HOPKINTON — The council chambers at Town Hall was filled to capacity Wednesday with homeowners who wanted to learn more about their drinking water wells. The free workshop, one of about a dozen offered each year by the University of Rhode Island’s Cooperative Extension, was presented by Alyson McCann, water quality coordinator.
“The program focuses on testing, protecting and treating private well water,” she said. “For the most part, groundwater quality in Rhode Island is really very good and doesn’t need to be treated. There are substances that can cause health concerns that may be present and throughout the state. What we see are substances that we refer more to as a nuisance thing like iron and manganese, or the characteristic of the water — low pH causing corrosion of plumbing or appliances.”
Sen. Elaine Morgan, R-Ashaway, said she was attending the workshop so she could direct her constituents to the right place if they had questions about their wells.
Kathy Ramsey drove from West Kingston to attend the workshop. Ramsey has ever had problems with her well, but she said it might be time to have the water tested. “I’ve been living in the same place for 32 years,” she said. “It was tested when I first built it. I tested it once independently because I was a chemical engineer and I had access to equipment, but it’s been a while.”
McCann explained that all well water in Rhode Island is groundwater and that there is plenty of it. Some wells, she said, are drilled into bedrock and are several hundred feet deep, while others are shallower and more susceptible to contamination. Participants were urged to find out which types of wells they have and where they are located in relation to roads and the home’s septic system.
There are three levels of well water tests: an annual test; a test conducted every three to five years for fluoride, iron lead manganese sulfates and pH; and a test for volatile organic compounds, which the state Department of Health recommends be performed every 10 years.
McCann suggested that homeowners begin with the annual test.
“The annual test includes items like chloride, road salts, nitrates from animal waste, human waste, bacteria from animal waste and from human waste,” she said. “So when someone says ‘I’m concerned about whether or not my well is being impacted by road salt,’ or ‘I’m concerned about the neighbor’s chickens,’ conducting an annual test to find out if the well is sanitary and susceptible to surrounding land uses is a really good place to start.”
Testing is not mandatory in Rhode Island, except when a house is sold, in which case the buyer pays for the test and the seller must disclose all previous testing results. The Department of Health also requires that all new wells be tested.
Participants were offered basic, annual water-testing kits to take home. McCann said she would pick up them up at Town Hall the next morning and deliver to the state testing laboratory. The Rhode Island State Health Laboratory charges $95 for the yearly water test and more for the three and 10-year tests. Several state-certified private laboratories also test well water.
Ramsey said she had learned a lot at the workshop, including the importance of having a tightly-sealed well cap.
“There’s a few things that I’m going to go home and check. I’m going to check if the cap of my well is secured and is the casing around sealed,” she said. “I’m not concerned about the volatile gases, so it’s good that they break up the testing into different layers. I will have test done, yes.”
More information on well water safety and testing is available at: https://web.uri.edu/safewater/private-well-testing-and-protection/ and http://www.health.ri.gov/water/for/privatewellowners/