Water Sources and Water Testing: what should be included?

Artesian well

An artesian well is an onsite drilled, or pounded well that is actually installed on the individual’s property for domestic water production. This well is totally within the confines of the homeowner’s property and is totally independent of anything else. The location of the well is normally on the opposite side of the property from the septic system. Normally, if you have an artesian well, you will also have a septic system to condition the sanitary discharge from your home.

Public water

Public water is the standard identification of water that comes from the local street via the municipality. This is water that is available within the street, in front of your home, and is pumped or gravity fed to the structure on your property.  In most cases, this water is from a public municipality that has already had the water treated. If this is the case, then the testing of the water is simply required to accommodate the insurance company, water company or financial institution. The municipality is responsible for continuous testing of any water that they are distributing to the public.

In both situations, the water test will include the sampling of the water. This requires that a sample of the water be taken to a water testing lab, which will test the water for various different minerals or contaminants.

If you are having a test or service performed on your well system, the technician will normally ask if you want the water tested. If you are purchasing a home, whether new or existing, I recommend that you spend the additional money and have the water professionally tested.

The most common water specifications, minerals and contaminants that will be tested for, include;

Bacteriological & physical properties

Color / this will include a measurement of the clarity and the color of the water

Odor / this will include a measurement of the apparent consistent odor of the water

Turbidity / this measures that amount of particles that exist in suspension within the water sample

PH / the measurement of the PH level of the water, levels of alkalinity and acid within the water.

Residual chlorine / the difference with this measurement is that in most cases the artesian well water will have no chlorine and the city water will have a level of chlorine that is applied to the water supply to ensure the water is safe / there are instances where chlorine will show itself in well water, the amount and the concentration will be tested.

Sanitary chemicals

Nitrate ( NO3) is an essential source of nitrogen for plants. Nitrogen fertilizer can leach into the ground water. Human and animal waste can also contribute to the nitrate level. The testing is to ensure that the level is not too high and within the acceptable limits

Chloride Chlorides are widely distributed as salts of calcium, sodium and potassium in the water. Too much chloride will cause a salty taste in the water. Almost all natural water contains chlorides and sulfate. The concentrations of these minerals are based upon the type of earth in the tested area. As long as the concentrations are within the allowed limits, their presence is not a concern and acceptable.

Secondary Inorganics / The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has set mandatory water quality standards for drinking water that may have contaminants. The EPA does not regulate the secondary maximum contaminant level, but they have established guidelines to assist the public water system to manage their drinking water. In most cases these contaminants that fall under the secondary inorganics do not present a risk to human health.

Hardness of the water as measured by the CACO3 in the water

Iron / the presence of iron within the drinking water can be a troublesome mineral in drinking water supplies. Iron makes up over 5 percent of the earth’s crust and is the earth’s most plentiful resource. The passage of moisture from rainwater, as it infiltrates the soil will add iron to the water. In most cases iron will not be found in quantities greater than 10 milligrams per liter or 10 parts per million. The presence of iron is not a health issue; it is an aesthetic issue as well as a usability issue. There are various methods to treat iron in the water (normally referred to as hard water).

Manganese / this is another mineral that naturally occurs in rocks and soil, and is a normal constituent of the human diet. In many areas, manganese exists in well water. Unless the level of manganese is extreme, there is no health concern. Like iron, the manganese may impart a color or odor to the water and can be treated, if the presence is either aesthetically displeasing or a health concern.

Sodium / Like the iron and manganese already discussed, sodium is a common element within the natural environment, and therefore will be present in drinking water. The presence of sodium in the water is not toxic unless extremely high levels. If the water is too salty to the taste, then filtration and sedimentation units are available that can reduce the sodium level. Water treatment devices can be attached at the faucet, to reduce the level of sodium in the water.


Volatile compounds / these are the contaminants that are so strictly monitored by environmental concerns during construction, under the LEED’s guidelines. Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that have a molecular makeup containing carbon and chemical properties, which allow it to be a gas under typical room temperatures. The term VOC refers to a number of categories of chemicals and they are found in several different forms within our environment. VOC’s can be manmade or natural. The level of VOC’s in drinking water should only be an issue if the levels are above the recommended allowance. If this is the case, then a professional evaluation of the water is recommended.

Other tests

Alkalinity / Alkalinity is the ability of the water to buffer acids that maybe present within the water. In the more sophisticated definition, the alkalinity of the water is the quantitative capacity of the water to neutralize an acid. This is the PH level of the water, basic verses acid. The waters ability to neutralize acid from rain water or wastewater is based upon the waters level of alkalinity.

Ammonia Nitrogen / This is a measure of ammonia, which is a toxic pollutant, that is found in landfill leachate of runoff and in waste products. The measurement of ammonia nitrogen within ground water as well as lakes and ponds, will determine the amount of sewage or other pollutants that exist within the water. Like the other elements that are tested within the water, if the levels are over the recommended concentrations, then the consult of water professional is highly recommended.

Conductivity / This is a measurement of the actual conductivity of the water, or its ability to transfer electrical current. In most cases, the conductivity of the water is directly linked to the amount of total dissolved solids within the water. In most cases, the higher the iron and mineral content, the higher the conductivity. Sea water is over one million times more conductive than deionized or treated water.

Copper / again like the other minerals that are tested in water, copper is a natural occurring metal in rock, soils, plants and animals. Copper compounds are also used in agricultural pesticides and to control the algae in lakes and reservoirs. We all need a certain amount of copper to survive, however too much copper can cause health issues. If the levels are within the suggested standards, there is no concern. If the levels exceed, then a professional water consultant should be asked to analyze the levels.

Escherichia coli / this is the basic fecal coliform bacteria that are found in the intestines of all humans and animals. The presence of this coli is indicative of sewage or animal waste contamination and may cause disease and health issues. If Escherichia coli is present, it is important to consult with the water experts within your area.

Flouride / flouridation has no effect on the appearance, taste or smell of drinking water. In public water fluoride is used to reduce tooth decay. Flouride, can also be found naturally. There is no health issue with fluoride as long as the levels are acceptable and within the range identified by your local water commission.

Heterotrophic plate count / ( HPC ) is a method that measures the colony formation of culture media of heterotrophic bacteria in the drinking water. This is a common test and identification of the overall amount of bacteria in the drinking water. If the levels are exceeded, then the consult with a professional water expert is recommended.

Lead / lead is not a good characteristic within any drinking water. Especially susceptible to negative health effects of lead in the water are young children. Lead is known to hamper the development of young children, and is a very important aspect of any water test. Lead is introduced due to old pipes or deteriorated lead pipes. This is an important test, and if the levels are higher than recommended, definitely consults a water expert.

MBAS (Surfactents)

Orthophosphate / Orthophosphate is normally found in low concentrations in unpolluted waters. Forms of this material are used to treat boiler water and are included in some detergents. Phosphates are essential for plants, however too heavy a concentration, can cause an increase in eutrophication of a body of water, causing weed and algae growth. Eutrophication is the growing in of lakes and ponds.

Sulfate / part of what is called secondary standards such as color, smell, taste, sulfates, especially hydrogen sulfide, is sometimes present in well water and causes the water to smell like rotten eggs. Although the smell is unpleasant, it is not harmful to health.

Total dissolved solids / like sulfate, total dissolved solids are part of the secondary drinking water standards. For aesthetic reasons, clarity of the water, a limit of normally 500 mg/l (milligrams per liter) is used as a measurement of total dissolved solids.

Temperature / the solubility of oxygen decreases as water temperature increases, however the solubility and reaction rates of chemicals increases with increasing water temperatures. This measurement when testing water, normally has circumstances if the standing body of water is being used for fish or plant life. Not normally an important characteristic for domestic water testing. In general well water is colder on the average than public water.

Langelier saturation index / a measurement of the water’s ability to dissolve or deposit calcium carbonate, and is used to identify the corrosivity of the water. The index is not directly linked to the corrosion of the water, but is related to the depositing of calcium carbonate file, or what is normally called scale. This covering can eventually cause deterioration and problems with the plumbing systems within the home. In addition, high corrosive water can cause maintenance issues with a water boiler, hot and cold water tanks, etc.

These are the basic and common elements that are tested in any drinking water. Special consideration must be given if the area that the water is being taken from has specialized issues, such as a chemical or fertilizer plant or even heavy farming nearby. It is best to communicate with local residents for additional information on the quality or the water in the area.

Testing of your domestic water is highly recommended and if there are any discrepancies, a professional water technician or service is mandatory.

Remember that it is a myth that well water is better and tastier than municipal or city water. New York City has been rated as one of the top in terms or municipal water quality. Have your water tested and enjoy, if you are in an area where water is plentiful and clean, it is quite a blessing.