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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 


 

Partner Interview with Dr. Jason Barrett, MSU Extension

The Private Well Class works closely with many partners to get information out to the public about their private wells. At the Mississippi State University Extension, Jason R. Barrett is one of those partners. Dr. Barrett is an Assistant Extension Professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Center for Government and Community Development and he works in the areas of community development, economics and natural resources, water and waste water utilities, and municipal public. 

We interviewed Dr. Barrett to highlight how one of our partners incorporates the Private Well Class into his programming and how he reaches and interacts with the public in his role at the Mississippi State University Extension.

 

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to work at MSU Extension?

JRB:  I completed a graduate assistantship with MSU Extension in the Food and Fiber department in 2001 and 2002.  After those years, I realized that I enjoyed extension work and had a strong desire to return.  I took a fulltime position with MSU Extension in January 2007 and have been here since.

Q: What does a normal day usually entail (in respect to your job)?

JRB:  I usually spend the first hour or two of the morning reading and responding to emails, making a list of items I need to address, prioritizing that list, and either working on a publication, scheduling a workshop/training, and/or compiling a technical assistance report.

Q: What is your favorite thing about your job?

JRB:  I enjoy getting on the road and in the field.  I enjoy working with people to assist or resolve their real issue(s).  I like seeing tangible results.

Q: How often do you put on a workshop in different counties throughout Mississippi?

JRB:  I am in the process of planning the next three (3) which will take place over the next six (6) months which will follow one (1) every other month.

Q: What do the workshops include?

JRB:  The past workshops have had three (3) components; Mr. Steve Wilson talking about “Water Quality and Your Private Well”, a local well drilling expert talking about water well construction, and then I finish with a few topics including ‘Protecting Your Private Well’, ‘Private Well Water Testing’, and statewide contacts for assistance and knowledge about your private well.

Q: How exactly do you incorporate the Private Well Class into your workshops?

JRB:  I make a packet for each attendee and I give them copies of my publications related to private water wells and I always place the “Private Well Class” flyer on top of the packet plus Mr. Wilson promotes the class at the end of his presentation time.

Q: What made you decide to incorporate the Private Well Class into the workshop?

JRB:  The Private Well Class is a wealth of resources, publication, and information.  If someone is working with citizens in relation to private water wells and they are not using the Private Well Class, they are doing themselves and the citizens a disservice.

Q: Other than the workshops, do you offer any other events, services, etc. for well owners?

JRB:  We are planning for this year to incorporate bacteria testing for private well owners that attend our workshops.  I think it is necessary to offer testing to residents.  We talk about it so much in our publications and workshops and then we have to point them in another direction to actually get their water tested.  I think it only makes sense to incorporate it into future education and outreach.

Q: What kinds of people typically attend the workshops?

JRB:  Private well owners that are looking for answers.  Most of the people we see have a private well because they do not have another option for drinking water.

Q: What is the primary reason that people attend the workshop (can you be more specific than they want to learn more about their well)?

JRB:  A lot of interest and questions revolve around; how do I know my water is safe, where can I get my water tested, what should I be testing for, etc.

Q: What do you think is the most valuable thing that attendees get out of the workshop?

JRB:  They get tangible publications to use for reference, they get contact information from myself, Mr. Steve Wilson, and the local well drilling expert to use for any future questions or technical assistance.  They get to know that there are people that can and will help them.

Q: Is there any other follow up or services that you assist with after the workshop is over (testing, inspection, etc.)?

JRB:  As I stated earlier, we are planning to incorporate testing into our future workshops this year.  I want private well owners to have the peace of mind from knowing their drinking water is free from bacteria.