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Partner Blog

Information of use to those who serve private well owners.

Partner Interview with Sarah Puls, Lane County Environmental Health

The Private Well Class helps partners understand the value in forming meaningful relationships to create successful private well programs. Sarah Puls and Lane County Environmental Health in Oregon have established a meaningful relationship with two local high schools. Together, they have created a high school water well screening program to better serve Lane County private well owners. In this program, water testing is conducted by high school science students as part of a hands-on water quality program, with teacher/staff guidance and oversight.

We interviewed Sarah to highlight how one of our partners and their affiliated organization helped to develop an extraordinarily unique program. 


Q: Sarah, can you give me a little bit of your professional background and what your current position entails?

SP: I am a Registered Environmental Health Specialist for Lane County Environmental Health.  I lead the Drinking Water Program for Lane County.  This is a State of Oregon program that is regulated at the county level.  We regulate public groundwater systems that are 3,300 in population and smaller.  We also have a domestic well safety program to provide outreach and education to domestic well users in Lane County.

Q: Can you explain how your private well water testing program works?

SP: The program is ran through two high schools in Lane County.  Both schools have designated dates each month during the school year  for their water screening lab days,  residents can pick up a sample collection kit at various locations throughout the county and are then required to bring their water sample to the school for testing on that designated day.  Marist High School does screening for coli form/ E.coli, nitrates, arsenic, conductivity and pH.  Thurston High School does screening for coli form/ E.coli, arsenic, nitrates, copper, iron, hardness, pH, conductivity, and turbidity.  Results are mailed or e-mailed to the customers comparing their water to the EPA drinking water quality standards.  People with water quality parameters exceeding EPA drinking water quality standards are given educational materials and information to contact Lane County Environmental Health Drinking Water Program with questions. Both labs recommend any exceedances be confirmed by resampling with an accredited laboratory.

Q: How was this program and high school partnership developed?

SP: Thurston High School has had this program for a number of years and has partnered with Lane County and other community stakeholders in the past to get updated equipment and expand their water lab program. In 2014 Lane County Environmental Health revived the domestic well safety program at the county level and  partnered with Marist High School to assist them in developing a well water screening laboratory that will be student ran to provide free water screening to domestic well users. There was a need to provide free and low cost water screening options,  we would receive a number of calls a month from concerned citizens who were on a well and did not have the means to spend hundreds of dollars on water testing. 

Q: Who actually collects the water and who performs the water sample analysis?

SP: Water sample collection kits are located at various locations throughout Lane County for residents to pick up,  directions on how to collect the sample are included in the kit along with testing dates and instructions on where and when to drop off the water samples.  Residents are to collect their own samples and deliver the bottle to the school for testing.  Students are involved in all aspects of the sample processing and testing.

Q: How many samples have been analyzed/approximately how many well owners have been helped?

SP: That is a great question, unfortunately I do not have that data.  I will have to get a hold of the schools to see how many samples they ran last year or even for the program in general to date.  If I had to guesstimate,  it would probably be around 200 samples during the school year for each school,  which is probably a low number!

Q: How often are the samples analyzed (school year)?

SP: Samples are tested one day a month at each school during the school year.

Q: What was your biggest challenge in establishing this program/partnership?

SP: The biggest challenge for both schools is  funding to purchase equipment and supplies.  The two high schools got together to talk about their individual programs and ended up being able to reuse lab equipment from Thurston’s established program for Marist's new program.  Advertising was also a hurdle for this project so people would know that these programs are out there for them to utilize.  The schools used their website along with the County website and bought some advertising in local papers. Once the program got some information out there it proved to provide them with enough samples to run each month. 

Q: How successful is your program and what could you contribute to your program’s success?

SP: I would say this program is a great success because it fulfilled a huge need in our community.  We have only one accredited laboratory in Lane County that is open to the public and the County no longer has a water quality testing laboratory.  Both schools provide well-managed low cost programs for the local residents that fill the need for the large number of people in our county who are on domestic wells who cannot afford to have their water tested and it provides a great experience for the students in these schools to learn about the Environmental Health field.

 

To learn more about the high school well testing programs, you can visit their websites at: 
Marist High School 
Thurston High School