The Surface and Drinking Water Program provides surveillance of ground water and surface water conditions in La Plata County and San Juan County.
Water Quality Services
SJBPH is underway performing free water quality testing for residents of the Animas Valley who use a private well as their primary source of drinking water. This limited-availability testing includes testing for metals, nitrates, bacteria, and other possible contamination. If you live in the Animas Valley and use a private well, contact us for more information.
About Private Well Testing
Because of our local geology, a small but significant percentage of wells throughout La Plata and Archuleta Counties have issues with contamination from metals and other minerals. Because the federal Safe Drinking Water Act does not apply to private wells, the responsibility of ensuring that water from a private well is safe is the responsibility of the well owner.
San Juan Basin Public Health recommends, as does the State of Colorado, that every private well used for drinking water be tested once per year by a certified laboratory. Most of these tests involve the well user collecting a sample at a non-aerated, non-swiveling tap (like a bathtub) in lab-provided containers and mailing them to a laboratory for testing.
SJBPH also recommends that wells with no history of testing, and wells that are very old, be inspected visually to ensure that its construction is sound and that the surface around the well is kept clear of possible contaminating substances.
There is no “standard suite” of potential contaminants nor “standard annual test” for drinking water wells. Many laboratories offer a package that they recommend for annual testing, but these may differ from company to company. At a minimum, SJBPH recommends that your annual test order include nitrate, nitrite, and coliform bacteria testing. You should also test for anything that shows up as elevated in any tests performed historically.
If you have never tested your well before, or if its history is unclear, SJBPH recommends testing for the above substances plus arsenic, lead, fluoride, hardness, iron, manganese, pH, and total dissolved solids. In certain areas of southwest Colorado, including the Pine River Valley and the mesa tops between Durango and Bayfield, it may be a good idea to test for fluoride in your well annually.
An interactive list of certified laboratories can be found at https://www.colorado.gov/cdphe/dwlabs. Click “Analyte/Compound Name” to filter this list to include only the laboratories certified to test for the substance you are interested in.
SJBPH conducts regular monitoring of the Animas River system at six locations in collaboration with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. This includes frequent sampling of surface water and sediment to compare against established health standards, real-time monitoring of river conditions, and responding to changes in river water quality to protect agriculture, municipal use, and recreation.
Water Quality in Spring Runoff 2017
Colorado’s heavy winter snowpack has begun to melt, and river flows throughout the Animas River watershed are on the rise. Every spring, the Animas River experiences runoff that causes naturally occurring sediments to be transported downstream. Some of these sediments originate in the San Juan Mountains and are naturally high in certain heavy metals. This may cause the river to display a cloudy, turbid appearance or a change in color. This natural process occurs every spring and is closely monitored by San Juan Basin Public Health, San Juan County, the United States Geological Survey, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Public health officials, emergency managers, and the general public can view several indicators of river quality around the clock from the USGS site. Data indicate that this should be a normal spring runoff, and the public should see no impacts to human or environmental health from normal recreational use of the Animas River.
SJBPH reminds river users:
- It is always good public health practice to wash with soap and water after exposure to untreated river water or sediment.
- Closely supervise your children to ensure they don’t ingest large amounts of river water or sediment.
- Be sure to always properly treat water from any river or stream before using it for consumption.