So far in our Wine Country and Horses country property series we have discussed well testing, county regulations for new home construction in water scarce areas, and how much water is enough when it comes to the production of your well. Last but not least is the quality of the water being pumped out of the ground. Most newer wells pump from pretty deep under the ground–some old wells are only 80-100 feet deep abut I have heard of wells in Bennett Valley vineyards for example that are 700 feet deep. Contrast that with old hand-dug wells that still exist in a few spots in Sonoma County.
You would think that since the water source is from deep undergroung it typically is not contaminated by surface bacteria and pathogens, and you might be right. However the well seal could have been compromised or somehow surface water pathogens can contaminate your well water. After the rainy season it is very possible that your well could be tainted with coliform bacteria. Fortunately that is easy to treat by “shocking” the well with chlorine bleach. But you might never know that the contamination exists without testing. Bacterial complication is not something to panic about, as it is easily treatable. I once saw buyers pull out of a country property purchase since coliform bacteria was found in the water. It was unfortunate for them and for the seller. The buyers’ agent had little country property experience. She could have arranged for the well inspector to talk to the buyers. Maybe they could have had their fears assuaged and gone through with the purchase. Who knows? Some people may not be cut out to buy country property.
What else should you test for besides bacteria? Most wells here offer water with a very high mineral content, typically lots of iron and or manganese. It is helpful to know what the mineral concentration is. So what are some of the items we test for?
Besides bacteria and mineral content, there are other frequently found metals or contaminants found in our water. The well inspector will help you as a buyer determine what to test for. Commonly arsenic (which percolates from rocks in the soil layers) and nitrates (from decades of agriculture and chicken farming) are seen in our water. Fortunately water purification treatment systems can adjust for most of these items. It is important that water sampling be done directly from the well and, if there is a water treatment system, after that system so that you can determine if it is doing its job.
In certain areas of Sonoma County boron is a concern. Boron and grape vines do not get along. Parts of the Chalk Hill and Lytton Springs area of Healdsburg have high concentrations of boron in the water. If you want to plant grapes, you will definitely want to test for boron. If you are doing some serious vineyard planting, you will want to do much more elaborate water (and for that matter soils) testing than we are discussing here.
For more detailed information on Sonoma County wells and water quality, the Sonoma County Department of Health Services has a number of links and documents here.
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