DEQ’s Nick Haxton-Evans takes a water sample from a groundwater well in Harney County.
A new report from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Laboratory shows water quality data for groundwater in Harney County.
DEQ sampled water from 91 residential, agricultural and monitoring wells in the county and detected 42 different chemicals, including bacteria, pesticides, metals and nutrients. Some of these chemicals naturally exist within water and others are potential contaminants.
DEQ solicited well users to volunteer to participate in the study, and DEQ took samples from those wells in 2018.
DEQ found that over half the wells sampled in Harney County had at least one contaminant above health standards. Arsenic, boron and bacteria were the most common contaminants above health standards.
Contaminants may be from natural sources, human activity or a combination of both. For instance, arsenic is naturally occurring from volcanic geology in Oregon, but also results from human activity. Arsenic was historically used in orchards as an insecticide, and also in embalming fluids. This means that historic orchards and cemeteries are potential sources of arsenic in groundwater, in addition to arsenic that occurs naturally in soil and rockbeds.
DEQ shared individual water quality results with participating well owners, along with educational materials about EPA drinking water standards and well maintenance. Groundwater contaminants in drinking water wells could indicate that wells need repair or that there are nearby sources of contamination, such as nearby failing septic systems, fertilizers, manure or leaking underground storage tanks.
Oregon does not have water quality regulations for private wells. Homeowners are responsible for maintaining their wells and ensuring the water is safe to drink. Oregon only requires that domestic use wells are tested for nitrate, arsenic and bacteria during real estate transactions.
Well users can find more information about groundwater contaminants and about maintaining healthy wells and drinking water by visiting the Oregon Health Authority’s Domestic Well Safety Program webpage.
DEQ has completed sampling in five areas of the state as part of its Statewide Groundwater Quality Monitoring Program, which evaluates the current condition of Oregon’s groundwater. DEQ is currently sampling groundwater wells in its sixth area, the Klamath Basin.
– Laura Gleim, public affairs specialist