Environment / Nature

Community Water Center tests water quality of private wells

Free program checks for nitrates, arsenic and other contaminants.
Collecting well water for a sample. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Collecting well water for a sample. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Tools used to collect water samples. Photo by Noe Magaña.
Tools used to collect water samples. Photo by Noe Magaña.

Aiming to educate residents about the state of their water, Community Water Center is informing rural residents of the Central Coast Regional Water Board‘s free program enabling residents to test their private wells. The center took samples from five private wells on Feb. 5 and invited BenitoLink to tag along.

Cesar Garcia Lopez, community organizer with Community Water Center, said the organization does free sampling of private domestic wells that provide water for one to 14 households in San Benito County. The program, launched in August and available to everyone, is funded by the Central Coast Regional Water Board but CWC focuses on reaching out to rural and hard-to-reach areas. Because water quality fluctuates, Garcia Lopez recommended that private well owners test their water annually. 

The sampling process takes from 10 minutes to one hour, depending on issues that may arise. A Tetra Tech scientist lets the water run into a bucket where a device is placed that measures temperature, conductivity, PH and dissolved oxygen. The Central Coast Regional Water Board contracts with Tetra Tech to take samples while the water center engages with the residents about who uses the water, how old the well is and whether there have been contamination issues in the past.

“These parameters don’t necessarily correlate with the water quality or the safety of the water for drinking,” environmental scientist Maria Hassett Patrick said. “They are more stability criteria to determine when the fluctuation stops then we have a representative sample to take.”

Once water readings stabilize, Hassett Patrick takes the samples and sends them to GFL Environmental in Santa Paula, where they are tested for levels of nitrates, E. coli, arsenic, uranium, hexavalent chromium, dibromochloropropane and 1,2,3 Trichloropropane. Garcia Lopez said testing takes three to four weeks.  

Once results come back, the Community Water Center informs well owners of contaminant levels and offers recommendations or resources. One of those resources is a program that involves delivering bottled water to low-income well owners whose water is contaminated. 

“Having to buy bottled water for all cooking and drinking needs is expensive, and it adds up,” Garcia Lopez said. “People have to travel to Hollister and other different places to fill up their water. It’s a way to alleviate that cost for people.”

Some residents are being proactive by only drinking bottled water, Garcia Lopez said, because it’s common for water in the San Juan Bautista area to contain high levels of nitrates.

The program doesn’t just offer residents free well testing, it also connects them to other well owners. Because private wells are not regulated and are not required to be tested, the Community Water Center also holds “platicas”—community meetings where well owners share their results with others in the area. 

“It’s a process of co-learning,” Garcia Lopez said. 


Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.