Will a water analysis give all the answers?

I have done the research, done the legwork and spent the money to bore a well that will hopefully give me the water security I desire.  But as it is known that all water is not created equal, I wonder how my water will compare to the provincial  averages.  The only way to know for certain is to do a water analysis by a water testing service.  

Drilling the well

Making the decision to proceed with drilling a water well was not something that I decided upon over night.  As I explored in Water - The journey from sandpoint, dugouts and water tanks to a well I have utilized and researched a number of options and ultimately decided that a water well would be the best for my situation.  And with this decision, so started the sequential journey to have the well drilled and ultimately ending with water coming into the house taps with  Wiring the well pump and water analysis. The next step to water security..  But from the first time using the water I knew there was a problem.

The water was a nice orange color when poured into a clear glass with water spots and a hard water film forming on everything.  And when I took a bath, you could certainly tell that the water was full of iron and hard.  But despite the subpar water quality I decided to use the water for about a month to ensure that the well was producing water that would be as close to normal as possible.  After that month, being the water quality did not change and knowing that to be able to buy a water filtration system of some sort to clean up the water I would need a water analysis of some sort, I took a water sample into my local plumbing shop and waited for the results. But when they came back to me that they were unable to test the water I got concerned.  Something told me that this was going to be expensive.

Water Analysis

But regardless of the concern, I knew that I would be unable to proceed with anything until I knew what I had. A water sample was submitted to the Saskatchewan Research Council, Environmental Analytical Laboratories and on February 1, 2022 I got the results.  Although the well drilling contractor who drilled the test hole, as I explored in A Test well - The next step to Water security, had informed me that the water was hard and contained iron, it did not prepare me for the result I would get from the Saskatchewan Research Council.

Not totally understanding what the results meant, I called a local company in the city that has supplied many a home with water filtration systems.  They instructed me to bring in a water sample for them to test despite my Saskatchewan Research Council results in hand.  After testing the water I brought and comparing to the water analysis results from the Saskatchewan Research Council, I was informed by the owner that my only option was to drill a new well.  Asking him to explain himself, he told me that the levels of iron in the water combined with the other minerals that were in the water would make it impossible to do anything with the water.  And that. the hardness of the water prohibited any type of treatment.  Having just spent $16,824.99 (Canadian dollars) pretax to be told that I needed to drill a new well was the last thing I needed to hear and so I left the business feeling very angry, frustrated and defeated.

Not wanting to admit defeat I went to the other company that had initially attempted to test the well water.  Looking at my test results from the Saskatchewan Research Council, all they could find was problems.  I had to point out that the good news is that I have no nitrates.  They let out a little chuckle and continued to point out the problems such as, the hardness of the water was such that I would need excessive amounts of softener salt, the iron levels were off the charts to anything that they had seen and the levels of sulfates were to a level that could be dangerous to animals if consumed, to name just a few of the problems.  All I could think of was that I had just spent a pile of money to dig a hole in the ground that was absolutely useless.  But despite the poor diagnosis, they offered to take the water sample I had brought and try a few things. I agreed stating that I did  not need perfect water but rather, it need only be useable.  I left there feeling very defeated and frustrated with continuous thoughts of trying to answer the question, what was I going to do now?.

Water Analysis Results

Although the feeling of defeat and frustration was strong on the drive home, I decided that I needed to research what the water analysis meant and what the possibilities were before I took the drastic step of of filling in the water well I had just had drilled in Well, it's a well. The next step to water security..  With water analysis results in hand, I started researching.Water analysis - results of the water  from water well drilling

Although the water analysis came with a Water Quality Package that generally explained what everything on the water analysis report meant, the final company I visited explained that bicarbonates, hardness, iron, sulfates and manganese were going to be the hardest ones to deal with. But why?

Water Analysis results - Bicarbonates

As the presentation Understanding the Potential Problem with High Bicarbonates in Irrigation Water from the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center points out, bicarbonates with greater than 600 ppm (600 mg/l or milligram per litre) are considered severe and contribute to the alkalinity of the water when combined with hydroxides and chlorides.  This alkalinity will ultimately affect the nutrient uptake by plants but will also cause particulates to plug up equipment.  With bicarbonate levels in my water of 1390 mg/l, the water is definitely in the severe category.  And therefore not surprisingly, the total alkalinity of 1140 mg/l exceeds the 500 mg/l Saskatchewan Municipal Aesthetic objective and would need to be lowered in order to ensure proper function of any water filtration system or water treatment system.  Not only will the bicarbonate plug up equipment, but its affect on pH will prevent the removal of other undesirable elements such as iron.  As identified in the article Decarbonation the Removal of CO2 from Water, "treating high purity water often requires a lower pH of 4.5 because of the requirements to remove all solids like iron from the water."  and further goes on to say that "The bicarbonate must be removed because it along with the converted hydrogen gas that forms hydronium ions decreases resistivity in the water. If the water to be treated has a high alkalinity it will yield a high amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) during treatment as it passes through a cation filter."  For a naturally occurring component of mineral waters it certainly causes problems.

Water Analysis Results - Total Hardness

The hardness of water is determined by the levels of calcium and magnesium in the water and although total hardness is not a health risk as identified in the Healthline article Hard Water vs. Soft Water: Which One Is Healthier?, hard water can contribute to dry skin and hair.  The article further states that "the minerals in hard water can also change the pH balance of your skin, weakening it as a barrier against harmful bacteria and infections."  But more immediately noticeable is the effectiveness of detergents and soaps.  As identified in the article Hardness of Water, "In hard water, soap reacts with the calcium (which is relatively high in hard water) to form "soap scum". When using hard water, more soap or detergent is needed to get things clean, be it your hands, hair, or your laundry." and further goes on to state that "When hard water is heated, such as in a home water heater, solid deposits of calcium carbonate can form. This scale can reduce the life of equipment, raise the costs of heating the water, lower the efficiency of electric water heaters, and clog pipes."  

So with hardness of my water being 2370 mg/l or 138.5 grains per gallon(gpg), it falls into the extremely hard category of any publication and certainly exceeds the Saskatchewan Municipal Aesthetic Objective of 800 mg/l (47 gpg)  Although the article Understanding the soft water process states that "The most effective way to address hard water is with a water softener. Water is softened when calcium and magnesium—the hardness ions—are collected by tiny resin beads through a process called ion exchange. The resin beads are charged with sodium or potassium ions.", the company I spoke to was clear that the size of water softener I would need  would be very large and the amount of salt I would use would be excessive.  And that at the end of it, the water would not be soft.  I was able to confirm this with an online calculator that even using the highest grains per gallon of 100 gpg (mine is 138 gpg) and total iron of 10 mg/l (mine is 15.5 mg/l), I would need the biggest softener possible at 80,000 grain capacity.  

Although magnesium and calcium will pair together to affect the total hardness, magnesium on its own can produce a laxative affect on its own if present in excess according to the article Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality: Supporting Documents – Magnesium.  However, although my water may exceed the aesthetic objective of 200 mg/l at 355 mg/l, the fore-mentioned report indicates that the body will adapt to the increased levels.

Water Analysis Results - Iron

The amount of iron in my water is extreme by all standards and is very visible when you look at the water through a clear glass.Water analysis - iron levels in water

As per the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality: Guideline Technical Document – Iron although ingestion of high quantities of iron, even through water, can cause some health issues, the main concern for me is the destructive properties of iron in the house and around the homestead.  With my old 60,000 grain water softener I was able to deal with the iron from the ground water but at 15.5 mg/l of iron, 15.2 mg/l higher than the Aesthetic Objective, this is higher than I have dealt with before and water softener companies state that water softeners will not work long term to remove these levels.  Iron, combined with all the other elements in my water, is tough and as stated in the article "At concentrations above 0.3 mg/L, iron can stain laundry and plumbing fixtures and produce undesirable tastes in beverages. The precipitation of excessive iron imparts an objectionable reddish-brown colour to water. Iron may also promote the growth of certain micro-organisms, leading to the deposition of a slimy coating in water distribution pipes.". 

Although bleach, hydrogen peroxide and oxygen will allow the iron to precipitate out as shown by this picture of the water treated with bleach, to treat a large amount of water necessary for house and homestead use would require large volume water storage and somewhere to store the tanks.Water analysis - bleach treatment to precipitate iron

Iron filters may work I am told but combined with all the other elements of my water, a couple filters would be needed with each emptying into it's own holding tank and a chlorination pretreat being applied at the start.

So in the mean time I continue to use the water despite the destructive nature of it.  Notice the iron sludge being stirred up from the garden hose as the badly stained and rusting tank fills.Water Analysis - Iron sludge being circulated

Water Analysis Report - Sulfate

Sulfates are absorbed into ground water as the water passes through soil and rock formations that contain sulfate minerals.  As explained in the article Sulfate in Well Water published by Minnesota Public Health, water containing sulfates that is consumed by humans and/or animals may result in diarrhea, dehydration and death.  And therefore like the Saskatchewan Municipal Aesthetic Objective, suggest that only water containing less than 500 mg/l be consumed by humans and/or animals.  

My water analysis indicated a level 3 times the recommended rates at 1520 mg/l.  By the Government of Saskatchewan Livestock Water Quality report, although it is right on the cusp between poor and acceptable, the levels levels indicate that there may be a "high chance of trace mineral deficiency with decreased gains, depressed immunity and reduced conception, etc.  with sporadic cases of polio possible.".  But even at an acceptable level of 1,000 - 1,500 mg/l, the report states that "High levels of sulfates can also contribute to copper and other trace mineral deficiencies.".  A definite concern as I live in a mineral deficient area and despite constant access to mineral's I have had some selenium issues in my animals in the past.

The kicker with sulfates is that they are not easily removed from the water.  According to the article Sulfate in Water there is only four ways to treat sulfates, the most common being reverse osmosis.  With the necessary treatment that needs to occur before a reverse osmosis system, one estimate I received estimated an implementation cost of $25,000 - $30,000 Canadian, not including housing for pretreatment tanks, filters, pumps and holding tanks for the reverse osmosis water.

Water Analysis Report - Total Dissolved Solids

The total dissolved solids(TDS), or sum of ions, is the sum of all ionic particles that are dissolved in water, These include organic and inorganic substances. According to the Government of Saskatchewan Livestock Water Quality Report, TDS or sum of ions for my water at 3960 mg/l may be generally acceptable but it may also cause diarrhea in poultry and livestock with a possible reduced performance, reduced growth and affect health of ruminants.

Similar to sulfates, the only way to remove TDS according to the article Should I be Concerned About TDS in my Water? is through reverse osmosis or water distillation

Water Analysis Report - Manganese

Levels of manganese in well water is the only one of three components of the Water Analysis Report for which the province of Saskatchewan has set a maximum acceptable concentration, the other two being fluoride and nitrates.  At a maximum allowed level of 0.12 mg/l my water definitely exceeds that level at 3.32 mg/l. 

According to Government of Canada article Water Talk - Manganese in drinking water the reason for the concern is the affect on the body with  "neurological and behavioral effects with deficits in memory, attention and motor skills" being possible.  They caution against using water high in manganese for infants but state that for "adults and older children, short-term exposure to manganese in drinking water slightly above the guideline is unlikely to cause negative health effects.".

And like TDS and sulfates, the only way to remove manganese from well water is through reverse osmosis.

Water Treatment Systems

As with most things, if money was no object I could probably have a state of the art water treatment facility.  Although  a whole home Reverse Osmosis system is appealing and appears to be the only option for some of the problems I have with the water, the quoted price tag of $20,000 - 30,000 Canadian plus the associated house addition to house the equipment and the approximate $1,200 Canadian  annual service, are a huge deterrent.  And so, working within the confines of budget and space, thinking outside the box becomes more important as I try to figure out how to ensure a water supply that is useable for both home and homestead.  It can certainly be said that historically water was just used despite it's aesthetic but with modern conveniences and knowledge of the varies affects of each mineral in the water, I am not prepared to just use the water for an extended period of time.  I have never said that I wanted pristine water.  But rather, the goal is to achieve a level of usability that does not pose a health risk for the animals and that does not destroy hot water heaters, fixtures, appliances, water tanks and clothing. 

Over the last year, I have spent many an hour and made many a phone call chasing every lead that I can in an attempt to come up with a solution.  I have even had thoughts of abandoning the well and developing some of the other systems that I had explored in  Water - The journey from sandpoint, dugouts and water tanks to a well.  But at the end of the day, I dismiss them for the same reasons that I dismissed them initially and look to the water well with it's 100 gallon per minute refill rate.

I have had the thought of putting in an iron filter and water softener of near appropriate size and settling on what I get for water quality.  But I can't help but wonder if that is the right choice either.  After all,  the submersible pump I had installed in For use on the Homestead the new well requires Well Plumbing! The next step to Water Security  and all the fittings I installed in Wiring the well pump and water analysis. The next step to water security are being exposed to untreated water and will certainly not last for any amount of time.

Final thoughts

I know that I am very indecisive about what to do and perhaps I am over thinking this.  The knowledge base within the home water treatment system industry is very limited if you are dealing with well water or water that is not derived from a commercial treatment system where the initial treatment has been done and so, weighing the pros and cons can be very overwhelming to say the least.  But I will get there, of this I am sure.  But for now, although I do not know for sure what that will look like, I do know that I will not be watering my garden from now on with this well water, that's for sure.

One other thing I know for sure is that if ever I drill another well, I will be sending the water from the test well to be thoroughly tested before I proceed with drilling a well.

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