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Land-grant universities study rural wells, water

Extension specialists are studying water wells in Mississippi to develop educational information on maintenance and water quality for well owners, drillers and others.

“Water wells, once commonly used in rural areas, can still impact drinking water quality today,” said Amy Schmidt, assistant Extension professor in agricultural and biological engineering at Mississippi State University. “We are looking at some private drinking water wells that are still in use and some that are not. We are lowering a video camera into the wells to look for breaches in casings that could compromise water quality and to look for any other debris in the well.”

Mississippi is one of 13 states involved in the study funded through the Southern Regional Water Program, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and land-grant colleges and universities.

Schmidt and Glynn Beck, a hydrogeologist with the University of Kentucky, are part of the Southern Region Water Program’s Drinking Water and Rural Urban Interface Project Team. They recently visited well sites across the state to collect video and data on Mississippi wells.

The Mississippi wells ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet in diameter and from 15 feet to 130 feet in depth. The team chose sites where different well construction methods were used, such as drilled, cement-tiled, open-bore hole and hand-dug.

Video footage allowed researchers to evaluate the integrity of the casing, depth of casing, and other points within the system that cannot be seen during a traditional wellhead inspection. The team collected additional data, such as well depth, water depth and foreign objects in the wells.

“A variety of contaminants in the water — debris, nitrates and bacteria — can impact human health,” Schmidt said. “Problems with the casings can introduce contaminants by allowing into the well shallow ground water that has not been cleaned by percolating through the soil like deep ground water.”

Beck said the goal is to better educate well owners, drillers and health departments.

“We plan to create educational material for people who have daily contact with rural water wells. Some of the issues include well maintenance, casing issues and pump repair,” he said. “Those who have a concern about their well should contact a driller.”

The program is administered by Texas A&M University. Similar studies are taking place across the Southern states.

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