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July 15, 2014 | 12:09 PM
LINN — A program to test private well water in the town of Linn is drawing more participation than expected, according to Ted Peters, director of the Town of Linn Sanitary District.

Peters said the project, planned last winter, projected about 200 participants. Since the program started in mid-June, more than 350 town of Linn residents from both sides of Geneva Lake have asked to have their water tested, he said in a recent interview.

And requests are still coming in at about two per week, Peters said.

The town has about 1,800 residences, all on private wells and sanitary systems.

Peters said he suspects part of the reason for the higher-than-expected participation is that the price is right.

The district is charging $10 per water test for tests that normally cost $40 each, Peters said.

Testing will run “well into August,” and no pun intended, he said.

The program is a partnership involving the sanitary district, the Walworth County Department of Public Health, the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency and George Williams College.

About $27,590 was allocated to the project, with some coming from the district, along with grants through the county and the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, he said.

George Williams College is also assisting with the program, he said.

An Area Health Education Center grant is covering the cost of two of the interns, Peters said.

The testing is done by summer interns working for the Walworth County Department of Public Health.

The tests are for nitrates and coliform and E. coli bacteria, Peters said.

The testers also do a field test for arsenic if the wells are 175 feet or more deep.

The field tests are not as precise as laboratory testing, Peters said. But if the arsenic test shows the poisonous heavy metal at more than the recommended 10 parts per billion, the resident owing the well will be urged to have the water retested at a lab, he said.

The water samples are sent to Walworth County Department of Public Health’s new laboratory, Peters said.

Joining county public health and the sanitary district with paying for the program is the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency.

Peters acknowledged that there were “some questions” about the GLEA’s focus on the the Linn Sanitary District. He also acknowledged that he’s the director of the GLEA as well as the Linn sanitary district.

However, the results of the water tests will have interest to the GLEA as well as individual homeowners, Peters said.

Town of Linn, which straddles Geneva Lake, accounts for more than 60 percent of the lake shoreline, Peters said. Homeowners draw their water from wells at different depths and drawing from different aquifers, he said.

In addition to cluing residents in on the quality of their drinking water, the testing will also give the GLEA a handle on ground water quality around the lake, Peters said.’

He said Geneva Lake receives an inflow of groundwater. The lake’s water quality to some degree is tied to groundwater quality.

(Geneva Lake also receives a significant quantity of its water through precipitation and a lesser amount from natural springs.)

Doing water quality monitoring this way serves a variety of purposes and it costs less than installing monitoring wells, which would be an expensive and time consuming process, Peters said.

A UW—Milwaukee professor is currently developing a map of groundwater quality around the lake. He wants to tie into the data collected by the current program, Peters said.

“I can see us in the future with this data doing mapping of groundwater quality,” Peters said.

The data will be analyzed for regional results, he said. Names of persons who participate in the testing are confidential.

Esther Sharp, one of the testers, said the homeowners call to apply for testing. The homeowners are called before the testers are sent to make sure someone is at home when the testers arrive.

So far, there’s been just one messup in arranging testing times, Peters said.

It takes about 20 minutes to do the tests, Sharp said.

The distribution of those requesting the water testing is divided pretty evenly between the north and south sides of the lake, Peters said.

If tests results show high levels of bacteria or nitrates, the lab called Peters immediately. Peters then notifies residents of the results.

There are three alternatives:

- Retest to make sure the results are genuine and not the result of lab error or a contaminated sample.

- Chlorinate the entire water system (if the bacterial count is high.)

- Install a treatment system for nitrates, if they are high.

Residents also have the option of doing nothing, said Peters. There are no state or local requirements that owners of private wells have to test their drinking water.

However, Peters said he’s trying to convince more and more town of Linn residents to test their well water annually for their own safety and peace of mind.

All residents whose water is tested will receive the written results from the laboratory, along with a sheet explaining what the results mean, Peters said.

“What we’ve found is that a lot of people have bottled water,” Peters said.

Many of the residences are seasonal, and the owners are from the Chicago area. They don’t like the taste of well water and they drink bottled water instead, he said.

However, they do use the well water for bathing and washing clothes and dishes.

Those who apply for the tests are mailed a packet of information about water quality and what the tests are intended to measure, Peters said.

Intern testers from the county health department are Sharp, Nicole Georgalas, Kirsta Hoffman and Lindsay Mikrut.

Peters said the Linn Sanitary District did some arsenic testing in the town in 2002. In 2011, also did some well testing. The plan was to teach residents how to test their own water.

It didn’t go over well, Peters said. Only about 60 residents participated, and they had to pay to be a part of the program, he said.

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