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Free private well testing expands to three Oklahoma counties this summer, a dozen more in the fall

A closeup of Dr. Mansaray's hands in purple nitrile gloves. He holds a test strip in one hand and a plastic bottle of water in the other. On the lab bench in front of him is a small chemical jar that says "Aquachek/ Hach®/ Water Quality Test Strips for Nitrate & Nitrite/ 25 Test Strips/ Cat. 27454-25."
Kateleigh Mills
Dr. Abu Mansaray conducts a nitrate test during pilot experiments for the Oklahoma Well Owner Network.

The EPA regulates public water systems, but many people drinking from private wells don’t know much about their water. This summer, the Oklahoma Water Resources Center has partnered with OSU’s Rural Renewal Initiative to test wells in three counties in the southwest corner of the state.

These efforts are a continuation of the Oklahoma Well Owner Network program, which the Oklahoma Water Resources Center began this March. The free program tests private wells for nitrates, dissolved solids, arsenic, pH and harmful bacteria.

Rayna Ellison was one of the Oklahoma State University students who tested water during the pilot program. This summer, she’s overseeing testing in Greer, Tillman and Harmon counties.

“We don't know if people are actually having access to quality drinking water,” said Ellison. “So, it's crucial for people to know and for Oklahoma to know what their water quality is.”

The testing isn’t just for drinking water wells. Oklahomans can submit water samples from wells that are used for irrigation or livestock, or even wells that aren’t in use at all.

“Some of the people that have been participating in the pilot program wanted to see what their well quality was because they haven't been used in a while, or they were built a long time ago,” Ellison said.

The pilot tests they ran this spring helped them simplify their process. Now, collecting a sample for testing is as straightforward as rinsing a water bottle with well water a few times before filling it up.

Harmon County will collect samples this Saturday. Ellison’s team completed testing in Greer County at the end of June and in Tillman County earlier this week.

The Oklahoma Well Owner Network hopes to expand testing to a dozen more rural counties starting in the fall using a grant they received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Sierra Schupp of the Oklahoma Water Resources Center.

“We would love to make this an ongoing program over the years as we seek additional funding,” Schupp said.

In the meantime, Oklahomans who want to know more about how to test their well quality can contact their local county extension office.

“The Soil, Water and Forage Analytical Laboratory in Stillwater and the extension offices are really good about sending their samples off and trying to get results back to the people as soon as possible,” Ellison said.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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