The program provides testing and clean water to Turlockers affected by contaminated wells

A new state grant will help more Turlock residents affected by well water contamination.

The Valley Water Collaborative, a local organization of farmers, businesses and cities, has been offering free well testing to rural residents since May 2021. Thanks to a new $5.5 million grant from the State Water Resources Control Board and its SAFER/Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, VWC now offers more comprehensive water testing and expanded options for dealing with contaminated wells.

“When we started this program in May 2021, we only tested the wells for nitrate contamination,” said VWC chief executive Parry Klassen. “Although nitrate is a common pollutant in rural wells, residents should be aware that other potential contaminants, such as arsenic and pesticides, are found in private wells.

“This new partnership with the state allows us to test domestic wells for other potential contaminants that were previously not covered by our program. When a problem with other contaminants is identified in the water supply of a disadvantaged household or households in disadvantaged communities, we can now provide a water treatment or filtering option to ensure people have access to clean drinking water.

The $5.5 million grant also opens the door to a greater choice of safe water. Prior to the subsidy, VWC provided free bottled water to eligible residents when nitrate was identified as a problem. The newly expanded program opens the door to other alternatives, such as home treatment systems, which have proven effective with contaminants found in the region, including arsenic, 1,2,3-TCP and DBCP, among others.

Free testing of potable water wells located in semi-rural areas surrounding the towns of the Modesto and Turlock groundwater basins is offered by the Valley Water Collaborative.

Since VWC launched its nitrate testing program in May 2021, over 600 requests have been received for free testing of drinking water wells located in semi-rural areas surrounding cities in the Modesto and Turlock groundwater basins. In Turlock specifically, there were 339 applications, a total of 159 sampled wells, with 113 households receiving bottled drinking water.

Unlike cities whose public water systems are run to rigorous sampling and health standards, private domestic wells are largely unregulated and rely on landowners to ensure the water is safe to drink. Since public water systems provide safe water, homes connected to these systems are not eligible for the program.

As the expanded program rolls out in mid-March, VWC will notify its 200 existing water beneficiaries that their wells can be tested for other contaminants free of charge. Also, previous program applicants whose wells have been tested below the nitrate standard.

Rural residents who rely on private wells for drinking water and want to learn more about the program and apply can visit VWC’s website at www.valleywaterc.org.

Ryan H. Bowman