Partner Blog

Lessons Learned from Connecticut

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Last month, March 23, 2017, the very first Connecticut Private Well Conference was held in East Hartford, CT. As the Private Well Class prepares for our own first national Private Well Conference coming up on May 23-25, we asked Tiziana Shea - a sanitary engineer for the CT Department of Public Health's Private Well program, about the lessons learned from planning and preparing for the Connecticut Private Well Conference. Tiziana shares some valuable insight for partners and other environmental health professionals below! If you would like to view the speaker presentations from the Connecticut Private Well Conference, you can do so here.

Q:   Why you decided to host the first CT Private Well Conference?

TS: In Connecticut about 23% of our population (more than 820,000 people), are served by their own private residential well. Local Health Departments and Districts have authority over construction of new private wells and approval of water quality results for new wells, but existing wells are not regulated in Connecticut. There is a need to bring professionals working in fields related to private wells together to discuss technical and outreach issues associated with them. In 2016 the Connecticut Department of Public Health (CT DPH), Private Well Program initiated the coordination of the Connecticut Private Well Task Force, which is comprised of 14 associations and programs that work with private wells in different capacities in Connecticut. The task force collaborates on matters related to private wells, such as laws, regulations, policies, technical topics, outreach and education, and training for professionals. This 2017 Connecticut Private Well Conference was meant as a way to spread discussion of private well matters and to provide training to individuals working in a field related to private wells.

How the conference was funded?

TS: The Connecticut Department of Public Health has a cooperative agreement with the National Center for Environmental Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reduce drinking water exposures in unregulated drinking water systems. Funding for the 2017 Connecticut Private Well Conference was made possible (in part) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the conference site was provided free of charge by Goodwin Community College, as long as the conference would be made available to students in a related field that attend the college. The opportunity to reach out to future environmental health and science professionals was a win - win for all parties involved.

What was the turnout, topics covered, and logistics of the conference?

TS: In order to determine relevant presentation topics for the conference, the CT Private Well Task Force members and organizations were asked to provide input regarding topics of interest among the private well field. A lot of topics of interest were generated initially, so from there we polled the task force members to prioritize topics for this first year’s event. Topics covered during the conference were: Existing MCLs and Action Levels for Private Wells; Road Salt Impacts to Drinking Water Wells; Sizing Variable Frequency Drive’s for Residential Well Pumps; Arsenic and Uranium in Domestic Wells in CT; Building Code and Private Well Construction; Drought in CT and Implications for Private Wells; Water Treatment Wastewater Disposal; and, Residential Water Treatment Fundamentals. The number of attendees exceeded our expectations, our final count with several walk-ins was 125 attendees.

Q:  What are your “lessons learned” from both the subject matter covered, and from hosting a state-wide conference?

TS: If you have the ability to test run electronics and other logistics in the room beforehand, take advantage of that! Be persistent in getting electronic copies of presentations ahead of the event so that you can be as coordinated as possible the day of the event. Start earlier than you think you’d need to, and stay organized.

Q:  Who were the attendees?

TS: 50% local health professionals or registered sanitarians; 15% well water industry professionals & specialists; 15% state or federal employees; 6% environmental lab professionals; Remaining: home inspectors, environmental consultants & specialists, home builders/remodelers, building officials, environmental health/science students.

Q:  What will you do differently next time?

TS: Consider a different space to hold the conference in. The facilities and people were great to work with, but lighting and support beams in the space provided made it difficult to see the presentation for some, and the space was tight for the number of individuals that attended.

Q:  How was the conference promoted? Do you think the promotion strategy you used was successful?

TS: We used several different means to promote the 2017 CT Private Well Conference. Because the event was hosted jointly with the CT Private Well Task Force our task force member partners reached out to their respective groups regarding the conference. The CT DPH also utilized an internal Everbridge system which allows us to contact local health officials via email, we posted registration information on our CT DPH private well program website, word of mouth and with the help of the, which was much appreciated! We feel as though our promotion strategy for this first conference was successful, as we exceeded the number of attendees we thought we’d get. However, in the future we plan to continue to expand our outreach to other groups of individuals that we’d like included in the mix.

Q:  What advice would you give the Private Well Class as they prepare to host the first national Private Well Conference next month?

TS: Be sure to work out as many details as possible beforehand, consider even the smallest or seemingly mundane things.

Q:  What were some of the most interesting or unexpected discussions, presentations, or partnerships formed form the conference?

TS:  In general; how well received the conference was, and the strong desire from so many to see it continue in future years. In my opinion, one of the most important messages brought up in some of the presentations, was one of working together, and to begin opening discussions where there are needs for it. The conference did facilitate different groups interacting that may not have otherwise done so. The conference also strengthened the partnerships established through the private well task force, and helped broaden that partnership with those not directly involved in the task force.

Tia Hastings, From Indian Health Service, Talks Tribal Water

Tia Hastings is an Environmental Engineer with the Indian Health Service. She provides engineering and project management services for projects with Native American Tribes and Nations for the New York and New England areas.


Q:  Can you please describe your position with Indian Health Services (IHS) and what sort of responsibilities your position entails?:

TH: I am an Environmental Engineer and Project Manager in the Nashville Area Indian Health Service in the Division of Sanitation Facilities Construction (SFC). SFC is under the direction of the Office of Environmental Health and Engineering (OEHE) within Indian Health Service (IHS). The IHS Nashville Area, has five field offices in addition to one Area office located in Nashville, TN to serve the tribes and nations from Maine to Florida and west to Texas. I work in Manlius, NY and serve the nations in NY. The IHS Nashville Area provides services to 30 tribes with over 17,500 Indian homes.
I develop projects to provide water, wastewater, and solid waste services to Native American communities. I work directly with the Native communities in New York State to assist in determining needs for projects, assisting the Nations with developing those projects, obtaining funding and implementing those projects. I provide site assessments, survey work, design, and construction inspection, write engineering reports, prepare project documents, track finances, process payment requests, and oversee construction. I also provide homeowner trainings and do community outreach.

Q:  Does IHS have a private well program? If so, can you tell me a little bit about it?:

TH: The Sanitation Facility Construction (SFC) Program supports the mission of the Indian Health Service to raise the health status of the American Indian and Alaska Native people to the highest possible level by planning, designing and overseeing the construction of water, waste water and solid waste facilities. The preferred alternative for the provision of safe drinking water is to connect tribal homes to community water systems that have a higher level of regulatory over-sight from the tribal government and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In cases were community water systems are not available or economically feasible to construct, a private well is the preferred alternative to provide access to drinking water. When installing a private well, the SFC Program will complete the necessary planning and inspection activities which include well sighting, constructing inspection, hydraulic pump test and water quality analysis to ensure the water quality meets EPA’s primary drinking water standards. If the water quality doesn’t meet the primary drinking water standards then a point-of-use device will be recommended and installed if desired by the homeowner. Finally, the SFC Program provides homeowner training to help ensure the facility provided will remain operable over the facility design life.

Q:  Can you describe one of your private well/clean drinking water program’s successes?

TH: A Tribal homeowner was having difficulty with the water in his home. The treatment system and filters were constantly clogging and were becoming expensive to maintain. IHS did a site visit to the home and determined that the home was connected to a very old hand dug well. The investigation and water testing performed by IHS revealed the well water did not meet the primary drinking water requirements. The water main for public water was down the road but did not extend to the home. We got approval and funding to extend the water down the road to this home, and connected it to the public water system. The home now has clean, uncontaminated public water.

Q:  Are there any other stakeholders that IHS works with that is involved with helping Native Americans get access to clean water via private wells or offers some other sort of assistance? And if so, what is their role?

TH: IHS works with other funding agencies to provide funding assistance for projects to provide drinking water, waste water and solid waste facilities. We also work with agencies and tribal organizations to provide homeowner trainings, project assistance and utility trainings. We have worked with the Environmental Protection Agency, Rural Community Assistance Partnership, United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Water, United States Geological Survey, United South and Eastern Tribes, and our tribal partners to provide access to clean water.

Q:  Does IHS house any private well data for tribal lands? If so, is it available to the public? If it is, can you provide a link or contact information?

TH: IHS keeps and maintains data on all private wells that were installed by IHS. This data is not considered public data as it contains homeowner information. Requests for private well water quality data should be submitted to the tribe.

Q:  What are some of the challenges with making sure residents of tribal lands have safe water?

TH:  Source water quality is a challenge in making sure residents on tribal land have safe water. Some of the Nations are in areas where groundwater quality is very poor, and treatment systems for individuals would be quite expensive to maintain. Additionally, and proximity of homes to open dumps and inadequately treated wastewater can impact water quality. IHS works with tribal governments and communities to overcome these challenges to help ensure tribal homes have access to safe drinking water.

Q:  Are there any other clean water related issues that are currently plaguing tribes that IHS assists with?

TH: Annually the IHS assesses and reports on the sanitation facility needs in Indian communities. These assessments are done in collaboration with tribal governments. At the beginning of FY 2016 approximately, 7,500 Indian homes in the Nashville Area were in need of some form of new or improved sanitation facility. The total cost of this work in the Nashville Area was estimated to be $112 million with 64% of this need related to the supply of drinking water ($71.7 million), 29% related to wastewater disposal ($33.1 million) and 7% related to solid waste ($7.3 million). These needs include the replacement of aging and/or poorly maintained water distribution systems, sewer collection systems (mains, manholes and pumping stations) and closure of open dumps. The Indian Health Service strives to provide the necessary sanitation facilities and technical assistance to support operation and maintenance of the provided facilities so that tribal communities have sustainable access to safe drinking water and waste disposal that enhance and protect public health.

An Interview with Erin Ling and Site Visit to the VAHWQP Laboratory

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Back in October, Steve Wilson and I had the opportunity to visit with Erin Ling and the Virginia Household Water Quality Program laboratory at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. Erin Ling is a Water Quality Extension Associate that helps to coordinate the Virginia Household Water Quality Program located at Virginia Tech which provides drinking water clinics for Virginia residents that rely of private water supplies. We were able to tour the facility, see the equipment, and interact with some of the individuals that make up the team at the Biological Systems Engineering Water Quality Lab.

Q: Can you tell me a little more about your lab on campus?:

EL: The BSE Water Quality Lab has been a part of our Biological Systems Engineering Department at Virginia Tech for decades (the department was founded in 1920, and soil and water conservation has always been a major focus). The Virginia Household Water Quality Program has been processing samples through the lab since 1989, and the lab’s qualified staff and equipment provide an amazing resource to Virginians through this program. The lab also handles a variety of samples related to stream and wetland ecology engineering research. Historically the lab was located in Seitz Hall on campus, and we were very fortunate to be moved to the beautiful new Human and Agricultural Biosciences Building 1 in 2014. The lab is not state-certified, although we follow all standard methods and maintain appropriate QA/QC. VAHWQP samples we process are intended for educational purposes, and we often refer people to certified labs for additional testing.

Q: What constituents does your lab sample for and for whom?:

EL: VAHWQP relies on a network of about 85 Extension agents across the state to help run well testing and education programs in about 55 counties each year (there are 95 counties in Virginia). The program is open to all Virginians who rely on private water supplies (mostly wells with a few springs in the mountainous parts of the state). In Virginia, about 1 in 5 people rely on private water supplies, which is about 1.7 million people. We sample for 14 parameters, including total coliform and E. coli bacteria, lead, arsenic, copper, nitrate, pH, hardness, sulfate, fluoride, sodium, total dissolved solids, iron, and manganese.

Q: Who makes up your team in the lab?:

EL: In the BSE Water Quality lab, we have the pleasure of working with Kelly Peeler, lab manager; Asa Spiller, lab assistant; and a variety of talented graduate and undergraduate students. We are also fortunate to have a partnership with Dr. Marc Edwards’ lab in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech (a.k.a. the “Flint Lab”, made famous for helping to characterize the dire situation with lead in water in Flint, Michigan). Starting in 2011, we began analyzing our well and spring water samples for lead, arsenic and a suite of additional metals. We really appreciate the assistance of Dr. Edwards, Dr. Kelsey Pieper, and Dr. Jeff Parks, the lead analyst in that lab. Our program has benefited from partnering with a variety of researchers, including those in the Flint Lab. Here is a list of the peer-reviewed papers that have been published in collaboration with VAHWQP.

Q: What sort of problems/contaminants does your lab see most often?:

EL: We see a lot of bacteria, mostly coliform (present in about 40% of samples) and some E. coli (present in about 10% of samples). This is why we tie a lot of our education to proper well location and construction. We also see a lot of lead in water supplied by wells in parts of the state. Up to 1 in 5 samples contains more than 15 ppb lead in first draw samples. Based on research conducted by Kelsey Pieper, we understand that this lead is coming from lead solder, brass components manufactured before Jan 2014, and sometimes galvanized steel. Lead is more of a problem in certain geologies (crystalline bedrock, found in the Blue Ridge and Piedmont of Virginia), and in shallower wells, where we find water that is often more acidic and therefore corrosive. We also find a fair amount of nuisance contaminants, mostly iron, manganese and hardness. Testing is the only way to know what’s in your water!

Q: What is the cost for residents to have their water tested? Do you/they receive any subsidies or discounts based on income?

EL: We charge $55 per sample for the 14 parameters, which is a pretty reasonable price for this number of parameters. Some counties are able to coordinate to provide subsidies by getting grants or donations locally.

Q: What has been the most challenging thing with coordinating and operating a university laboratory for the VAHWQ Program?

EL: Really just the biggest challenge is promoting the program and keeping up with demand to continue to grow in the most sustainable way possible. We would love to be able to serve everyone exactly when they want to test, but have to stick to our schedule (we offer testing in 3-4 counties per week for most weeks of the year), as we aren’t able to process individual samples. We are so fortunate to have the facilities and people we have to work with, and really have benefitted from working with such an extensive network of Extension agents across the state. We couldn’t do it without the human capacity, facilities and support of our many partners!

Q: For the two programs, VWON & VAHWQP, how do they work together, if at all?

EL: VWON is the Virginia Well Owner Network. We modeled this program after Penn State’s successful Master Well Owner Network, which is comprised mostly of volunteers who educate well owners about their water supplies. Although we do have a small volunteer network that is available to answer questions from the public, over time, we have shifted to focus on training Extension agents and what we call “agency collaborators” who are staff members of state agencies that also work with well owners, such as Virginia Dept of Health and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. The Extension agents, as I mentioned, conduct drinking water testing programs locally with support from our campus faculty. They are our way of being able to hold many more programs across the state, and have a cadre of local experts to help answer the thousands of questions we get each year from the public. Agency collaborators help answer questions and refer people to the Virginia Household Water Quality Program whenever possible. We also have a close partnership with the Virginia Water Well Association, the state well drilling contractors’ membership group. They have been invaluable in providing technical assistance, serving as guest speakers, and helping us build and develop WellCheck (, which is a partnership that provides well inspections to homeowners who need help with their wells after participating in a VAHWQP program.


ABOVE LEFT: The ion chromatograph (IC) is used to analyze anions such as fluoride, sulfate and nitrate in well and spring water samples.
Lab assistant Asa Spiller speaks with a group of visiting high school students about keeping track of samples in the lab and measuring pH and electroconductivity.


BSE Water Quality Lab Manager Kelly Peeler gets ready to process some samples received from Virginia well and spring users.
VAHWQP provides bacteria results as MPN (most probable number), using the Colilert ™ method. This is one 100 mL sample, poured and sealed into a Quantitray and incubated for 24 hours. Cells that are yellow contain coliform bacteria and cells that glow when held under ultraviolet light contain E. coli. By counting the number of each, we can statistically estimate the number of each type of bacteria in the sample, which can give homeowners an idea of the extent of contamination.
Virginia Household Water Quality Program coordinator Erin Ling checks well and spring water samples for bacteria presence using Colilert ™. (Photo by Virginia Tech University Relations)

ABOVE: BSE Water Quality Lab Manager Kelly Peeler sorts sample kits from Virginia well and spring users. (Photo by Virginia Tech University Relations)

To learn more about the VAHWQP you can view the 2017 Schedule and 2016 Annual Report at: 
Virginia Household Water Quality Program 2017 Schedule 
Virginia Household Water Quality Program 2016 Annual Report 

Resources for Private Well Owners Impacted by Flood

Flooding is the most common natural occurrence that can impact the function and safety of a well. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the National Ground Water Association issued an important reminder that one must assume that a flooded well has been contaminated by bacteria. Cliff Treyens, NGWA's director of general public outreach, offers these tips to homeowners with flooded wells:

  1. Do not drink the water or wash with it. Use an alternative supply. such as bottled water.
  2. Stay away from the well pump while it’s flooded to avoid electrical shock.
  3. Get a qualified water well contractor or pump installer to clean and turn on the pump, flush the well, disinfect the well, and perform any other necessary maintenance.
  4. Check with the local emergency management agency about any guidance relating to local conditions or specific contamination threats due to area flooding.

This video, also from NGWA, explores the topic further:

You can also refer to Chapter 6 of The Private Well Class. Here's the excerpt on flooding:

"If flood waters overtop your well, assume your well is contaminated. Once the water recedes, you should have your well disinfected and sampled for bacteria before using it again. Remember to disconnect any inline treatment prior to disinfection. You should also inspect your wellhead to be sure no debris got into your well. This is a particular concern if your vent screen is missing. If you think there is debris, have a contractor clean and disinfect your well. If water reaches your well but doesn’t overtop it, it’s still safest to disinfect and sample prior to use.

If you have the luxury of knowing a flood could happen, be prepared. Store a supply of clean water that you can use during and after the flood. Disconnect the power supply to your well to prevent any electrical damage from short circuits. Temporarily plug the vent holes to prevent debris from getting into your well.

There are other options that can help prevent flood contamination, but they are more costly. One is to have a contractor create an extension for your well to raise the pipe. We have seen wellheads in flood-prone areas that extend 10 feet or more above land surface. Another option is to replace your vented cap with a waterproof one for just during the flood event. This may provide added protection, but it’s still always best to have a sample analyzed after the flood to be sure there were no leaks or other avenues into the well that flood waters may have found.

Well pits are a shock hazard, so be sure the entire pit is dry before entering. If your pit is a confined space, then do not go into it because of the risk of dangerous gases. Have a qualified professional inspect and restart your system. If your pump is above ground, like in your basement or over the well, flood waters could short circuit the system and even start the pump. Be sure the power is off in advance of the flood, and have your pump checked and tested by a professional before using it again.

Septic systems can also be damaged or cause contamination issues during floods. Make sure the access points are sealed. Your septic system should have a backflow preventer before the tank to keep sewage from backing up into your home during a flooding event. If your septic has its own pump, be sure to shut off the power."

Pledging 2 Test in Galena, IL

This past March, the Private Well Class celebrated the 2016 National Groundwater Awareness Week with the Pledge 2 Test campaign. Well owners were invited to pledge to submit a water sample for testing to a lab in their area. One Pledge to Test Campaign participant was randomly selected to be reimbursed for the cost of testing the private well water at their residence, up to $200.

The randomly selected winner was Liz H. from Galena, IL. Liz and her family had purchased a new home in the country and pledged to test her water in our campaign. We interviewed Liz to find out what motivated her to want to test her water and what her experience was like. Liz had her well water tested at Lyons Lab in Stockton, IL.

Q:  How did you hear about the Pledge 2 Test campaign from The Private Well Class?

LH: Since we were looking at moving to the country and having our own well, I was a bit nervous about the water and run off that so many people talk about. I think it’s very important to have good drinking water since we have a six year old and we drink on average 5 gallons a week through our water cooler, so I signed up for the free well water class that I got through my realtor. We really never worried about it before since we have always lived in town or had city water.

Q:  What made you interested in testing your private well water?

LH: I want to know what we are drinking and I want to know if our family will have long lasting health risks with side effects down the road from drinking poor quality water. Good clean water seems to be a hot topic these days and it’s not all accurate.

Q:  What was the most challenging thing about collecting the sample/getting the test bottles?

LH: Since the lab is over a half hour away from where we live in the opposite direction of where we travel, it was hard getting to the lab before they closed. I tried for several weeks to get off work in time to make it over to Lyon’s lab but was unsuccessful. Finally I decided to call and see if they could send me the kit. They are very accommodating and sent the kit right away, it arrived in two days.

Q:  What was one thing about taking a sample that surprised you?

LH: The instructions were very easy to follow and the collection process was simple. It literally took me less than five minutes from start to finish after I read through the instructions twice.

Q:  Once you receive the results, do you think that there is there anything that you will change? Like adding a filtration system, etc.?

LH: Depending on what the results reveal, we will be making changes to whatever needs to be done. We have already started using a PUR system on our kitchen sink since that is where we get out tap water from. We also fill our five gallon water cooler from this same tap source. I am getting anxious to find out the results. The water has a pretty plain, good taste when it's cold. I don’t drink room temperature water so not sure if the taste is different.

Liz’s results for nitrate/nitrogen, arsenic, iron, lead, coliform, and E. coli were either absent or were well below the level needed for safe consumption as outlined by the U.S. EPA. 

Her water showed an elevated number of iron bacteria colonies. Iron bacteria are organisms which feed on the iron in a well. They are not considered a health risk, but as the colony grows, it may develop into a film, or biofilm, which will foul and plug pipes, pumps, and water treatment devices. An objectionable odor may also be produced. Bacteria (including iron bacteria) often are introduced into a well during the drilling process or when performing repair on a well or pump. Iron bacteria specifically, can be a natural part of a groundwater system. Which if were the case here, would mean that they could likely come back even if a single treatment were to eliminate them initially. Treatment typically involves disinfection with chlorine. Complete elimination may not be possible and the well may require repeated or periodic chlorination.

Some final thoughts from Liz: “I am so happy with the results. I am so glad to have won this and will be testing for nitrates every year between April and October as Lyons Lab has indicated. I am a bit smarter as to well water in the country now.”

Minnesota’s Well and Water System Disinfection Fact Sheet

Written by Steve Wilson, Groundwater Hydrologist at the Illinois State Water Survey

When I first started working on the Private Well Class materials, we made the decision to use existing, publicly available resources from the web for images because we had no budget for creating original figures and diagrams. It required us to search the web, and quickly we discovered that there was a lot of redundancy and “reinventing of the wheel” for many of the guides and fact sheets available to well owners.  It was the right decision because so many people before us, extension, health departments, and universities, had created vast libraries of materials available for well owners. For instance, I literally looked at dozens of documents on well disinfection. Initially this was annoying, but in the end was a good thing, it allowed me to pick what I felt were the best materials to provide through our class.

The Minnesota Department of Health is a very well managed and funded state agency that provides a number of exceptional materials freely available to well owners. Their well disinfection fact sheet is no exception.  It was the one I settled on. I felt it was thorough, well written, and covered all of the important information a well owner would need to know when disinfecting their well. 

But a year or so ago, their fact sheet changed.  It went from 10 pages down to 6, and though still well written, they removed a number of details that made it clear and more comprehensive.  I was a little disappointed.  None-the-less, because we work hard to give credit to the groups that develop the wonderful materials we have available to us, we linked to the new version and suggested it to well owners.  Then, as fate would have it, I was at a meeting where a colleague brought up the manual.  He mentioned that he felt the old version was a better document.  I used that as validation, and because I had retained a copy of the previous version, I decided to go back to offering the previous version as a resource on our website.

I wanted to write something about this fact sheet because I think it is the approach everyone should be using when a well owner asks them about disinfecting their well. It includes step by step instructions, explains why taking these steps are necessary, and has pictures to clearly show you what things look like.  

We welcome your feedback, and if you have any resources that are specific to a topic that you believe are exceptional, please share them with us at

Partner Interview with Janet Agnoletti, BACOG

The Private Well Class recognizes partners who have exceptional local and community programs. Janet Agnoletti and the Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) in Illinois have developed a strong network with partners, useful strategies, and overcome challenges.


We interviewed Janet to gain insight on the inner workings of a community program and how they strive to attain success in their goals and objectives.

Q:  Can you tell me a little bit of your position, background, and what your role is at BACOG?

JA: I am the Executive Director of BACOG, and I started in this position in 2000. I have a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning from Illinois Institute of Technology. I worked as a planner for the City of Evanston in my early career and then as a consultant to a number of suburban communities and not-for-profits. My interests have always included environmental issues – which are a critical consideration in regional land planning..

Q:  Can you talk a little about what BACOG is and what it does in respect to water resource initiatives?

JA: The Barrington Area Council of Governments (BACOG) was formed in 1970, and it is a regional planning organization comprised of local government members in the northwest suburban area (of Chicago). The organization addresses: planning, development and land use issues; environmental matters including groundwater; legislative advocacy; regional emergency preparedness; training, workshops and networking for members; and intergovernmental collaboration and communications. 

I started the groundwater initiative in 2001; while most natural resources had been extensively studied in the early decades of BACOG, there was little information about groundwater. In the BACOG region of approximately 80-90 square miles, the vast majority of wells – maybe 99% -- are finished in the shallow aquifer system. There are over 7,800 wells here, most of which are private residential wells. With one exception, all the municipal wells are in the shallow aquifer system too. So my goal in 2001 was to study this resource, to identify where the water is, how much there is, what its quality is, and if it is sustainable. We have accomplished a great deal of this work and more.

Q:  Who is BACOG’s primary audience?

JA: The municipal and township members of BACOG guide, support, adopt and participate in BACOG’s programs. As a group of regional governments, they can do more research and programming, and do it more cost-efficiently, than if each government acted independently. They do this on behalf of the residents of the entire region. BACOG’s programs benefit our government members with data, tools, advocacy and innovations, for instance, and some of 

BACOG’s programs directly benefit residents of the area such as BACOG’s private well water testing. Our recent project, the groundwater video for elementary school students, benefits children as well.

Q:  What sort of programs does BACOG offer to well owners/members in the community?

JA: BACOG offers private well water testing, a Level 1 program for bacteria and nitrates and a Level 2 program for natural water quality. We work in partnership with Lake County Health Department for Level 1, and with Illinois State Water Survey laboratory for Level 2. 

At each Level 1 event, we provide education in the form of resources, materials, and groundwater experts to answer questions to residents who participate. We also provide education through a presentation by experts at every water testing event, and from time-to-time at special groundwater programs for the public. During the year, BACOG provides educational materials to the public, both directly and through newsletter and website articles for our members to share. Materials are always available at events and the BACOG office about aquifers, groundwater, well and septic maintenance, bacteria in water systems, etc. BACOG has developed four brochures to date on water topics that are widely distributed. 

Our recent groundwater video project offers the video, a “Skype with a Scientist” session following the video viewing, and maps and materials for use in the classroom, including loan of a custom-built aquifer model (sand, gravel, water) for teachers to demonstrate in the classroom. The video includes information about wells, septic systems and aquifers.

Watch the video below:

Q:  What sort of outreach approaches does BACOG utilize and how are you doing that outreach?

JA: We advertise and promote our testing programs widely in the community, in press releases and articles that are sent to the news media, in newsletter articles and announcements that are used by our member governments in their publications and websites, and through cooperative local organizations and businesses distributing materials for us. 

BACOG has a Water Resources Committee that is comprised of representatives from every member government and from regional conservation organizations, and individuals who are interested and bring environmental/other expertise to the study of water. Their involvement provides another avenue for promotion of BACOG activities to their own residents, members and neighbors. 

The WRC also has six “member advisors” who are professionals primarily from the State Water and Geological Surveys, who provide advice to me as I develop new programs for our region. We share data collected here with the Surveys.

Q:  In your opinion, what type of program/outreach approach to well owners has been the most successful and why?

JA: When BACOG first unveiled its aquifer study and mapping project, community members were not as interested in the hydrogeology of the local groundwater source as they were in the region’s (and their own) groundwater quality. So I refocused our educational efforts to the questions we heard most, and that was the impetus for creating the private well water testing program. 

It has been a great success, and we attract 350-400 households to each test event and in the process share a great deal of information and materials about wells, septic systems, the local aquifers and hydrogeology, maintenance and repair, water quality and treatment systems, salting techniques, the BACOG water levels monitoring program, etc. We pique their interest with the testing, and we inundate them with education! 

I did a little analysis with Lake County Health Department last year, where we showed that BACOG-area residents were testing their well water at the county at a rate over 600% greater than before we started the BACOG program. I know that the fact that BACOG has provided the testing program, educational resources, promotion through the media and our governments, projects like the new video, and a consistent positive message about groundwater has made a big difference. People better understand the need to be informed about and protective of their own regional water resource.

Q:  Do you work with any local/state/federal partners and how have those partners helped BACOG’s goals and objectives?

JA: BACOG is fortunate to have worked with the Illinois State Water Survey, the Illinois State Geological Survey, and the U.S. Geological Survey in one capacity or another over the years. We also have worked with Lake County Health Department professional staff for information, educational assistance, input, speakers and partnership. We continue to work with a private hydrogeologist who was instrumental in designing programs and advising on water supply, quality and sustainability since 2001. 

  • Our hydrogeologist from KOT Environmental Consulting contributed many hours of work and advice to designing and creating the aquifer study and mapping project, the groundwater recharge map, and other groundwater programs.  
  • Lake County Health Department has been a tremendous resource (and WRC member) in providing statistical data, education, and other input to BACOG’s programs. 
  • The Surveys’ professional staff input and advice to our programs has been invaluable, and they have provided speakers for community events and to the Executive Board in support of BACOG projects. 
  • The ISGS developed 18 new monitoring wells in the BACOG area about 10 years ago with support and assistance from our staff and government members, and we now use those wells for annual water level measurements under our monitoring program. In years that BACOG could not take measurements in those wells, the USGS provided staff to do so.
  • The ISWS included wells in the BACOG area in its Kane County study, which provided a baseline of water levels for 2003. 
  • The partnership with ISWS for the BACOG Level 2 water quality testing makes our program credible, easy and affordable to residents, and the same is true of the Level 1 partnership with Lake County. 

Additionally, our WRC representatives from organizations such as Citizens for Conservation, the Barrington Area Development Council, the Garden Clubs Council, the Barrington Rotary, and companies such as Angel Water Inc. and Baxter Woodman Engineers have provided invaluable service and work in support of BACOG programs. A few of BACOG’s goals are: to better understand and inform the public about the shallow aquifer system, our primary source of water; to develop data-based information about aquifer water supply and quality; to provide tools and programs that will help protect groundwater supply and quality; and to help residents keep their private well water safe and clean.

Q:  What is the largest challenge for BACOG and how have you been addressing that challenge?

JA: Probably the biggest challenge is funding, which has not been available from state or federal sources for groundwater programs. BACOG programs have been entirely funded by our local government members. One recent exception is the granting of electronic equipment from USGS for three wells in the aquifer water level monitoring program. Other than this, all BACOG’s groundwater programs have been member-funded since inception of the initiative in 2001, despite best efforts to obtain outside grant funds. 

To learn more about BACOG's current and continuing efforts, you can visit their website at: 
BACOG (Barrington Area Council of Governments) 

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 


FAQ: "Water from a Public Water Supply versus a Private Well?"


What are the differences between getting water from a public water supply (PWS) versus from a private well?


The public water supply is regulated so that the water being served to their customers is safe to drink.  A private well is not regulated and as the well owner, it is their responsibility to make sure the water is safe to drink.

Water from a public water supply must be tested to ensure it meets the USEPA Safe Water Act Regulations. The water is sampled at regular intervals for priority contaminants as identified by the USEPA.  These harmful constituents all have maximum contaminant levels (MCL’s) that are allowed by law, so the public water supply can only serve water that is below the MCL’s for all of the priority contaminants.  The primary drinking water standards can be found here: A private well generally has no legal requirements for water quality, and in general most health professionals recommend that the water quality of a private well meet the MCL’s, but that is simply a suggestion.  There may be some sampling requirements when a property is sold that has a well, and when a new well is drilled, but there is no continuing requirement to maintain a specific water quality of a private well like there is for a PWS.

A public water supply is required to have a responsible operator in charge (ROIC) who has a legal responsibility to make sure the water is safe. They have a water operator’s license, which they obtained by passing an operators exam, and they have to maintain that license by taking continuing education classes as required by their state/ jurisdiction.  A private well owner is solely responsible for the maintenance and safety of their water supply.

The homeowner pays a fee for their water when they are hooked up to a PWS.  That fee, spread across all of the customers of the PWS, pays for the operator and their staff, sampling costs, maintenance costs to provide water to the home, and for any treatment needed to remove harmful contaminants to below the levels identified by the MCL’s.  For a homeowner with a private well, you are solely responsible for all costs related to testing, maintaining, and running your water system.

If you have a choice, we recommend hooking up to a PWS.  Having a professional overseeing the water you drink is generally safer, and you are sharing the costs with everyone else on the same PWS.  HUD and FHA loans require that you look to a PWS for water, if it is feasible, for just that reason.  It ensures a safe water supply that is regulated.  Many private well owners are so because they have no choice, there is no PWS nearby to hook onto.  That’s ok, there are 14 million private wells in use in the US, and the vast majority provide a safe, steady supply of water.  It just means that a private well owner has to be a responsible steward of their well and water supply.  They have to understand how their well works, how to maintain their well, and what steps are necessary to ensure a safe water supply. 

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.