Friday, May 18, 2018

Spring Runoff and Water Testing

Kari Lewis

As MSU Extension educators, we commonly recommend soil tests, forage tests, and water tests.  Well water testing should be done annually and is especially recommended in years like this where there has been increased runoff.  If your well has been flooded or if you notice a change in water quality, it’s especially important to have a test done. 

There are a vast number of people and resources devoted to monitoring municipal water supplies.  For the private well water user, however, it is up to them to monitor the well water quality and ensure water quality meets drinking quality standards. 

The MSU Extension Well Educated program provides well owner education as it relates to health and quality of life.  Through the Well Educated program, free water collection bottles are available at your local Extension office that can then be sent to a Montana lab for analysis.  A few of the frequent questions related to this program include what parameters should be tested for, and how much does the testing cost?

What the water will be used for determines what the water should be tested for.  If the water will be used for drinking water and hasn’t been tested in recent years, then a basic domestic analysis that measures alkalinity, bacteria, nitrate, pH, and total dissolved solids, is an appropriate choice and is only $35.   A basic annual analysis is the minimum test that all private well owners should complete each year.  The basic analysis, available for $20, measures bacteria and nitrates, and is a valuable tool to track water quality through time. 

Farmers and ranchers should also consider testing their livestock drinking water and irrigation water.  The ‘Suitability of Water for Livestock’ test is $50, and can help identify any parameters which could deter livestock from drinking water and potentially cause health issues or lower livestock performance. 

Another reason to test livestock water is to measure nitrate presence.  If livestock are consuming feeds that contain nitrates (such as grain hay), and are also drinking nitrate containing water, the cumulative effect can reduce livestock performance and cause abortions.  Nitrate levels are often higher after spring runoff. 

Water quality can frequently change from year to year depending on amount of runoff, severity of drought, and other environmental conditions.  Rural residents drinking well water, farmers, and ranchers should stop by the MSU Extension office to pick up a free water testing kit to collect a water sample from a home well, livestock water, and/or irrigation water.  Water samples should be collected and shipped the same day, Monday through Wednesday, and results are typically available within two weeks. 

For additional information regarding water testing or for your free water collection bottles, please contact your local MSU Extension Office. 

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