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Household Water Quality
The Virginia Household Water Quality Program provides affordable water testing and education through local Extension offices to the 1.7 million Virginians who rely on wells, springs or cisterns for their household water supply.
Clarke County 2011-2015
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What's in your water?
Municipal water supplies are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which mandates routine testing and treatment.  Maintenance and testing of private water supplies (wells, springs and cisterns) is the responsibility of the owner.  Virginia Cooperative Extension offers water testing and education for private water supply users across the state
Drinking water clinics are held in county Extension offices each year.  Here's how it works:
Participation is voluntary and open to anyone with a well, spring or cistern. Participants pick up a sample kit and receive instructions about how to collect the samples from their household tap and where and when to drop off their samples.    
Following directions carefully, participants collect their samples and complete a short questionnaire. Samples are dropped off locally, so shipping is unnecessary. We coordinate getting the samples to Virginia Tech's campus for analysis.
Samples are analyzed for total coliform and E. coli bacteria, nitrate, lead, copper, arsenic, fluoride, sodium, hardness, iron, manganese, total dissolved solids, pH, and sulfate. The cost for one sample kit in 2015 was $49. Confidential results are prepared and returned to the Extension office.
Results are returned to participants and explained at a local interpretation meeting. Information is provided about addressing water quality problems, routine care, and maintenance of private water supplies.
Kickoff Meeting
Rest of world
Water systems in Clarke County (2011 - 2015)
106 samples analyzed Serving 243 people Well depth: 40 to 700 feet Well age: 4-115 years
67% of participants reported having treatment installed.   The most common devices: softeners and sediment filters.  
Drilled wells were most commonly reported.  Eight percent of participants did not know what type of well they had.  
Contaminants in water may be health-related (e.g., bacteria) or a nuisance (e.g., hardness causing scale) and can come from a variety of sources.   Some contaminants originate from geology, the sediment or rock where the water is stored. Others are a result of land usage or activities on the earth's surface, such as lawn fertilizer, animal waste, or chemical spills. Proper construction of a well can protect household water quality by preventing surface water, which may carry many contaminants, from entering the groundwater supply. Wells should be constructed with proper casing, grout seal, and a sealed well cap. Contamination sources, such as livestock and septic systems should be at least 50 feet away from the well head. Treatment devices and plumbing components can also influence water quality by adding contaminants or changing water chemistry.
Landuse and nearby activities
Plumbing materials and water treatment
Well construction and location
Where do contaminants come from?
Household water quality
The most common contaminants found in household water in Clarke County were total coliform bacteria, sodium, hardness, total dissolved solids (TDS) and      E. coli bacteria.   Total coliform bacteria presence is an indication that surface water may be entering a well and other more harmful microorganisms may be present.  E. coli were found in 21% of Clarke county samples and are a sign that human or animal waste is entering the water supply.     Hardness is composed of calcium and magnesium, which originates in bedrock such as limestone.  Sodium is associated with water softeners, which are commonly used to remove hardness.  Sodium can have negative health effects in excess levels. Total dissolved solids, or TDS, is a measure of all dissolved impurities in water, and can be made up of sodium, nitrate, or other dissolved contaminants.  It is a nuisance contaminant.
Household water quality in Clarke County: Common Contaminants
Total coliform bacteria
E. coli bacteria
Click the water drops for more information about each contaminant.  For information about other common contaminants, please visit our Resources Page.
Special thanks to the residents of Clarke County who participated in the Virginia Household Water Quality Program drinking water clinics held in 2011, 2013 and 2015.  Extension agents Karen Poff, Mark Sutphin, Bobby Clark, Corey Childs, and Rebecca Davis, among other partners, were instrumental in the program's success.    
Virginia Household Water Quality Program Email: [email protected] Ph: 540-231-9058