Rural home in Chelan County, Washington, where Free Drinking Water Well Assessment took place.

Where: Chelan County, Washington

Problem: Rural homeowners often rely on private water supplies for their drinking water, such as those from wells on small lots adjacent to farms and fields. Well owners are responsible for ensuring that the supply is adequate and safe.

Solution: Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) provided a free site inspection, education and water quality test to a small family.

Located in the foothills of central Washington’s Cascade Mountains, Chelan County is famous for its Bavarian-themed tourist attractions and agricultural production. Unincorporated residents must often rely on private water supplies, such as those from wells on small lots near agriculture fields, for their drinking water.

A married couple, both of whom work at a local hospital, had just welcomed their first child together. The family’s home was built in 1932 and lies just beyond Leavenworth city limits in a gully nestled adjacent to apple and pear orchards, both organic and inorganic.

The father grew concerned about his well water quality after he detected elevated nitrate levels using a consumer-grade aquarium test strip kit. A subsequent test by a local water testing service also detected nitrate concentrations. The family worried that their infant child, who already suffered from a congenital heart defect, could potentially ingest nitrate from the well water. The parents were aware that ingesting drinking water with high nitrate concentration could pose severe and possibly fatal risks, such as methemoglobinemia or “Blue Baby Syndrome,” a condition that interferes with oxygen transport in infants’ blood. The family began to drink and cook with bottled water exclusively.

After he attempted to contact local well service businesses for a solution, to no avail, the father scoured the web for other solutions. He eventually learned about Rural Community Assistance Corporation’s (RCAC) Free Drinking Water Well Assessment provided through the Individual Well Program. Since 2016, RCAC has provided education and training to well owners in the rural West to help them maintain their wells as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) “Improving Water Quality through Training & Technical Assistance to Private Well Owners” Project.

RCAC Rural Development Specialist Miles Rinne arrived in Chelan in December 2021 to conduct the private well assessment. The site inspection began with an examination of well construction and maintenance, a discussion with the homeowners regarding potential contamination sources and an analysis of the well’s geological characteristics. The assessment also included a 120Water testing kit that provides test results for total alkalinity, arsenic, calcium, hardness, e. coli, fluoride, iron, nitrate, sulfate and coliform. The test was provided free of charge thanks to a partnership between RCAP and 120Water to provide innovative cloud-based software and digital sampling kits for water safety, compliance and wastewater monitoring programs across rural America.

The 120Water test verified that nitrate concentrations exceeded the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 milligrams per liter. Rinne and the homeowners suspect that nearby agriculture fields – which require large amounts of inputs such as fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides – may be the source of nitrate contamination. However, it remains uncertain that present agricultural use is at fault in a region where apple orchards have been prevalent for over a century.

The family opted to have a reverse osmosis water filter installed by a local well-drilling service following a discussion of treatment options. They remain impressed by the level of service RCAC provided and recommend the Free Drinking Water Well Assessment to friends, coworkers and neighbors at every opportunity.