Water Testing

  When should I get my water tested and what should I test for?

Test if...
• Your well does not meet construction codes.
• The area around the wellhead has been flooded or submerged.
• Back-siphoning has occurred.
• You have mixed or used pesticides near the well, or have spilled pesticides or fuel near the well.
• You have a heating oil tank or underground fuel tank near the well that you know has leaked.
• You are pregnant, are planning a pregnancy, or have an infant less than 6 months old.
• Your septic system absorption field, or your neighbor's, is close to the well (within 100 feet).

Test annually for:
• Nitrates
• Coliform Bacteria

Testing for fecal coliform and/or total bacteria is a good place to start.  Depending on the results of that test, you may be advised to test for other contaminants such as metals, sediment, or organic pollutants.  A presence of live coliforms in your water is an indication that there is surface water entering your drinking water. There will likely be other pollutants in your water as well.

 Another common starting test for drinking water is nitrates. A value higher than 10 ppm (mg/L) can threaten your health especially if you are pregnant or nursing, and can threaten the health of infants.  A presence of nitrates in your water indicates surface water contamination of your drinking water.

If your water has specific symptoms and you would like to figure out what to test for check the table below or view North Dakota State University Water Quality Extension's page, What's Wrong With My Water?.

For more information about managing your well or to take a free class about private wells check out The Private Well Class.

Conditions or Nearby Activities:

Test for:

Recurring gastro-intestinal illness

Coliform bacteria

Household plumbing contains lead

pH, lead, copper

Radon in indoor air or region is radon rich


Corrosion of pipes, plumbing

Corrosion, pH, lead

Nearby areas of intensive agriculture

Nitrate, pesticides, coliform bacteria

Coal or other mining operations nearby

Metals, pH, corrosion

Gas drilling operations nearby

Chloride, sodium, barium, strontium

Dump, junkyard, landfill, factory, gas station, or dry-cleaning operation nearby

Volatile organic compounds, total dissolved solids, pH, sulfate, chloride, metals

Odor of gasoline or fuel oil, and near gas station or buried fuel tanks

Volatile organic compounds

Objectionable taste or smell

Hydrogen sulfide, corrosion, metals

Stained plumbing fixtures, laundry

Iron, copper, manganese

Salty taste and seawater, or a heavily salted roadway nearby

Chloride, total dissolved solids, sodium

Scaly residues, soaps don’t lather


Rapid wear of water treatment equipment

pH, corrosion

Water softener needed to treat hardness

Manganese, iron

Water appears cloudy, frothy, or colored

Color, detergents


What are some common drinking water pollutants?

(for more information on E. coli specifically click here)
Nitrate Drinking Water Treatment Systems

How do I collect a sample?

  • First, call a lab near you that is certified for the test you need for sample containers and procedures. (See next section.)
  • Use the appropriate container for the type of sample.
  • Store the sample carefully according to the instructions before taking it to the lab.
  • If you receive a container from the lab for a bacterial test, do not rinse it out. It has been sterilized and contains a preservative.
  • Some samples must be kept cool and delivered to the lab within a short period of time (often less than 24 hours) or they will not be analyzed.

    A poorly collected sample wastes your money and is worse than no sample at all. 

Where do I get the water analyzed?

  • Visit this website to find certified labs near you. 
  • Not all certified labs will be able to test for the specific substances you are wanting tested or are close by. Follow these steps for best results at the site hyperlinked above:

                       1.) Click "Search"

                       2.) Select "Lab Location By State" in the third dropdown.

                       3.) Select "Yes" from the dropdown that says "Is active" 

                       4.) Select "Drinking Water" from the dropdown that says "Matrix"

                       5.) Select the analyte from the last dropdown and find the item(s) of interest. To test for E. coli,                                             select "Escherichia coli" or for Nitrate levels-- you would select "nitrate as N" 

                       6.) Click "Search"

             7.) Click on a lab to find their contact information. 

  • Check with the lab before you do the test or collect the sample to make sure you have all the necessary information and the proper collection methods. Send in your sample according to the lab's specific directions.  

How do I interpret the results?  What do they mean?

  • Find out what the results mean using USU's online interpretation tool.
  • Compare your results to the Utah drinking water standards.
  • Look at the EPA's ground water and drinking water web page for more information.
  • If any values exceed the standards, DO NOT DRINK THE WATER!
  • Re-test if bacteria, nitrate or organic parameters exceed the standards.
  • If concentrations are increasing between sampling, try to determine and mitigate the sources of pollutants. 

More Information