Should You be Worried About Bacteria Found in Nebraska Drinking Water?
According to U.S. Geological Survey statistics, 20% of Nebraska’s population relies on private wells for their drinking water supplies. Unfortunately, many private wells are tainted to some degree, with 15% of all private well water supplies contaminated with coliform bacteria. So, should you be worried about the bacteria that can be found in Nebraska drinking water?
Sources of Drinking Water Bacteria
Contamination of water supplies can occur from a number of different sources. The primary source in agricultural areas common in Nebraska is the runoff of animal waste. Any areas where human or animal waste may be present, can effectively contaminate the groundwater, and consequently private wells, when heavy rains allow the waste to be washed away. The bacteria from these sources can easily enter wells, especially those open at the ground surface or without caps and watertight linings or casings. Your well can also be at risk from this type of contamination if there is no grout seal for the annular space between the outside of the well casing and wall of the drilled well.
Generally, bacteria will not readily travel through Nebraska’s geological formations, so properly constructed deep drilled wells are at less risk of contamination.
This said, wells can also be contaminated by animals, rodents or insects entering the well. If the well was constructed by hand, it is likely to have been cased using bricks or rocks, which can leave large openings or improperly sealed casings that allow entry.
Your well could also be contaminated by floodwaters. In times of flooding, the water often contains a high level of bacteria. If the floodwater then inundates your well, it is very likely that you will suffer a bacterial contamination. This can be avoided if your well has a watertight casing or is not shallow.
Coliform bacteria are a harmless type of microscopic organism. The bacteria live in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals, and they are excreted through feces. Unfortunately, this does mean that it is possible for coliform bacteria to be flushed into the groundwater and drinking water supplies. The presence of coliform bacteria is used as an indicator that the water supply has been compromised by other potentially harmful bacteria. Although the bacteria is not a direct cause of disease, its presence indicates that fecal matter has contaminated the water source, and there is an association between coliform bacteria and other dangerous bacteria strains such as E.coli, salmonella and shigella. Pathogenic or disease causing organisms, such as parasites or bacteria in drinking water supplies, is a serious concern. The symptoms can range from flu-like illness to more serious medical conditions such as hepatitis, cholera or dysentery.
Indications of a Bacterial Contamination
Unfortunately, the presence of bacteria cannot be detected by taste, smell or appearance of the water. The only reliable way to determine if your water supply has been contaminated is to have it properly tested. It is recommended that private wells are tested at least once a year, but it is advisable to test the water after heavy rains or flooding. Since testing for individual pathogens would be expensive and impractical, the EPA uses total coliform bacteria as a standard method to determine water safety. If the laboratory tests are positive for total coliform, further tests such as testing for E.coli are recommended to ensure that the water is safe to drink.
About The Author, Terry Reeh, EcoWater Systems of Nebraska:
With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative. Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices. EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state.