Rural San Luis Obispo County residents who rely on private wells as their primary source of drinking water may be unknowingly ingesting contaminants such as arsenic or nitrates, both of which can be bad for health.
Now, free testing is available through a pilot project for residents of areas where data show there may be high levels of arsenic or the water quality is unknown.
Residents in Paso Robles, Santa Margarita, California Valley, Arroyo Grande and the Huasna Road/Lopez Drive area are the first to be eligible for the program. Rural well-water drinkers in other parts of the county can apply and may receive testing if the program receives more money.
The project will collect and test water samples at no cost to the well user. Generally, water sample testing can run about $250. Results will be available in two to three weeks and will be added to a state database. The project also offers information on how to protect wells and what to do if a well is contaminated. It is coordinated by CivicSpark with San Luis Obispo County and the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Board.
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More than 3,000 people in San Luis Obispo County rely on wells for their drinking source and many may have never had their water tested, meaning what they are drinking wouldn’t pass tests for public systems.
The county only last year began requiring that water quality be tested when new wells are drilled.
“This project is important because rural residents are responsible for testing their own drinking water and subsequently may not be aware that their drinking water does not meet public health drinking water standards for common contaminants like arsenic and nitrate,” said Matthew Keeling, a senior water resources control engineer with the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
High levels of naturally occurring arsenic is known to be in water in some areas of the county, including outside the Arroyo Grande city limits, according to Leslie Terry, supervising environmental health specialist with the county.
“Arsenic sounds really scary, and it is,” Terry said. “It’s not like if you have a glass of water you croak, but long-term exposure can (have health implications).”
She said high levels of nitrates in water, which occur in areas of the county from agricultural activities, can have immediate impacts and are a risk for pregnant women and young babies.
For more information about the free drinking water well testing program, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 805-594-6163 or fill out an interest form found at https://sites.google.com/lgc.org/slodwtesting/home.