CARLISLE, Pa. — Many people who live in Franklin County rely on their own private water supply (well, spring or cistern) for household water. Families that manage their own water system must decide when to have their water tested and what contaminants to test for. If your home is served by a private water supply, testing may seem unnecessary because your water looks, smells, and tastes fine and everyone in your family is healthy. But water that appears normal may still contain contaminants because some pollutants found in groundwater are unnoticeable to our human senses, and their health effects can take years to appear. The best way to monitor water quality is to have it tested routinely. Spring is a good time because the water table is high from recent snowmelt and seasonal rains.
Routine Testing Recommendations
Extension recommends people served by private water test it every 12-14 months for bacteria, and every 3 years for pH and Total Dissolved Solids. These recommended testing intervals only hold true if the quality of the water has not changed. Water that has recently started to appear, smell, or taste different may require immediate testing for specific contaminants.
While most types of coliform bacteria will not cause illness, some can, particularly E. coli. A positive test for coliform bacteria could mean surface water, or some other source of contamination, is entering your well or spring. When this happens, it may be necessary to identify and eliminate the source of contamination or add a treatment device.
Unlike bacteria, which can show up suddenly in a well, pH and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) are much slower to change, especially for a drilled water well. When you test your water for pH and TDS you should not expect the results to differ much when you test again. If the results do vary, it is a signal that something, perhaps a new land use in the area where you live, is changing your water supply and more testing may be needed to pinpoint what is going on. <
Specific Tests Related to Local Land Use
|Land Use<||Pollutants to Test For|
|Mining||Iron, Manganese, Sulfate, Aluminum|
|Manufacturing or Industrial||Organic Scans|
|Gas Station||Petroleum Products|
|Road Deicing (salting)||Sodium, Chloride|
|Failing Septic Concerns||Nitrate, Bacteria|
|Agriculture||Nitrate, Pesticide Scan|
Other Tests to Consider
If your water is experiencing any of the symptoms in this next table, you should also consider specific testing for the associated pollutant.
|Water Symptom||Pollutants to Test For|
|Orange-brown stains, black flecks or stains, metallic taste||Iron, Manganese|
|White/grey film, increased soap use, problems with hot water heater||Hardness|
|Blue-green stains, metallic taste, especially early in the morning||pH, Corrosivity Index, Copper, Lead|
Penn State only recommends having your water tested by a PA State accredited laboratory. These labs specialize in environmental testing, so they have no secondary interest in selling water treatment equipment. They are also audited to ensure proper testing standards are protocols are being followed. You can search for accredited labs at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Water Test Kits are also available at the Franklin County Extension Office for you to take home and then mail for analysis to Penn State’s accredited laboratory located in State College.
Special water testing opportunity now open
Penn State Extension and the Pennsylvania Department of Health will provide no-cost drinking water testing to a limited number of homeowners in Franklin County this spring. Testing will include bacteria, pH, nitrate, manganese, lead, copper, and arsenic. Only wells, springs or cisterns that serve a primary residence in Franklin County will be tested by this program. Cabins, and second homes are not eligible.
To participate, someone from your household must committee to attending a live webinar on May 18 from noon to 1:00pm where an Extension Water Educator will discuss how to protect your water supply and how to collect a home drinking water sample. After attending the webinar, homeowners will be able to pick up and drop off a water testing kit in Chambersburg. Further instructions will be provided during the webinar. Optional follow-up webinars will be offered to provide interpretation of results and to answer questions. Registration and further information and requirements for this no-cost testing program is available online at
https://extension.psu.edu/private-water-supply-education-and-water-testing-in-franklin-county or by calling 1-877-345-0691.
Please contact Andy Yencha at 717-240-6510 (phone) or email@example.com (email) with any questions about the information in this article.
–Andy Yencha, Penn State Extension