March 11-17, 2018 is Ground Water Awareness Week. Ground water is one of Idaho’s essential natural resources. Southwest District Health (SWDH) reminds private well owners to test their private well water annually to ensure safe drinking water. In Idaho, nearly 95% of the population depends on ground water for their drinking source, primarily through private wells. 

According to Brian Crawford, Director of Environmental and Community Health Services for SWDH, with well ownership comes the responsibility to test your well water by a state-certified lab each year and ensure all potential contaminants on your property are kept away from your drinking source. Water from private wells is not regulated by any public entity, or monitored and tested. Crawford also recommends testing your well water whenever there is a change in taste, odor, appearance, or when the system is serviced.

“As a private well owner, you act as a steward to protect ground water and your own drinking water. The only way to know if your well water contains contaminants is to have it tested,” said Crawford. “Spring is an ideal time to test your well water each year before peak use occurs.”

In recognition of Ground Water Awareness Week, SWDH will provide no-cost nitrate screening to participants on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at SWDH’s Canyon County facility, located at 13307 Miami Lane, near the corner of Highway 55 and Florida. Participants can bring a sample of their water in a clean container. A pint size or larger is recommended.  There is no charge for the nitrate screening. If participants choose to send samples to the State Laboratory to test for other contaminants there are costs involved.  The cost will depend on the tests being requested. 

Additional no-cost nitrate screenings will be held on Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at SWDH offices in Southwest Idaho as listed below.

9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. at the Payette office located at 1155 Third Ave. N. 
1:00 p.m. to   3:00 p.m. at the Emmett office located at 1008 E. Locust 
9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m  at the Homedale office located at 132 E. Idaho, in Homedale 
9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Weiser office located at 46 W. Court 

A check of your well by a qualified well professional may include:
    •    A flow test to determine system output, along with a check of the water level before and during pumping (if possible), pump motor performance (check amp load, grounding, and line voltage), pressure tank and pressure switch contact, and general water quality (odor, cloudiness, etc.).
    •    A well equipment inspection to assure it’s sanitary and meets local code. 
    •    A test of your water for coliform bacteria and nitrates, and anything else of local concern. SWDH recommends that all private well owners test their water for coliform bacteria each year and if work has been done on the water system. The test is relatively quick and inexpensive. Most coliform bacteria is harmless to people, but some like E. coli can be extremely dangerous. If coliforms are present, there may also be other more dangerous contaminants.
    •    Check the lead and copper levels in your water if you have old plumbing with lead soldering. If you have problems with staining, water appearance, and odor, you may want to test for iron, manganese, water hardness, and sulfides.  
In general, Southwest Idaho has elevated levels of arsenic, fluoride, and uranium in many areas. Each contaminant may potentially cause a different health issue and various symptoms. The elderly, infants, children, pregnant women, and individuals with compromised immune systems are most likely to suffer from contaminated water.
Canyon County ground water problems fluctuate throughout the county. High levels of nitrates, fluoride, arsenic, and uranium have been found intermittently across the county. General health issues caused from ground water contaminants are listed below.

Historically, nitrates in Canyon County have been a concern in shallow wells, but they have also been detected in deeper wells as well. Nitrates are normally caused by fertilizers, herbicides, and human and animal sewage. Infants may be at serious risk of developing health problems from elevated levels of nitrate. 

Fluoride has mostly been seen at high levels southwest of Nampa. While fluoride at lower levels protects teeth from cavities, ingesting too much fluoride can damage children’s emerging permanent teeth and can eventually lead to a painful bone condition in adults. The permanent teeth will emerge with discolorations and occasionally severe pitting.

Short-term exposure to high levels of arsenic may cause gastrointestinal problems like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Long-term exposure to arsenic can cause cancer in humans, such as skin, bladder, kidney, and lung cancers. Non-cancerous signs of arsenic exposure include pigment changes to the skin, such as darker or lighter irregular shaped spots and/or thickening of the skin on the hands and feet.

High uranium levels are commonly seen in Canyon County. Long-term exposure to uranium can damage the kidneys. People suffering from diabetes are encouraged to test their water for uranium.

If you need help in deciding what to test, locating a certified lab, or understanding your water test results, call Southwest District Health at (208) 455-5400 or visit .   

SWDH also recommend that well owners:
    •    Keep hazardous chemicals, such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, and motor oil far away from your well, and maintain a "clean" zone of at least 50 feet between your well and any kennels and livestock operations.
    •    Maintain proper separation between your well and buildings, waste systems, and chemical storage areas.
    •    Periodically check the well cover or well cap on top of the casing (well) to ensure it is in good repair and securely attached. Its seal should keep out insects and rodents.
    •    Keep your well records in a safe place. These include the construction report, and annual water well system maintenance and water testing results. 
Ground Water Awareness Week is sponsored by the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) as the nation’s leading authority on the use and protection of ground water. 

For more information, visit these websites:
    •    DEQ’s ground water quality webpage at
    •    DHW’s well water webpage at for information on well water testing
    •    IDWR’s well construction and drilling webpage at
    •    National Ground Water Association                                                                            NGWA 
    •    The Private Well Class