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Survey finds a majority of private well water users at risk for unsafe drinking water

Jimmy Chang
An Iowa State University Extension and Outreach survey has found just 10 percent of Iowa households that use private well water have had it tested in the past year.

A new survey has found as many as three out of four Iowans who rely on private well water may be at risk for unhealthy levels of nitrate.

The Iowa State University Extension and Outreach survey found just 10 percent of well owners tested their water quality in the last year, which puts them at risk for having drinking water with high levels of nitrate and bacteria.

"What that tells us with the frequency of their monitoring, or testing, along with some other behaviors is that 73 percent of well owners in Iowa are at risk for nitrate exposure, because they haven't tested in the last two years," said Jamie Benning, the assistant director for Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension at Iowa State.

It's estimated around 7.6 percent of Iowa households rely on well water.

The survey found about 33 percent of well owners are considered to be at the "highest risk" because they also haven’t installed filters to remove nitrate and don’t seek alternative sources of drinking water.

Benning said part of the issue is because regular testing is not required by state law, but it is important to make sure drinking water is safe.

"Put it on your calendar — maybe around your birthday, maybe ahead of the holidays — a time that you'll remember and treat it like any other health action that you take," she said.

Additionally, well owners might not want to test their water because they're concerned it could lead to costly repairs if high nitrate levels are found, she said.

"There could be some that are concerned about the potential costs, if they test and do find that their their nitrate level is above the 10 milligrams per liter limit recommended that it might be too costly to fix," Benning said.

She recommends in addition to testing regularly, well owners work with their local county environmental health office to learn about potential funding and grants that can help make well water safer.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter
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