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lowri

D-I-Y Water Testing.

In view of the heavy and persistant rainfall I think I ought to get the spring tested, particularly for fecal coliform or similar. Is there a kit I can use, or do I have to go through the Water Board? (which, although efficient, costs an arm and a leg as I remember.) I supose it's because I am not on mains water and so don't pay rates; they must have to get money out of me somehow. Anyway I expect they are run off their feet with other priorities at the moment. Anyone else had a problem like this? And what did you do?
Jamanda

My Father went to a private firm to get his well water tested. So they do exist. But I very much doubt my Mother would know the details. I will ask her though. There may be a bit of paper kicking about.
Green Man

If you spring bubbles up from the soil I would think your water will be naturally well filtered, if however it is mixed with flood water, testing would be a good idea.
gil

Is the area where your spring rises (and particularly where it goes into the holding /filter tanks) fenced off so livestock cannot pollute it ? Doesn't have to be that large an area.
mochyn

I'll ask the old chap when he gets home.
dougal

gil wrote:
Is the area where your spring rises (and particularly where it goes into the holding /filter tanks) fenced off so livestock cannot pollute it ? Doesn't have to be that large an area.

And if a surface spring is near the bottom of a slope (as usual), isn't it usual to 'protect' it from contamination with runoff water by making a small (just inches high) wall to divert runoff? (Not a problem of course with a fully "captured" spring...)
Chez

I understand that Powys Water will test around here for about £80, which I thought was reasonable - going to get the spring at the new place tested with them, but haven't contacted them yet.
Marionb

We've got a well by the house, its not used now, but there's water in it - about 15 feet of water apparently Shocked

OH has been saying for ages that he wants to get the water tested to see if its drinkable - I dont think it is as I'm sure bits of fuel, oil etc has probably got into it somehow or other as its near where we park the car.

I dont have a clue who to approach re. testing or what it would cost so I'll be interested in any info here.
James

Cho-ku-ri wrote:
If you spring bubbles up from the soil I would think your water will be naturally well filtered, if however it is mixed with flood water, testing would be a good idea.

That’s not entirely true. Even if the spring is issuing clear and isn’t directly mixing with flood water, there may be risk of faecal coliform pollution. Without knowing the details of your spring, its hard to say. If you have flood water close by, its best to air on the cautious side. If the spring water comes from close to surface, this contaminated flood water may enter your spring.

You’re local authority environmental health department are the people to talk to. They have a legal obligation to ensure that your water is fit to drink (complies with the Drinking water regulations). They will no doubt be very busy at the moment, but its worth pushing them.
I believe (but may be wrong- each local authority seems to be different) that if you request a biological activity sample taken, they will oblige.

I’d strongly recommend you request an environmental protection officer visit your house and take a sample- if you’ve paid your council tax, then they have an obligation to give you a service.

In the meantime, if you are unsure, three low tech ways of sterilising water=
1) Boil for 10 minutes
2) Drip a tiny bit of bleach in (about a teaspoon per gallon), then leave for a efw hours to de-gas.
3) UV. I tried this UV technique in Greece and it definitely works (I know- lots more sunlight in Greece, but hey…). Put clear water into clear plastic soft drink bottles, leave out in the sun on a reflective surface for 1 day. We did this with stagnant water that had been sitting in a dirty chamber in the mid thirties centigrade for months- we drank it for around 10 days and none of the four of us suffered ill effect.

In reality, a combination of all three mechanisms is best- use the dribble of bleach for washing etc.. were you can sterilise a bathfull at a time, use the boiled water for drinking, and the UV for washing your teeth or stuff that doesn’t necessarily involve swallowing lots of water.

Best of luck. (AND CONTACT YOU LOCAL AUTHORITY!!! Make ‘em work for their money…)
mochyn

Thanks, James: I forgot to ask the old chap!
James

dougal wrote:
gil wrote:
Is the area where your spring rises (and particularly where it goes into the holding /filter tanks) fenced off so livestock cannot pollute it ? Doesn't have to be that large an area.

And if a surface spring is near the bottom of a slope (as usual), isn't it usual to 'protect' it from contamination with runoff water by making a small (just inches high) wall to divert runoff? (Not a problem of course with a fully "captured" spring...)


Yes, a fenced off area to stop cattle encroaching on the discharge point and a low wall on the up-slope side of the spring to stop surface runoff entering the catchpit.
There should be route to allow overflowing water to flow away easily from the catch-pit, so the whole area doesn’t end up a swamp (keep a cleared channel heading down-slope from the spring).
The catchpit itself should be covered to stop wind-blown stuff and bird droppings getting in.
The take off point within the catchpit should be a few inches above the bottom to ensure settled out silts are not drawn up.
lowri

Just a few details to add.
The spring comes up through a gravel bed into an underground chamber consisting of 2 3ft deep concrete rings. It is capped with concrete on sheeting, with an "airtight" inspection cover in the middle.
It is surrounded by a sheepnetting fence, area about 8ft by 8ft.
The outlet is 6 inches above the gravel bed, and the overflow - a 3 inch blue alkathene pipe running into a nearby ditch - is at 5 foot 4 inches from the bottom.
It is situated probably 25 to 30 feet above the level of the house, in a neighbour's field, on a plateau, probably at 800 feet above sea level.
The water is gravity fed through a black alkathene pipe to a holding tank behind my house, at slightly above roof level. Its a brick tank, lined with concrete, about 4 ft by 6 ft and 6 ft deep, airtight inspection cover, feed-in controlled by a ball valve, outlet to house about 6 inches above floor of tank.
From what everyone has said - thanks a lot for all the info - it is probably pretty safe. I know the water is on the acidic side, and there have been no heavy metal problems; in fact all this has only come up because of a comment in an email from my sister in Canada, but I thought maybe it did need testing. We shall see. Watch this space for further developments!
James

Thanks Lowri, here’s a bit more info from my side. It’s a bit of an essay I’m afraid, but I hope it’ll increase your understanding of your spring.

If the spring is drawing from gravels about a metre down, it’s basically rain water that has permeated through the soils and is being held in the gravels. Because the water is very recent, it will probably be very low in dissolved solids (like you say- no heavy metals). I like this type of water -I was brought up on exactly the same, its got a clean, almost crisp taste. In a rural location, it a great way to get water, but the risks are twofold. Firstly, there’s only as much water in the gravels as the recent rainfall. Think dry summers- if you’d looked a the spring last September, you would probably have noticed the water level was lower than normal, but at present its probably holding a good level. Secondly, because the water is sitting close to surface in permeable strata, its prone to contamination from the surface. This contamination can be obvious stuff, like kerosene from an oil tank, but contamination can also be more diffuse via agricultural practices. If the fields are over-stocked, or if fertiliser are (over) applied, then there’s a risk of nutrient enrichment in your spring water. This isn’t such a risk in hill farm areas- its mostly associated with the more intensive lowland agriculture.

The spring has a “capture zone”- the surface area over which your spring will be drawing rainwater from. In this instance, you could (very loosely) assume the capture zone probably follows the local topography- any area were the overall slope is towards the spring may feed water to your spring.

So now you need to think about what may effect your water quality in this area. If your not in an urban area, your unlikely to have mains sewerage, so the chances of getting a whole districts worth of poo being dumped on your land are minimal (which is good…). Also, if the spring and plateaux are above your house, and your house didn’t flood, then I guess the spring didn’t flood with standing flood water. OK, there may have been plenty of water sitting on the plateaux trying to soak in, but it would be rain water, or runoff from rainfall further up slope.
Therefore, you need to figure out if there are contaminant sources up slope of your spring- septic tank, large cow shed, diesel or heating oil tank, un-covered fertilisers, manure heap.
If there is anything up slope of the spring, you need to think about how far away this is- a kind of risk assessment ( I always think of the Father Ted episode “This cow is small and close up, that cow is large and far away”. Don’t know why…).
You can split your capture zone into three areas- an area very close to your spring, a larger area surrounding your spring and the whole capture zone.

As a rule of thumb, bacterial activity breaks down very quickly- you could probably draw a 100m circle up-slope of your spring for this inner zone and say this is your bacterial high risk area. If you’ve got anything in this area that’s might have caused bacterial activity, then you should take action now (get the local authority to sample and sterilise water as I mentioned above.
Then there’s the middle zone. This is defined by risk from all other contamination- mostly oils and chemicals. Unless it’s a really big spill, hydrocarbons will break down naturally over a few hundred metres- so maybe think about a middle zone circle upslope of your spring that’s about 2-300m. Again, if you notice a risk from a spill in this zone, you need to get on to it. In this instance, contact your local Environment Agency “Environmental Management” department, and report the spill. Also, trust your senses- normal human taste and smell can detect hydrocarbons in water at a concentrations of a few tens to hundreds of parts per million, so if it tastes funny, it probably is.
The outer zone is the whole catch of the spring. This area is only really effected by major changes to landform which may effect the amount of water entering your spring. So if a gravel pit was opened a few hundred meters up slope of your spring, this may effect your resource. However, in this instance, you don’t need to worry about the outer zone.
lowri

Thank you for the essay, James, most useful! Just got to add one thing; the plateau has no upslope for a distance of 500/600 yards, except to the West where it rises to a hill about 900 feet above sea level. There is a ditch running across downhill on the contour where the ground starts to rise again (I wish I could draw a map!) not onto the plateau. There is no dwelling/cowshed/etc etc above or level with any of this. Happily, my house and my neighbours' house a quarter of a mile away are both much lower than all this!
The Council are going to come and test the spring and I will post the results later!
Marionb, I have a well on the yard, I have been told it isn't drinkable as it is mostly filled by runoff from the "drive" into the yard. It is beautifully constructed, circular stonework, 17 feet deep! In the early 90s when we had our last real drought, when the spring went down to about an inch above the outflow, this well went down to 2 feet and no less, and remained at this level for weeks, no matter how many buckets I hauled up for the animals and the garden. At that time the water was gin-clear!! (no, I didn't try to drink it!) It fills up as the rain comes down and gets a bit mucky. I now have a fantastic portable electric pump from TP Pumps, all its components are plastic so don't rust when put away for months in the shed. Its wonderful for washing the van, filling water butts and troughs in the summer, etc, and beats hauling up buckets hands down!
James

Lowri, I’d be interested in seeing your analysis- please post it when you get it -I may even understand it!
I love old wells, they’re a real work of art. Almost all of them are 1.2 yards wide- the minimum space needed for one small man to use a shovel in.
Shame its not drinkable, still a lot of the water we use doesn’t need to be ‘potable’.
I think I understand exactly the nature of your morphology. I’ve been trying to work out how it could have formed. The thing that got me interested was that normally gravel is found right in the base of the river valley. I think what you’ve got there is probably what’s called a lateral moraine. These are linear gravel bars that glaciers dumped where the ice met the rock. They form wide, flattish gravel plateaus at the level where the ice came to (sort of like a high water mark/ flotsam line left after flood water recedes). If it is a lateral moraine, there’ll be change of soil type above and below the gravel plateux- above will mostly be peaty, while below will be more clay dominant. Above the gravel, the hill will rise more steeply, and will have thin soil (creating an acid moorland ecology). Below the gravel, the slope will be shallower, and the soil will be deeper (creating a grassland ecology). My guess is that your house is also built on the gravel bar, further down and that the old well has been sunk into the base of the gravels.
Nick

We had ours tested as part of our mortgage survey. I think it cost about £15 and was done by the local hospital (PHLS, now the Health Protection Agency). I'm pretty sure it was only tested for bugs, rather than minerals and such. Our surveyor organised it.

Perhaps I should get mine done; it appears to be brown today...

(I've have much worse looking water in Glasgow.)
James

Nick Howe wrote:
We had ours tested as part of our mortgage survey....Perhaps I should get mine done; it appears to be brown today...

(I've have much worse looking water in Glasgow.)


yep. I would if I was you. Only place I've ever drunk brown water is from peat moorland springs.

brown water or 80 shilling?
mochyn

We get the occasional flush through when there's been particularly heavy rain. The tap water (from our well) comes through in an interesting range of shades of grey and brown, but settles back to clear within a day or two. I don't drink it when it's affected (if I notice in time Embarassed ) but it's fine thereafter.
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