Poughkeepsie… Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus and Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Caldwell today announced the results of Phase I of the County’s Comprehensive Well Water Testing Program, the most recent effort in Dutchess County’s ongoing groundwater protection strategy.
County Executive Steinhaus said, “We have concluded Phase I of our Comprehensive Well Water Testing Program and would like to thank the residents who have helped us to continue to enhance the community knowledge about the quality of groundwater well sources throughout the county. We are pleased to announce the results mirror much of the existing data we have compiled on Dutchess County’s public water supplies.”
According to Steve Capowski, Director of Environmental Health, “When you combine the results of Phase I of the well testing program with the information we already have available, there is a tremendous amount of data on the condition of groundwater in Dutchess County. The data has been consistent… the acquifers supplying Dutchess County groundwater are good.”
The Comprehensive Well Water Testing Program builds on the Dutchess County Safe Drinking Water Enhancement Program launched by County Executive Steinhaus seven years ago. The program took advantage of State funding to expand the Health Department’s ability to monitor, protect and ensure the continued safety of the County’s drinking water by expanding the sampling of public water supplies including well water from ground sources, increasing the frequency of on-site inspections, identifying vulnerable sources of water, and reviewing plans for new and modified supplies. The Health Department also expanded its sampling program by encompassing more than 700 public water systems including over 1800 wells by testing for a wider range of chemical contaminants, monitoring supplies formerly outside its jurisdiction, and complete annual reviews of all systems which utilize treatment for biological disinfection, or the removal of chemical contaminants.
Other efforts to protect local groundwater supply through Dutchess County’s current groundwater protection programs include:
The County has set minimum acceptable requirements for the location, construction and abandonment of water wells. As part of the permit process, information is collected on the well depth, strata and quantity during the permit process, resulting in accumulated well log information on 11,000 private wells all across Dutchess County.
All subdivision plan reviews require the drilling and testing of monitoring wells to insure an adequate quantity and quality of safe drinking water. This serves to protect the drinking water quality of private homes and predated New York State regulations by 10 years. Since its inception, county government has reviewed 252 subdivisions greater than 2 lots with individual wells that require monitoring (test) wells – a total of more than 3,100 lots. Tests include bacteriological test, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals and adequate quantity of the water supply (5 gallons per minute of water).
The Health Department has required organic testing for public water supplies for more than a decade, including testing for the gasoline additive, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). Treatment systems were required to be installed where needed. This proactive Dutchess regulation predated New York State requirements by three years. Similar MTBE testing recommendations were made to private wells.
County Executive Steinhaus has been a strong advocate for education, information and responsibility. He has directed several public information distributions about the importance of drinking water safety. 200,000 countywide mailings including "Safe Drinking … It’s Everyone’s Responsibility," have been sent out to all county residents in 2002 and 2004. In 2006, another countywide mailing to 100,000 households "Safe Drinking Water, What consumers need to know & steps you take" was sent out. In addition, 10,000 mailings were sent to property owners in East Fishkill to explain the importance of having their wells tested in recognition of contamination issues in that locality.
In January 2007, County Executive Steinhaus sent a letter to all 30 local governments discussing current water testing programs including the Dutchess County Safe Drinking Water Enhancement Program. The letter provided a sample template for local leaders to use should they choose to enact local town laws requiring mandatory private well water testing in their communities. Three towns out of the 30 local governments have chosen to enact such laws and each of the three has adopted a version of the law which they believe to be necessary and appropriate for the unique needs of their individual communities. East Fishkill is the only town that has begun to submit well testing data to the County. In January 2008, the Town of Beekman announced it would be launching a voluntary well-testing program to test at least 30 wells this year.
Last fall, County Executive Steinhaus announced the Comprehensive Well Water Testing Program as the newest initiative in the County’s groundwater protection strategy. This program is countywide, science based program designed to further the community knowledge about the quality of groundwater well sources in Dutchess County. In Phase I, testing was done on 125 private wells at single family, owner occupied homes throughout the county to add to the Health Department’s data from 11,000 private well water logs. There was no direct personal cost to homeowners to participate in the program. Every municipality was represented in the sampling.
Samples of untreated well water from the group of volunteer private residences were collected by contractor Smith Labs and analyzed for bacteria, inorganic and organic chemicals. Residences were selected from a list of volunteer applicants who met the following conditions:
The applicant had to be the owner and occupant of a single-family home served by a private well that supplied only their residence.
The applicant could not be part of an on-going well sampling protocol conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The applicant had to provide access to raw, untreated water for sampling.
The following testing was done on each sample:
Bacteriological testing – to determine if the well is vulnerable to contamination from dirt and/or sewage. Bacterial contamination of a well also is an indication that the well may be vulnerable to other types of contamination.
Inorganic chemical analysis – to determine if there is contamination from a variety of chemicals including heavy metals such as copper and lead, which may be leaching from plumbing fixtures. Inorganic chemical testing also identifies chemicals that may cause taste or odor problems and those chemicals that may interfere with the proper functioning of water treatment equipment.
Organic chemical analysis – to identify chemicals associated with industry and petroleum products and also those chemicals residents utilize in and around their homes for heating, house, lawn or car maintenance.
Water test result data were reviewed utilizing the current standards for public water supplies known as Part 5 of the New York State Sanitary Code. Individual test results have been mailed to all participating residents. In any cases where the homeowner’s well water did not meet acceptable standards, the Dutchess County Department of Health has advised the homeowner of appropriate treatment options.
Phase I Results
The results of Phase I were not unexpected by County health officials as they reflect historical results of groundwater testing. Sodium was the most commonly detected substance in the water samples tested. There is no regulated maximum contaminant level (MCL) for sodium; however, there are recommended guidelines for both moderately and severely restricted sodium diets. Common sources of sodium are water softener system backwash and road salt.
Total coliform was the next most common analyte detected. The presence of total coliform suggests the well may be poorly constructed and/or under the influence of sewage or surface water. Total coliform generally has little, if any, effect on healthy adults, but can indicate other organisms may be present that cause gastrointestinal illness, including diarrhea. If total coliform is present, the problem generally can be resolved through treatment.
There were no detections of principal organic compounds (POCs), including MTBE, above the maximum contaminant level established by New York State Drinking Water Standards. POCs are man-made or manufactured chemicals often found in petroleum products and occur in wells that may be contaminated by leaking underground fuel tanks, gas stations, or industrial processes.
“Clean, safe drinking water is a fundamental need for all of us. It is easy to take water sources for granted, but safe drinking water is everyone’s responsibility,” said Commissioner of Health Michael Caldwell, MD, MPH. “I encourage all residents to contact the Health Department to learn the facts about drinking water and the steps they can take to ensure their families safe consumption of water.”
The results of the well water testing program are available on the County’s http://www.dutchessny.gov/ website. This listing includes all test results by address and parcel number.
“I would also like to thank our skilled sanitarians, public health engineers and many others who have committed themselves to ensuring the safety of our residents,” said County Executive Steinhaus “The results confirm the message we have reiterated for many years… private well owners need to maintain their wells properly and test their water regularly,” Steinhaus concluded.
Phase II of the Comprehensive Well Water Testing Program is slated to begin in the Fall of 2008. The format of Phase II, including number of wells tested and selection method, will follow the same design as Phase I.