Although water system owners may balk at rules for testing, there is a history to the requirements. “Think of us as a quasi-insurance policy. Risk and water go hand in hand. We are there to help you minimize risk,” said Brad Harp, program manager for Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department (TPCHD) Water Resources and Hazardous Waste.
Testing for water quality goes back to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) enacted by Congress in 1974. The drinking water standards only apply to public water systems, not individual private wells.
The SDWA is the main federal law that ensures the quality of drinking water and it authorized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national standards for drinking water to protect against health effects from exposure to naturally occurring and man-made contaminants. Rules were set at the federal level, but states and local governments, if they adhered to those standards, were given the right to administer water systems.
There are three types of wells or systems: private wells, serving a single home; Group B wells, serving between two and 14 homes; and Group A wells, serving 15 or more. Harp said that there are at least 515 private wells, 321 Group B systems and 97 Group A systems on the Key Peninsula. The number of private wells is likely at least double that, as the TPCHD records don’t go back beyond the mid-1970s.
When a private well is completed, the owner is required to test for 26 chemicals and for coliforms (bacteria). No further testing is required, although the TPCHD recommends testing each year for coliforms and every three years for nitrates.
Group B systems are usually managed by one of the household owners. Testing is required every year for coliforms and every three years for nitrates. More frequent testing may be required if test results indicate a problem.
Group A system requirements vary widely, depending on the size of the system and prior testing results. Harp said, for instance, that the city of Tacoma system requires daily testing at multiple sites, but that a system with a small number of households might require testing that is similar to that for Group B systems. These systems may be managed by a company, an individual or co-owners.
For those who must test or would like to test their drinking water, bottles to collect samples and instructions are available at the Key Center Fire Station.