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Enhancing Well Water Safety through University and Health Department Partnership

IWRA 2021 Online Conference One Water, One Health
Theme 3: What opportunities lie in the improved cooperation between water, food, and public health sectors?
Author(s): Yilin Zhuang

Yilin Zhuang - University of Florida

Keyword(s): well water education, well water testing, septic system education, cooperative extension services, partnership


An estimated 2.5 million Floridians rely on private wells for home consumption. While public water systems are monitored under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, private wells are not regulated. Private well users control the management and protection of their wells. Limited public data exist on how many well users regularly test their water or drink from contaminated wells. It has posed a challenge to water sanitation and public health. Therefore, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension partnered with one local county health department and piloted a monthly two-hour seminar to educate well owners how to safeguard their drinking water. A free well water test for total coliform and E.coli was offered for attendees, followed by an explanation of the results and discussion of the potential prevention and treatment methods with the well owners if contaminants are present. As of December 31, 2020, a total of 371 people participated in this program. All have indicated that they improved their understanding of proper maintenance and protection of the well water. 214 collected water samples and returned them back to the Extension office to test for bacteria. 18% of samples detected bacterial contamination. All of them took the recommendation to shock chlorinate through their wells and plumbing and successfully killed bacteria. Annual well testing is recommended, but about 65% of participants reported never testing their water, mainly because they did not know where to test and what to test. This partnership provided an opportunity for well owners to test their private well water quality and save them at least $13,910.00 if delivered commercially. Septic systems are one of the major potential sources of well water contamination. 341 class attendees (92%) have committed to the best management practices of septic systems. 61 households pumped their tanks for the first time in last ten years as a result of attending the class, eliminating 1,037 pounds of nitrogen potentially leaching into groundwater every year. The partnership between the university and local health department builds the institutional and local capacity to improve and protect both well water and groundwater integrity. More local county health departments will join this partnership and support educating residents about well water quality and best management practices to ensure well and groundwater protection.

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