 

I hope you have never have need to test water for use in your home, garden or agricultural operation. If you do, or have a suspicion that you do, there are these options provided above to be of help.

Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

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