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Water Wisdom: What’s in your water?

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Big Sky community members are completely reliant on clean water from groundwater reserves, as opposed to 44 percent of people nationwide. CC PHOTO

Celebrate groundwater awareness week with an annual well test

By Stephanie Lynn EBS CONTRIBUTOR

Groundwater is the most extracted natural resource according to the National Groundwater Association, the organization responsible for designating March 10-16 as National Groundwater Awareness Week.

All Big Sky residents and visitors utilize groundwater for their water supply, while 44 percent of people nationwide depend on water stored beneath their feet, reported the NGA. Both public water systems and private wells pump water from underground aquifers and deliver it to the Big Sky community.

“Any water system that has more than 15 full-time water connections or serves more than 25 people for more than 60 days per year constitutes a ‘public water system’ and is required by the EPA to test for contaminants on an ongoing basis,” said Jim Muscat, water superintendent for the Big Sky Water and Sewer District. These public water systems serve developments throughout Big Sky, including the Mountain Village, Town Center, Meadow Village and Ramshorn View Estates.

By contrast, households outside of those areas connected to a public system are hooked up to private wells. Private well owners don’t pay quarterly utility bills, but do take on all responsibilities to test, maintain and possibly treat their water to ensure it’s safe to drink.

“Well contaminants fall under two major categories,” said Peter Manka, principal water resource engineer for Alpine Water in Big Sky. “Functional or aesthetic contaminants create unsightly staining and impair the function, efficiency and longevity of appliances and fixtures, while the other category can have potentially detrimental health effects at elevated levels.”

In Big Sky, the quality of water in two nearby wells may differ drastically due to underlying geology or polluted surface water infiltrating the ground. Contaminants such as arsenic and salts have been measured in local wells, but the only way to ensure safe drinking water is to regularly test well water by picking up a kit at the Gallatin River Task Force or Gallatin Local Water Quality District offices.

“Well owners should test their water quality for nitrate and total coliform bacteria annually, at the very minimum,” said Christine Miller, water quality specialist at GLWQD. Miller also recommended that Big Sky residents test for arsenic and aesthetic contaminants every five years.

In addition, homeowners can protect their well water by inspecting their wellhead for cracks, holes, settling and debris every year. Small adjustments such as installing a sanitary well cap, safely storing hazardous materials and ensuring that runoff doesn’t flow toward the wellhead will prevent pollution from entering the well.

Test your well water this March in honor of National Groundwater Awareness Week. For more information on how to test well water and interpret the results, visit glwqd.org.

Stephanie Lynn is the education and communications coordinator for the Gallatin River Task Force.

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