Well Water Testing with AWWA

On January 28th and 29th, the AWWA team and volunteers went back to school to test students’ well water at the Acton Elementary School and the Wakefield Paul School.

This time of year starts to get exciting again for team AWWA.  After a slow few months getting all our paperwork straight, planning for the coming year, meetings, and other office and desk related items, we get to get out and hit the schools.  On January 24th Program Manager Dustin Johnson showed up at Acton Elementary School for day one of “Well Water Testing with AWWA”, part of our groundwater curriculum for 7th graders.  This is the first of at least three days that an AWWA staff person is in the school working with the 7th grade.  On the 25th, Dustin spent the day with the Wakefield Paul School 7th graders.

This project is all about getting students a first hand experience at being real scientists.   Day one is dedicated to information.  Students received a bunch of info pertaining to groundwater, well water, contamination, and an intro to the upcoming testing day.  They then receive their test sample bottle and are told how to properly sample their water.  We leave the first day with a plan to return within a week to test samples.

Testing Day!

The following week we returned to the Acton Elementary (28th) and Wakefield Paul School (29th) for testing day.  Testing day requires several volunteers in order to make things run smoothly as there are six testing stations and a computer station to run.  AWWA would like to thank our volunteers up front: Sam Wilson (AWWA), Sally Soule (NHDES), Lisa Loosigian (NHDES), Barbara McMillian (NHDES), John Hraba (AWWA), Dave Cote (Acton 7th Grade Teacher), Gavin Kearns (Wakefield 7th Grade Teacher), and all other volunteers and classroom aides that help make this possible.

When students arrive to class there are six testing stations all set up to test for; pH, conductivity, hardness, chloride, iron, and nitrates.  Students grab their sample bottles and a data recording sheet and break up into small groups and begin testing their samples.

This project offers a great opportunity for the students and community.  Students get to be scientists adorning gloves and goggles, working with chemicals, recording data, and thinking about what is in the water they drink.  From this, there is also the opportunity for screening samples.  The tests run are not for anything too harmful, except nitrates, but if a test returns higher than normal results, the teacher will recommend to the family that they should have a full scale water test done.

After completing the six tests for their samples, the students enter data into a spreadsheet and use GPS to locate their homes.  This data and GPS information is then used to create distribution maps for analysis the following class.

Follow-up and Research

After an exciting day of testing and data gathering, AWWA takes the data and creates distribution maps for the students to use in their next class.  These maps are designed to give students an opportunity to analyze data, find trends, and explain why certain results appear (if possible).

Above is an example of the maps we provide the students for analysis.  This is the Acton data for chloride.  Chloride in well water is often sourced as sodium chloride and can be found in higher concentrations in the winter as we salt our roads.  This is a great example to how students use the data to make observations and develop hypotheses.  If they see a high concentration area, the question should be something along the lines of, “is there a main road or heavily salted road nearby?” or “is the salt shed next door?”.

Students spend a class period looking at these maps and developing some hypotheses.  They then begin to construct some sort of final project for their water testing.  This is left up to teachers and AWWA to hash out as time becomes a slightly limiting factor.  Presentations, brochures, posters, or infograms are all possible choices for final projects.

Other Parameters

As we mentioned earlier, the students also look at data from other water quality parameters.  They look at hardness which measures how much calcium and magnesium is in water.  Increased hardness levels can cause infrastructure issues as calcium and magnesium can calcify in pipes and clog them.  Homeowners must then replace all the pipes in their house, a costly task.

We tested for pH which is a standard water test for any water sample ever collected.  pH measures the acidity of the water and can help explain other chemistry in the water.  We also tested for conductivity.  Conductivity is a simple measure of the “stuff” or the ions in the water sample.  It doesn’t tell us specifically what is in the water, just that there is a lot or a little.  This test helps to support other findings.

We tested for iron in the water which is normally found in old houses or old towns with old infrastructure in the form of iron pipes.  Iron can be found naturally in bedrock at low and safe concentrations, but if your water looks brown and tastes like iron, you should consider checking your infrastructure.  Finally we tested for nitrates.  Nitrates are the only test we did where the results are extremely important.  Nitrates in your water can lead to a scenario where your blood is unable to absorb oxygen.  This is more common in small children and more so in infants.  This leads to blue baby syndrome and can be fatal.  Below left: a calcified pipe from hard water. Right: a rotting iron pipe that can lead to iron discharges into drinking water.

Currently, the Wakefield Paul School is working on their last bit of research and the development of a project.  Acton Elementary will be undergoing their research day next week.

All the students love coming in to see what’s in their water and even going through the testing to find out.  At AWWA we love this project for the same reason and it marks the kick off of our “AWWA in the Schools: Watershed Education for Future Community Leaders” program.  Stay tuned for more school programs as we launch into the 6th grades next month!

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