Water Monitoring & Testing

Well Water Monitoring

Water monitoring and testing are both important to ensure that your private water sources are potable. Water monitoring is geared toward watching for changes in your water quality. Water testing is looking for specific contaminates.

Do not rely on one-time water tests to tell you if your water is safe to drink and use.  

  • One-time water tests conducted by labs can be expensive and will only give you a snapshot of your water quality at a specific moment. Remember that accidents and contamination can happen at any time.  
     

Monitor and record your water for conductivity in between targeted testing. For residents who live near certain types of shale development, such as well pads, impoundments, or landfills, EHP recommends testing conductivity weekly. 
 

  • Weekly use of a water quality monitor to track conductivity provides an inexpensive way of knowing if there are changes in your water and when it may be a good idea to perform additional testing.

    • Conductivity testing measures the ability of water to conduct electrical current. This testing can provide insight into the number of salts and minerals (total dissolved solids or TDS) in your water. Drastic changes in the level of conductivity could indicate that groundwater has been contaminated by highly saline water, such as produced water from fracking. 

  • Observe and record readings in a journal with the date and time the measurements were taken. By doing so, you will be able to see when changes occur. 

It is important to establish a baseline by monitoring and recording regularly for a couple of months so that you know what your conductivity and pH readings usually are.

Conductivity and pH meters can be found online by searching "water quality test kit pH conductivity." Some of these meters are inexpensive, and some perform both tests. Consult reviews before purchasing one.

 

Note that there are many similar products on the market. EHP does not endorse specific water test manufacturers or their products. Before purchasing any water testing device or kit, review the contaminants the kits test for to determine usefulness.

Tip: Measure and record the conductivity of the water in your toilet tank when the tank has refilled after flushing. Note that a water softener or other water treatment will cause periodic spikes in conductivity. This will be part of your baseline. Be aware of when your water treatment systems are operating and note how it affects your recorded measurements. 

Once a baseline is established, if a conductivity reading is 200 units (us/cm) above this baseline, then further testing should be performed.  

In addition to conductivity, you can also monitor your water for pH. Testing for pH measures the acidity level in water. The acidity of your groundwater should be relatively stable. Changes to the acidity level may indicate that contamination is occurring. 

Please note that conductivity and pH monitoring may not reflect all possible contamination and cannot identify which chemicals caused a change in readings. Therefore, EHP recommends performing the targeted tests listed in the Well Water Testing section of our website every six months. 

The following signs may also point to contamination: 

  • Changes in the taste, smell, or appearance of your water 

  • Foaming, bubbling, or spurting faucets 

  • Gritty, sandy material in your water 

  • Salty or metallic-tasting water 

  • Skin burns or rashes after bathing 

EHP recommends that you keep a record of monitoring results and keep copies of all tests performed. Any notes on perceived changes in water quality (e.g., taste, smell, clarity) and any health issues should also be recorded. 

Remember: If you see significant change in conductivity above your baseline or notice other distinct changes in your water, you should drink bottled water until you get your water tested for the chemicals noted in the Well Water Testing section below.

Well Water Testing

When you have a private water source such as a well, knowing the quality of your groundwater is important for protecting your health. Your well water should be tested often to ensure that it is clean and potable.  

If you live within 3 miles of a shale gas facility, EHP recommends you:

  • Perform a baseline test on your well water before oil and gas development starts (if possible). 

  • Test your well water every six months – see Water Resources section for testing options.  

  • Regularly monitor and record your well water conductivity as this will alert you to possible changes in your water quality. If your water monitoring indicates that your water quality is changing, that should prompt you to have your water tested. See Well Water Monitoring above.

How Are Water Tests Performed?

While homeowners can perform some water testing themselves, many tests require the use of a state-certified laboratory. Testing for contaminants like chloride, VOCs, and others mentioned below must be performed by a lab. Keep in mind that testing water through a lab can be expensive. Baseline tests alone can cost anywhere from $300 for basic testing to more than $1,000 for a larger range of tests. 

If you need to have testing done for regulatory or litigation purposes, you must use a laboratory certified by your state department of environmental protection to collect your sample and provide a full chain of custody. 

  • For Pennsylvania, the PA DEP provides a list of certified labs.  

  • For states other than Pennsylvania, click here to find your local environmental regulatory body and check the guidelines in your state. 

 

There are a variety of in-home, user-friendly water testing kits and devices. These can offer baseline measurements to monitor groundwater, so that abnormalities, such as potentially dangerous chemicals, can be detected and further testing can be performed. It is important to remember these devices should be used as a tool to get estimates of contaminant levels in your water, but they cannot be used for regulatory or litigation purposes. There are many similar products on the market. EHP does not endorse manufacturers or the products they sell. Before purchasing any water testing kit, review the contaminants the kit tests for to determine its usefulness and check for reviews of the kits online. 

Dr. John Stolz of Duquesne University is conducting a survey of water quality, specifically well and spring water accessed for household use, and any changes to that quality that may have occurred in the past few years. The goal is to map and test well and spring locations throughout Western Pennsylvania in an effort to identify sources and pathways of contamination.

The water test is free. This is not a certified lab. The analysis is for research purposes only but can inform you as to the quality of your water. For more information, contact John Stolz at stolz@duq.edu.