PRIMGHAR, Iowa — Iowa has been blessed with about the right amount of rain for crops and, in almost any location, a well can be dug to provide enough water for a household. The water table is often close to the surface but because the glacial till soils are compact at depths, the lateral flow rate is slow, providing 10 to 20 gallons per minute pumping rates. The water in these shallow open aquifers becomes somewhat stratified with the highest quality water near the surface where the flow rates are better and, during normal years, where most of the water comes from. The water deeper down has been there for a long time and has dissolved a lot of naturally accruing minerals that can cause issues with our modern lifestyles.
I have lived in a farmstead that is over 100 years old with an 85-ft well that has served our needs, but drought causes my wife aggravations that I have to solve. Three of these water woes are: Harder water, red water and smelly water.
- Harder water. Calcium and magnesium are healthy minerals in the soil that quickly dissolve in our water, but if you add detergent to the water they turn to scum. Dishes and clothes do not get clean and there may be a scum ring in the bathtub. We have always needed a water softener to replace the calcium, magnesium and sodium that does not turn the soap to scum. Our normal hardness level at our home is about 5 grains of hardness. Because of the drought, our hardness level has increased to 50 grains, which means an adjustment on the water softener and buying a lot more salt. If the weather continues to be dry, I will have to check it again and continue to make adjustments to the softener. Also, I must remember to check it after it rains a lot, so I don’t waste salt. Problem solved.
- Red water. Iron in our water is also healthy to drink as long as it is clear and not in high amounts. The deeper water that we use during these dryer times has a lot of iron and there are natural iron-reducing bacteria in the soil that will turn the iron to rust making the water red. They live in the well and the water pipes, mostly next to the side walls of the pipes. The rust accumulates there for years. They multiply slowly in the cold water and are not a health concern. But have an interruption in power so the pipes go dry, then years of rust flake off the pipes, the water turns red like blood and all the sinks and toilets in the house plug their aeration screens. All my pipes are plastic or copper, so the rust is from the water itself, never the pipes. There are potassium permanganate filters that work like a softener to remove iron, but I have chosen a whole house screen filter to remove all the rust that flakes off the pipes before the water softener. Second problem solved.
- Smelly water. My wife says that the hot shower water smells bad. Then I tell her it is the iron-reducing bacteria working in the water heater to turn the sulfur to hydrogen sulfide (which makes a rotten egg smell). While I can smell the hydrogen sulfide, she thinks I am going to die taking a shower. To be fair, women do have more sensitive noses than men. Research has confirmed that fact. Nonetheless, I have to fix the problem ASAP or find a new place for my wife. So, for the first time in 30 years, I need to kill all those iron-reducing bacteria especially those in the water heater. I decide to shock chlorinate the well. For me this requires 12 gallons of bleach and a 2-day process of leaving high levels of bleach in the water heater and the rest of my pipes. The bleach kills the iron-reducing bacteria and the rust comes off the plastic pipes in large clumps, plugging my filter many times requiring cleaning. Third problem solved… Hopefully for 30 or more years into the future.
For more information on Good Wells for Safe water, visit https://store.extension.iastate.edu/product/4149 or for information on Shock Chlorinating Small Water Systems, visit https://store.extension.iastate.edu/product/4200.
— Kris Kohl, Ag Engineering Specialist
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
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