The Dubuque County Health Department hopes to spread the word and soothe any fears about the free well-water-quality testing program it has offered in recent years.
Through the program, the department’s environmental health specialist, Collin Dolphin, collects water samples from any private well in the county to test for E. coli, coliform bacteria, nitrates and arsenic. Dolphin recently shared an update on the program with the county Board of Health.
“All of these are free to the customer. (Landowners) don’t have to do anything,” Dolphin said. “We let them know right away. The biggest barrier is just getting the word out.”
Not knowing if one’s well is contaminated can lead to health problems in the short and long term, hence the program’s placement under the health department.
Another concern among property owners, however, has been what to do once they get their results.
“We’ve had people in the past who have refused free water testing because they are afraid that if the test comes back and their water is not good, what the cost would be,” Health Department Executive Director Patrice Lambert said. “They’re fearful that there will be a repercussion if they don’t correct the problem. We want them to correct the problem, but we’re not going to go to the law or anything.”
If an owner does use a simple fix, there is
money in the state Grants to Counties Program to cover some of those — up to $300 for shocking or chlorinating a well. But only two property owners have chosen to take advantage of that so far this calendar year.
Those are some issues the department wants to correct through an education campaign. Shocking or chlorinating a well does not permanently solve a contamination problem, however. More permanent mitigation strategies also come with a higher price tag, not covered in the specific program that funds the well testing.
“If there is no money available for them to get it taken care of, they might not want to do it,” Dubuque County Board of Health Member Diane Pape-Freiburger said after hearing from Dolphin.
She proposed a possible county fund to finance such major mitigation projects, such as well reconstructions.
Lambert said that idea could make a huge difference.
“If people through the Grants for Counties or other routine water tests, if they could not financially solve the problem alone, it would be wonderful to be able to tell that family or homeowner that we could help them,” she said. “We will request some dollars to assist those homeowners who can’t afford to fix a crack in their well or what-have-you.”
During the pandemic, landowners also have been more hesitant to allow county staff on their property to test their well water, even if from an outside spigot. Lambert expects those hesitations to soon ease.
Dubuque County residents interested in a free well water test can call 563-557-7396.