Washington County will offer a free workshop for residents from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13, on groundwater topics including septic systems, private wells, healthy homes and household hazardous waste. As part of this class, the county will offer free water testing for coliform bacteria and nitrates to all participants who register at least one week in advance. The workshop will be held at Hugo City Hall.
Groundwater provides 100% of the drinking water in Washington County and 75% of all drinking water statewide. In most parts of the county, groundwater is still clean and abundant enough to support local communities. But in some places, aquifers have been contaminated by industry and agriculture. In other locations, we are using groundwater more quickly than it can be replenished. But because our water supplies are underground — literally hidden from view — these groundwater issues are sometimes invisible as well.
Unlike municipal water supplies, which are tested annually, homeowners are responsible for testing their own private wells to ensure that the water is safe to drink. One concern is bacterial contamination, which can occur during the well drilling process or subsequent repairs. Coliform bacteria may also be found if sewage or surface water are leaking into a well. Nitrates are also a concern, especially for families with infants, as high nitrate levels can cause a potentially fatal disease known as “blue baby syndrome.”
There are also more than 16,000 individual septic systems in Washington County. When properly designed, installed and maintained, these private systems provide good treatment of wastewater. If they begin to leak, however, they can contaminate nearby lakes, streams and wells. Sometimes, these problems can go undetected for years.
Test kits will be mailed one week in advanced of the class and water samples will be picked up at 5:30 p.m. during the class. Free testing is only available for water samples brought to the class, otherwise water samples can be dropped off for a fee of $44 on Tuesdays at Washington County office locations in Cottage Grove, Stillwater and Forest Lake.