Published on 05/05/97

Drinking Water Week: Georgians Have Much to Celebrate

May 4-10 is Drinking Water Week. And Georgians have plenty to celebrate.

"Each year we run 3,000 to 5,000 water samples through our labs from both private wells and municipal systems," said Tony Tyson, an engineer and water quality scientist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

"Our data suggests that the vast majority of Georgia's drinking water is safe," he said. "The things we find that exceed drinking water standards are usually iron, manganese and calcium. They cause staining and bad-tasting water. But they're not health threats."

Tyson said health-threatening problems appear "in fewer than 5 percent of the water samples we test."

Drinking Water Week organizers hope to make Georgians aware of this valuable resource.

"This is the fifth year we've celebrated Drinking Water Week in Georgia," said Paul Lad, an environmental specialist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division.

"This year we dropped 'national' from the title," Lad said. "We really want it to be an international effort."

Providing safe, clean drinking water is a year-round effort in Georgia. And it's paying off.

"Several state agencies have water quality programs like EPD's Adopt-a-Stream and Project Wild," said Lisa Ann Kelley, an extension pollution prevention specialist.

"One of our main programs is Farm*A*Syst," Kelley said. "It's aimed at helping farmers assess and control pollutants they may be in danger of adding to nearby water supplies."

The Georgia Farm Assessment System (Farm*A*Syst) is an interagency partnership. It tells farmers how to prevent pollution. And it gives them the means to do it.

"This self-assessment tool allows farmers to evaluate a range of possible contaminants around their farm," Kelley said. "And they can voluntarily revise their farming practices to prevent pollution."

Safe, clean drinking water isn't a concern just on farms, but to homeowners as well.

"In our testing, we sometimes find high nitrate levels," Tyson said. "And occasionally we find high lead content."

Most often, he said, the high-nitrate samples come from older, poorly built wells with a concentrated source nearby. The problem often stems from a livestock source or a septic tank too close to the well.

High lead levels, he said, are usually caused by corrosive water on older copper pipes. Before 1985, builders used lead solder on those pipes.

People's greatest worries about their water are rarely real dangers.

"Often people are concerned about farm pesticides, industrial chemicals or petroleum in water. But we rarely find those," Tyson said. "The only time we find those is when there has been an occurrence near the well.

"Rest assured," he said. "They rarely show up in ground water in Georgia, although they have shown up in other states."

Have you tested your well water lately? Do you think your plumbing may be contaminating your water? If so, Drinking Water Week is a good reminder to test your water.

The county Extension Service office is a good place to start. You'll find all you need there, said Wayne Jordan, head of the UGA Agricultural Services Laboratories.

"The county agent will advise you on how to collect the water for the testing sample," he said.

Homeowners who want drinking water tests can get a routine test for just $10.

"The routine household water test checks for minerals, common elements like iron and copper and water hardness. And it tells the acidity or alkalinity of the water," Jordan said. "On special request, we also can test for nitrate or lead for an additional charge."

The nitrate and lead tests can be costly. But they can be vital to your family's health. They're worth the money, Jordan said, if you have reason to suspect problems.

Many private labs in Georgia offer water testing. You can order a complete list from EPD.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.