Well Testing FAQs: Answers to 10 Common Customer Questions

"Is my water safe to drink?" That's the well testing question Todd Taruscio, lab manager for Anatek Labs, hears most often.

Anatek Labs of Moscow, Idaho and Spokane, Washington conducts drinking water tests for municipalities throughout the Pacific Northwest and for wastewater treatment plants. But about 10% of its testing is on water from private wells, many bordering on forest or agricultural lands.

Some 13 million households in the U.S. rely on their own wells for drinking water, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These homeowners represent a potential source of revenue for a lab. But first, your lab needs to know how to best serve these customers — meaning you should be prepared to discuss any and all well water quality concerns they may have.

Anatek Labs ensures all its customer service staff undergo training to answer general questions about well water testing. When questions increase in complexity — for example, a customer reports a specific color or odor in their water — they defer to the managers in charge of organics or inorganic chemicals and metals.

Preparing your staff to best serve private well owners will vary on how your lab is organized. But whether it's a lab tech or your receptionist interacting with clients, here are answers to 10 of the most common well water testing questions they may be asked.

1. Is My Water Safe to Drink?

This is the primary concern of all well owners. However, a water testing lab can't answer this question without conducting an analysis.

Labs need to maintain a balance between providing necessary services and recommending a full slate of costly tests, which customers may see as just an attempt to boost revenue. Taruscio starts by asking the well owner what their concerns over water quality are, as well as what their budget for well testing is. "I try to lead a customer to make their own decisions," he says.

2. Should I Have My Water Tested?

This one's easy: Yes! Private well owners are solely responsible for ensuring their water is safe to drink. No governmental agency, such as the EPA or state and local environmental and health divisions, monitors private well water quality. The EPA does recommend annual well water testing.

3. What Should I Test For?

Taruscio recommends private well customers test for coliform bacteria and nitrates, at a minimum, to determine drinking water safety and quality. These tests are inexpensive and effective, he says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends that well owners test for volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

For example, Anatek Labs' private well test includes:

  • Conductivity.
  • Hardness.
  • pH.
  • Anions, such as nitrates and sulfates.
  • Irons and metals, including arsenic, iron, lead, and uranium.
  • Presence/absence of bacteria.

In addition to conducting standard tests, your lab should also test for contaminants unique to your area. "We test all regional waters in the areas where we also test well water, so we know what contaminants to expect," says Taruscio.

4. How Often Should I Have My Water Tested?

The CDC recommends checking the mechanical status of a well every spring and testing the water at least annually. According to the National Groundwater Association, testing should be done more frequently under special circumstances, such as a newborn living in the household or family members catching gastrointestinal illnesses. Owners should also identify potential environmental factors, such as nearby septic system failures or fertilizer applications.

5. How Much Does Well Water Testing Cost?

Anatek Labs provides a price list on their website and in a pamphlet for customers. Your lab staff should be prepared to answer cost questions as well as turnaround times for basic tests. Additionally, they should know where to direct customers and prospects for further information, if necessary. If well owners want to keep costs low, have your staff ready to recommend a basic test for bacteria and nitrates.

6. How Do Contaminants Get in My Water?

Naturally occurring minerals and chemicals, such as arsenic and uranium, can contaminate groundwater, according to the EPA. In agricultural areas, groundwater can become contaminated by livestock and feeding operations, as well as by the application of fertilizers, pesticides, and biosolids. In industrial areas, VOCs may seep into groundwater. Sewer overflows and malfunctioning water treatment systems can also release contaminants into groundwater.

7. Do Private Wells Often Have Contaminants?

Taruscio says safety generally depends on the age and depth of the well, and how far down the inside casing extends. Correctly installed, newer, deeper wells rarely have problems if the groundwater aquifer hasn't been contaminated — and if it has been, that will be evident in public water sources tracked by local and state health and environmental agencies.

"In shallow, older wells dug before better modern technology was available, surface water can play a large role in water quality and safety," explains Taruscio. "Water from a well located near a cow pasture and in a low spot where water pools every spring could be suspect."

8. What Should I Do If There's an Issue With My Water?

Your responsibility as a lab is to provide accurate test results — not hold yourself accountable for the underlying issue. That said, support customers in remedial efforts.

If private well owners are concerned about test results, Taruscio recommends they consider installing a home water treatment system, with a particle and charcoal filter, to remove contaminants. Every year, owners should exchange filters and check that the system is still working properly.

9. I Have a Concern About (a Contaminant in the News)?

Water testing labs should be aware of any issues currently impacting water quality in the region they serve. Your local health or environmental department can provide that information and you can pass it along to customers. For example, Anatek Labs offers tests for perfluorinated compounds and shares information about the contaminant on its website.

10. Who Should Conduct My Well Testing?

Emphasize that customers should choose a state-certified water lab that offers cost- and time-sensitive services. During these conversations, showcase any accreditations your lab has as well as your unique competitive advantages. While the goal is for them to choose your services, providing excellent customer service and being a helpful resource will boost your reputation nonetheless.

The Anatek Labs website, for instance, provides extensive information on well testing and potential water quality issues. The lab also provides written instructions on water sampling and a helpful video. Providing convenient resources like these can help your lab develop lasting relationships with private well owners and empower them to both test regularly and be proactive about their water safety.

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Diana Kightlinger

Diana Kightlinger is an experienced journalist, copywriter, and blogger for science, technology, and medical organizations. She writes frequently for Fortune 500 corporate clients but also has a passion for explaining scientific research, raising awareness of issues, and targeting positive outcomes for people and communities. Diana holds master’s degrees in environmental science and journalism.