Kansans who drink water from the public water supply can count on that water being tested for contaminants. The EPA regulates more than 90 different contaminants in public drinking water, and water treatment facilities around the state ensure our drinking water is safe.

The estimated 150,000 Kansans who get water from private wells, however, receive no such protection.

Private well owners are expected to test their own well water, but many do not. New data on well water quality points to the need for more education and resources to encourage well owners to test.

A group of researchers from Kansas State University and the University of Kansas worked alongside groundwater treatment professionals to study the quality of groundwater and water from private wells. Their recently released data shows cause for concern, finding nitrogen levels above standards in seven of the 22 wells tested. High nitrogen levels in drinking water can cause serious health problems for adults and children. Groundwater can also contain radon, arsenic, bacteria, and other contaminants, many of which are odorless, tasteless and may not show negative health effects until years of being accumulated in the body.

“Water quality has decreased considerably over the past 40 years,” said the researchers, “primarily because of fertilizer use, but that groundwater mixing, evapotranspiration, and potentially animal waste inputs also affected groundwater chemistry.”

Expense, inconvenience and lack of information are all commonly cited as reasons private well owners fail to test. Testing well water, which is recommended annually, ranges from $20 to $150 depending on the number of contaminants the well owner is testing for.

We are not convinced that more regulation is needed, although it is worth a more careful look given the public health implications of the problem. It would be helpful to have more resources available to offset the costs of testing and fixing problems the test may discover for low-income Kansans. Income should never be a barrier to safe drinking water.

In addition, a statewide education effort to help Kansans know when and how they need to test their water would be a wise move. Kansans want to drink safe water. Busy rural families would almost certainly benefit from reminders and information that make it simpler to conduct annual tests.

Well owners wanting to take the wise step of testing their wells annually may visit wellowner.org, a project of the National Groundwater Association. The website can connect well owners to contractors who can test their wells and shares information on interpreting test results and fixing problems.

Every Kansan deserves healthy, safe drinking water, no matter the source.