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Water Q & A - Testing Well Water

Water Test Kit, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights June 2017.

Do you have questions about your private drinking water supply?  How about wellhead protection, including the management of your private sewage treatment system?  Send your questions using the Ask An Expert feature on this web site.  Questions will be addressed by Nebraska Extension Educator Meghan Sittler, Nebraska Extension Specialist Bruce Dvorak,  and/or  Nebraska Extension Educator Katie Pekarek. One question and answer will be featured each month in this section of the acreage web site.

Q: We’ve recently moved to an acreage and would like to have our well water tested, how much will it cost?

Meghan: While I’d like to give a simple and direct answer, that question doesn’t have a single answer other than it varies and it depends.  It varies and depends because there are many contaminants that can be present in water. Public drinking water systems are required to conduct tests on 100 different potential contaminants.  If you were to conduct tests for all 100 potential contaminants on your private supply, the cost would approach $4,000.  If you aren’t in the market for a $4,000 drinking water test—which is definitely not necessary--the first step is to identify which contaminants are the most key to protecting your health and operation of the water system. 

Nitrates and bacteria such as e-coli or total coliform are considered primary health hazards and pose the most immediate and serious risk to your health.  High nitrate levels are most dangerous to babies and small children however, continued exposure to nitrates can result in serious health complications in people of all ages.  Bacteria can cause severe gastrointestinal issues.  At the very least, you should test for both bacteria and nitrates. Other contaminants such as the minerals calcium, iron, manganese and magnesium are considered secondary contaminants as they do not pose health risks but they can make water undesirable for domestic use due to change in taste, staining, or impact on portions of your water system.

Before deciding which contaminants you want to test for you can also talk to neighbors in the area to identify any issues they have had with certain contaminants.  You also need to keep in mind that you should periodically test your well water as concentration of contaminants can change through time with the movement of groundwater or through land use changes or hazards that can impact your water supply. 

Meghan Sittler
Meghan Sittler
Extension Educator - Domestic Water & Wastewater
Meghan's education includes a master's degree in natural resources with minors in political science and environmental planning. She also has a graduate certification in public policy analysis, as well as undergraduate degrees in environmental studies and anthropology from UNL. Her graduate project was focused on the development of collaborative and adaptive management for the Missouri River.

Sittler began as coordinator of the Lower Platte River Corridor Alliance in December 2008. Prior to that, Sittler worked for the National Park Service as an archaeological technician, an environmental educator with the Lincoln Lancaster County Health Department, an adviser and instructor with the UNL Environmental Studies program and School of Natural Resources and as a research and outreach specialist for the National Drought Mitigation Center. Meghan began her work as a Nebraska Extension Educator focussing on water in 2016.

Lancaster County Extension Office
444 Cherrycreek Rd
Lincoln NE 68528-1591