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Natural Resourcess

Texas Well Owner Network Trains Residents on Water Well Issues

By Danielle Kalisek, Texas Water Resources Institute

In Texas, private well owners are solely responsible for ensuring that their water wells are safe to drink from and use. To give well owners needed resources and information, the Texas Well Owner Network (TWON) is traveling all over the state to provide trainings and screenings.

The network, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program, informs residents about well water issues, provides water quality testing and helps well owners improve their water's quantity and quality.

"This training helps well owners to understand and care for their wells," says Dr. Diane Boellstorff, assistant professor and AgriLife Extension water resource specialist in Texas A&M University's Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

AgriLife Extension specialists in Texas A&M University's soil and crop sciences and biological and agricultural engineering departments conducted 14 free, 6-hour "Well Educated" TWON trainings during 2013, with about 750 participants. The program continues through 2016, and additional trainings are planned throughout the state each year.

"Well owners who want to become familiar with Texas' groundwater resources, septic system maintenance, well maintenance and construction, water quality and water treatment will benefit from this training," said Drew Gholson, AgriLife Extension program specialist and network coordinator.

Other topics covered at trainings include improving and protecting water resources, aquifers, watersheds, well siting and construction, water quantity, common contaminants in well water, water quality testing, water treatment options and protecting well water quality.

One particularly important topic is knowing and maintaining the area surrounding wells, such as through septic system maintenance, said Ryan Gerlich, an AgriLife Extension program specialist who specializes in wastewater and speaks at the trainings.

"Septic systems are not flush and forget systems," he said. "They do need to be pumped out and maintained on a regular basis. That type of preventative maintenance is critical for protecting downstream components and for the extended life of that system."

Although not required to, well owners can bring water samples to the trainings for analysis.

"Private well owners are invited to bring in a water sample from their well to the trainings to be screened for nitrates, total dissolved solids and bacteria," Gholson said.

Depending on the particular program location, sample bags and bottles are typically available at the local AgriLife Extension office or sometimes from a groundwater conservation district, he said.

Each attendee receives a TWON Well Owner's Handbook that details information presented in the training. Those who bring in water samples receive a well-water screening analysis report and information on fixing or treating any identified well problems.

"The core content of each TWON program is the same, but the information is tailored to local water quality issues and aquifers," Gholson said.

In addition to the 6-hour "Well Educated" training, TWON offers voluntary private water well screening events, known as "Well Informed screenings."

"Private water wells should be tested annually," said John W. Smith, an AgriLife Extension program specialist in College Station. "A Well Informed session gives well owners the opportunity to have their well water samples screened for common contaminants including fecal coliform bacteria, nitrates and high salinity."

The water sample screening is followed by a 1-hour explanation of the results and water well protection practices. To date, 44 screening events have been held with more than 2,900 samples screened, and screenings will continue through 2016.

Smith explains some of the problems with the contaminants.

"For example, water with nitrates at levels of 10 parts per million is considered unsafe for human consumption," Smith said. "Nitrate levels above 10 parts per million can disrupt the ability of blood to carry oxygen throughout the body, resulting in a condition called methemoglobinemia. Infants less than 6 months of age and young livestock are most susceptible."

Salinity as measured by total dissolved solids is also determined for each sample. Water with high levels may leave deposits and have a salty taste, and using water with high levels for irrigation may damage soil or plants, Smith said.

As a result of these screenings, participants have a better understanding of the relationships between practices in or near wells and the quality of water available for drinking and irrigation, he said.

Interested well owners can check out twon.tamu.edu for updated "Well Educated" and "Well Informed" training dates and locations as well as for other water well information and resources. The Texas Well Owner Network Handbook can be downloaded from the TWON website: go to twon.tamu.edu and click on the "Publications" tab. -TC


"Texas Well Owners Network" is from the January 2014 issue of The Cattleman magazine.