Testing the water
The cloudy, amber liquid in a clear, plastic bottle looked more like urine than potable water, but it was drawn from a private well used by somebody’s family for bathing and drinking.
The well, situated in an undisclosed location, is just one of the thousands of water sources in 18 counties routinely tested by the Mesa County Health Department Regional Lab, health officials said last week.
Water may come from as far away as Utah to be tested at the Mesa County lab, officials said.
The cloudy liquid on display Wednesday tested positive for coliform, a bacteria more likely to show up in excess amounts in private wells than in public water sources, said Michelle Colon, who manages the water testing program.
The chemical agent used to test the water is what turned it cloudy and yellow, indicating the presence of coliform, Colon said.
As summer nears and outdoor pools and beaches open for the season, Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week reminds swimmers and pool and spa operators to make sure the water in which they and their guests bathe is healthy and safe, health officials said.
National Drinking Water Week, which wrapped up May 10, was another reason the county decided to advertise its water-testing services, officials said.
The county will test any water source, public or private, for a broad range of illness-causing germs at a reasonable charge of $35 or less depending on the type of test, Colon said.
Coliform is one of four categories of pathogens for which the lab will test. Together, these pathogens can be the source of a variety of serious ailments, including diarrhea, and infections of the skin, ears, lungs, eyes, and nervous system, Colon said.
In addition to coliform, the lab tests water for the presence of E. coli, heterotrophic plates and pseudomonas, she said.
E. coli bacteria normally lives in the lower intestines of healthy people and animals. Ingestion of pathogenic strains of E. coli cause disease, health officials said.
The county routinely tests public bathing areas like Island Acres State Park, where E. coli can rise to dangerous levels due to heavy use, though this is a rare occurrence at the park, Colon said.
Heterotrophic plates include certain types of bacteria, yeasts and molds which can be detrimental to human health, according to public health records.
Pseudomonas bacteria can be found naturally in the ground and within drinking water sources such as aquifers, the records said.
Conventional drinking water treatment systems can remove or inactivate pseudomonas bacteria, but they may continue to multiply and can cause negative health effects in humans under certain conditions, according to the records.
The Mesa County lab analyzed more than 4,000 water samples last year, but does not track the percentage of samples that contain pathogens in excess of healthy limits, Colon said.
Samples from public sources rarely contain pathogens in excess of the limit, but sometimes do test positive, as was the case in Fruita and Clifton in recent years, she said.
In the case of private wells, the source of contaminants often turns out to be a dead animal that has fallen into a cistern, Colon said.
The lab does not currently have the capability to test for minerals like arsenic or for radioactivity, she said.
Whether public or private, whenever a water sample tests positive for infection, the person or entity in control of the water source is immediately notified that maintenance is required, Colon said.
Water sample drop-off hours are Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the lab, which is situated on the south side of the first floor of the Health and Human Services Building, 510 29 1/2 Road.
Water testing for coliforms other than E. coli is $20. The test for E. coli is $22. The full schedule of fees, including instructions on how to collect and submit a water sample, are available at health.mesacounty.us/lab.