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How's Your Well?

Penn State conducts online survey to help private well owners.

As part of a statewide study on private well water quality, Penn State Ag College researchers are inviting well owners to respond to an online survey. The goal is to determine the characteristics and management of private wells and gather opinions of homeowners with wells.

To participate, private well owners should go to water.cas.psu.edu on the Web. There is a short description and a link to the survey at the bottom of the Web page. The survey is expected to continue thorugh January's end. Survey results will be released in early 2007.

Well water quality is a growing problem

"Pennsylvania is home to more than 1 million private water wells," says Bryan Swistock, water resources specialist for Penn State Cooperative Extension. "And, more than 20,000 new wells are drilled each year.

Pennsylvania is also one of only three states having no guidelines on location, construction and maintenance of private wells. That may be one reason why previous studies have shown that about 50% of all private wells sampled fail to meet at least one drinking-water standard," he says.

Common well problems include bacteria, low pH, lead and high iron. "As we get more and more wells around the state, the concern is that poorly constructed and managed wells will become a bigger problem," worries Swistock.

The survey is just part of the research. According to Swistock, investigators also are testing the water quality in 700 wells across the state. By comparing survey answers and actual water quality, a clearer picture of drinking-water safety should emerge.

Well owners need better information

Private water system owners have no manual on how to protect it, contends Stephanie Clemens, coordinator of Penn State's Master Well Owner Network, a group of about 300 volunteers committed to educating people about private wells. They really need more than that, with today's changing land uses.

"The study solicits information about how often they test their water supply, the nature of their well's construction and their opinions about threats to private water wells," she says. "State environmental officials recommend that owners test their wells at least annually for bacteria and every few years for pollutants from nearby land uses."

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