Our Gem: How safe is your drinking water?

| July 20, 2020 1:58 PM

Protect your drinking water When should water be tested? Water testing

Most people take clean drinking water for granted. We assume the water coming out of the faucet is safe. If you live in a community with a public water system, the water is tested regularly for contamination. However, if you use a private well or pump surface water for use in your home, it is your responsibility to ensure your drinking water is safe.

Contaminated drinking water is a health risk to your family and guests. Wastewater from a septic system or outhouse has the potential to pollute a drinking water source with bacteria, viruses, and parasites; contaminants that can cause gastrointestinal problems and contagious diseases. Agricultural run-off and wastewater may contain high levels of nitrate; a serious health risk to infants. Heavy metals such as arsenic and lead in drinking water are also a serious health concern.

Although not recommended, a significant number of homes and cabins in the Coeur d’Alene Basin extract water from lakes or streams for household use. Besides bacteria and heavy metals, surface waters can also contain single-cell protozoa, such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium which cause waterborne diseases. Surface water for drinking should be filtered to 1 micrometer to remove Giardia and Cryptosporidium cysts and then disinfected by boiling, chlorination, or with ultra-violet light, to kill bacteria and viruses. Contact the Panhandle Health District for guidance.

Do you know where your drinking water comes from? For about 100,000 of us in Kootenai County, the answer is “ground water” from the remarkable Spokane Valley Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. This geologic wonder is remarkable; it holds about 10 trillion gallons of water! However, the aquifer is also highly susceptible to contamination that is extremely difficult to remove. Preventing contamination is crucial. You can help with limited use of fertilizers and pesticides, active maintenance of septic systems, and by avoiding dumping any chemicals on the ground or in storm drains. We must all take responsibility to keep surface water and the aquifer clean.

• Immediately after well construction and annually thereafter

• Before using a well that has not been used for a long time

• When family or guests experience recurring or unexplained stomach illness

• If there are individuals who may be at increased risk like infants and pregnant or nursing women

• If your neighbors find a particular contaminant in their water

• If you note a change in water taste, odor, color, or clarity

• If you have a spill or back siphon of chemicals or petroleum products near your well or on your homestead

• When there has been a significant change in land use in the area or discovery of previous land use, such as surface mining or an old landfill discovered nearby

Even with a sophisticated decontamination system, some contaminants may make their way to the tap. Most are invisible, so it is important to have your water system tested annually by a certified drinking water laboratory. Water testing is particularly important for surface water systems, shallow wells, hand-dug wells, sand-point wells, and wells that have previously shown contamination.

For more information on MCLs, visit https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations. For detailed information on how to protect your drinking water supply, check out the Coeur d’Alene LakeASyst manual online at www.uidaho.edu/ourgem.

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The Our Gem Coeur d’Alene Lake Collaborative is a team of professionals working to protect our local water resources. Participating entities include University of Idaho Community Water Resource Center, Coeur d’Alene Tribe Lake Management Department, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Kootenai Environmental Alliance, the CDA Chamber of Commerce, and CDA 2030. Find more articles on lake issues at www.uidaho.edu/ourgem.