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How to Know When to Test Your Water

The following (with some revisions) is a joint release from experts at Cornell University and the University of Maryland.

If you obtain drinking water from your own well, you alone are responsible, for assuring that the water is safe. For this reason, routine testing for a few of the most common contaminants is highly recommended. Even if you currently have a safe, pure water supply, regular testing can be valuable because it establishes a record of water quality. This record can be helpful in solving any future problems and in obtaining compensation if someone damages your water supply.

When Should You Test Your Water?

Whether you have a public or private water supply you should have your water tested if the following situations arise:

1. If family members or houseguests have recurrent incidents of gastrointestinal illness:

Test for coliform bacteria, fecal coliform bacteria (E. coli), bacteria (SRB, IRB, or Slime producing) nitrate and sulfate.

2. If household plumbing contains lead pipes, fittings, solder joints or is more than 30 years old:

Test for pH, corrosion index, calcium, total alkalinity, magnesium, lead, copper, cadmium and zinc.

3. If you are buying a home and wish to assess the safety and quality of the existing water supply:

Test for coliform bacteria, fecal coliforms (E. coli), nitrate, lead, iron, hardness, pH, sulfate, total dissolved solids (TDS), total alkalinity, calcium, magnesium, corrosion index and other parameters (ex. bacteria (SRB, IRB, or Slime producing)) depending on proximity to potential sources of contamination.

4. If your are told a water softener is needed to treat hard water:

Test for magnesium, calcium, sulfate, as well as Iron, pH, and manganese, which decrease the efficiency of cation exchange softeners, before purchase and installation.

5. If you wish to monitor the efficiency and performance of home water treatment equipment:

Test for the specific water problem being treated upon installation, at regular intervals after installation, and if water quality changes. Consult with a water treatment specialist.

5. If water stains plumbing fixtures and laundry:

Test for iron, manganese, magnesium, sulfate, copper, and bacteria (SRB, IRB, or Slime producing).

6. If water has an objectionable taste or smell:

Test for hydrogen sulfide or sulfate, pH, corrosion index, copper, lead, iron, zinc, sodium, chloride, bacteria (SRB, IRB, or Slime producing), total dissolved solids (TDS).

7. If water appears cloudy, frothy, or colored:

Test for color, turbidity, detergents, and bacteria (SRB, IRB, or Slime producing).

8. If pipes or plumbing show signs of corrosion:

Test for corrosion index, pH, lead, iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and bacteria (SRB, IRB, or Slime producing Ė some bacteria produce sulfuric acid)

9. If water leaves scaly residues and soap scum, and decreases the cleaning action of soaps and detergents:

Test for hardness Ė calcium, magnesium, iron, pH, and sulfur (sulfate)

10. If water supply equipment (pump, chlorinators, etc.) wear rapidly:

Test for pH, corrosion index, and bacteria (SRB, IRB, or Slime producing).

11. If water filters are clogged, colored or smell bad or water pressure drops in the home:

Test for hydrogen sulfide or sulfate, pH, corrosion index, copper, iron, zinc, chloride, bacteria (SRB, IRB, or Slime producing), TDS.

Private Water Supplies

Routine Tests. The testing frequencies in this fact sheet are general guidelines. Test more often if you suspect there is a problem with the quality of your drinking water.


Once each year test for coliform bacteria, fecal coliforms (E. coli), nitrate, pH, TDS, and bacteria (SRB, IRB, or Slime producing). It is best to test for these contaminants during the spring or summer following a rainy period. These tests should also be conducted after repairing or replacing an old well or pipes, and after installing a new well or pump and/or chlorine shocking the system.



Every 3 years test for sulfate, chloride, iron, manganese, lead, hardness, calcium, magnesium, corrosion index, TDS, mercury.



If a new baby is expected in the household it is a good idea to test for nitrate in the early months of a pregnancy, before bringing an infant home, and again during the first 6 months of the baby's life. Arsenic and mercury can cross the placenta directly and affect fetal development (cause birth defects), as can VOCís (volatile organic compounds) and SOCís (synthetic organic compounds). So testing and correcting for these is very important.

Special Situations.

Where you live, or what you are living next to, can sometimes affect the quality of your well water. If someone in your family becomes ill, or the taste, odor or color of your water changes, your water supply may be contaminated.

1. If your well is in an area of intensive agricultural use:

Test for pesticides commonly used in the area, coliform bacteria, fecal coliforms (E. coli), nitrate, phosphate, potassium, pH and TDS.

2. If you live near a coal or other mining operation:

Test for iron, manganese, aluminum, pH and corrosion index.

3. If your well is near a gas drilling operation:

Test for chloride, sodium, barium and strontium.

4. If your water, smells like gasoline or fuel oil, and your well is located near on operational or abandoned gas station or buried fuel storage tanks:

Test for fuel components or volatile organic compounds (VOC's), and TDS.

5. If your well is near a dump, junkyard, landfill, factory, or dry cleaning operation:

Test for volatile organic chemicals (such as gasoline components and cleaning solvents) pH, TDS, chloride, sulfate and metals.

6. If your well is near seawater, a road salt storage site, or a heavily salted roadway and you notice the water tastes salty or signs of corrosion appear on pipes:

Test for chloride, TDS and sodium.

7. If your well is near an abandoned well, dump, junkyard, landfill, factory, mining operation, gas drilling operation, buried fuel storage tanks, or industrial complex:

Test for pH, TDS, complete minerals and anions, VOCís, SOCís, radiological, lead, mercury, radiological, physical and chemical properties, turbidity

Please keep in mind that most toxic substances have no smell, taste, or color and are therefore UNDETECTABLE without testing. This is one reason why poisoning animals and insects has been such an effective method of pest eradication over the centuries. So please donít make the mistake of relying upon your nose, the taste, or skeletons around the watering hole to warn you. Get some expert help.

If you have not had a water test within 3 years, then your first water test should include ALL of the following:


E. coli (or fecal coliforms)

Microscopic exam by a qualified professional microbiologist


Conductivity (electrical conductivity)



Total Dissolved Solids



Free Chlorine

Total Chlorine

Total Hardness

Total Alkalinity























Because of the geology of the region, if you live in North Georgia you should also have your drinking water tested for: 

Arsenic (we have already found wells in White County that have arsenic in excess of safe levels)



 The results of this series of tests may indicate that there is NO need for any treatment of your water. In that case the EPA recommends annual retesting for a more limited group of parameters, which are less expensive.

Annual retesting is a must, because groundwater flow is constantly changing, especially with all the new building, well drilling, old wells being closed etc. So your water this year may be fine, but in a few weeks you may be getting very different water from your well. Annual testing gives you some assurance that your water is still safe. And testing is affordable!!!

We recommend and currently offer an annual test for $98.00. (a $310.00 value for less than the cost of a tank of gasoline or an evening's entertainment). The test includes ALL of the following parameters:


E. coli (or fecal coliforms)

Microscopic exam by a qualified professional microbiologist


Conductivity (electrical conductivity)



Total Dissolved Solids



Free Chlorine

Total Chlorine

Total Hardness

Total Alkalinity


However, any certified laboratory can perform some of this testing, so choose the one you prefer. But make sure you get all of these parameters at the same time and that you consult a qualified water treatment specialist to review them to let you know what those results mean.

Review, Analyze, and Recommend - only $45.00. What if you knew which tests you needed to have done and already have the lab results. We will be happy to review and analyze your results and make recommendations for a nominal fee of $45.00. This is very inexpensive to get a professional opinion from an unbiased water treatment specialist. We can also give you information on what purification devices, if any, are needed so you will know exactly what to shop for and why.

What HUD / FHA requires: B: HUD testing requirements, as stated in Mortgagee Letter 95-34, are the minimum standards acceptable for FHA insured mortgages. This includes at a minimum lead, (first flush) nitrate, nitrite, total nitrate/nitrite, total coliforms, and fecal coliforms or E.coli. If state and local agencies impose additional standards, they too must be met.

What the EPA recommends: Annual Testing

Notice the biofilm that has formed on the inside of the bottle above. This is what happens to your purification /  filtration system and plumbing if it is left untreated. This was a sample collected from a client's well and left standing in a refrigerator for several weeks. It was clear and uncolored when it was collected.


ADD SAMPLE    Wait 10 Days  only $35.00

Leftmost is a culture tube just after addition of a water sample. Notice the water is clear and the residue at bottom is sterile "food" to allow for growth of bacteria if they are present. The middle tube shows iron reducing bacteria after only 3 days incubation. The rightmost tube shows the deposits left by sulfur reducing bacteria that were obtained in a sample from a household well after 13 days incubation. Note that both the positive tubes had clear liquid at the start. All discoloration and a visible deposit is just what happens in your well, plumbing, and purification system if these bacteria are present.

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Last modified by Dr. Eberhard Essich 03/22/17