HELENA – Flood waters have the potential to introduce bacteria into ground wells and contaminate drinking water.
According to Harry Howell, lab manager for Alpine Analytical in Helena, those with wells in flooded areas should consider getting their water tested. Howell said fecal contamination is the biggest risk in flooded areas. His company, Alpine Analytical, is one of three labs in Helena that can test for coliform bacteria, like E. coli.
An inexpensive coliform test will detect the harmful bacteria and results can come back within 24 hours.
According to Howell, the water samples must be gathered within at least 30 hours before being delivered to the lab, however, and must be collected in a sterile bottle. Howell also advised to wait for waters to recede before taking samples.
“I wouldn’t test until the flood water has gone down. It’s just going to continue. Your chance of getting more is there. But once your flood waters have receded, then test it,” Howell said.
Once received, the water samples must incubate in a lab for 18 hours. Normally, Alpine Analytical charges an extra fee for samples submitted on a Friday because they must be tested on the weekend. However, Howell said his company is waving that fee for flood victims.
If your well is flooded, it’s best not to drink water from it.
“If you have to drink it, boil it first,” Howell said.
Information provided by Lewis and Clark Public Health says wells can be contaminated even if there is no visible damage or the well head is not visibly underwater.
“It’s best to just get it tested and find out for sure,” Howell said.
Howell says since the flooding began last month, they’ve seen an uptick in the amount of people getting their well water tested.
Energy Laboratories and the State of Montana Public Health Laboratory also provide water testing services.
If you have questions about well water safety, you can contact the Lewis and Clark County Water Quality Protection District at 457-8927 or the Environmental Services Division of Lewis and Clark Public Health at 447-8351.