Why test water?
Naturally-sourced water such as rain water collected in tanks and drawn from aquifers, rivers and creeks is generally safe to drink. However, depending on the catchment area of your water source, it can be contaminated in many ways. (Note: catchment areas include your rooftop if you collect rainwater off it.)
Water dissolves many chemicals and minerals, and it transports microbes, so you don’t know what’s in it. It could contain dissolved but harmless materials; undissolved particles of organic and inorganic matter; dissolved, harmful chemicals and minerals; and microorganisms.
Water testing at home
Testing the water where you live is a good idea if you care about the health of your family. Water testing at home is ultimately important if you're prepping a bug-out location. The condition of your water source will determine if the location you've selected will be suitable for long-term use.
If the surface or ground water in the catchment area has been recently affected by heavy rain, flooding, crop spraying, increased animal activity, industrial accident, disease… whatever… it may be contaminated. You should test it, particularly if it looks discoloured, tastes or smells different. Testing the water is the only way to determine if the water is safe to drink. Microbiological tests check for microorganisms in the water. Chemical quality tests check for heavy metals that may pose a risk to your health, as well as other chemicals that may only affect the taste, odour and appearance of the water.
If you have concerns, you water-lovers should send samples to a water testing lab. Apart from testing your water properly by using the right equipment and techniques, they’ll be able to follow trends and be kept up-to-date on the condition of water supplies in various areas.
Water testing when camping or travelling
The safest bet when using water from sources you're not familiar with is to assume that it’s contaminated. Treat it before drinking.
Water testing considerations
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a mission to protect human health and the environment. It’s the largest internationally-recognised certification body for water purifiers. Their rules require systems that use surface water (or ground water under the direct influence of surface water) to disinfect and filter their water. See EPA Drinking Water Treatment to get an idea of how water is treated before it gets to a household in the USA.
For a full list of contaminants, details of highest levels allowed, potential health effects, and contaminant sources, see the EPA Drinking Water Contaminants page. It covers microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection by-products, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, and radionuclides included on the list to the right.
water testing kits
You can buy do-it-yourself home drinking water test kits. These contain the thingamabobs that you’ll need to test your drinking water for unsafe or undesirable levels of the most commonly found contaminants. There are also kits to test rain, tank, and well/bore water. A quick search on the internet will lead you to company websites that sell the kits.
Standard drinking water tests don’t test for all contaminants, because as you can see from the list to the right, there are too many to check for. Each catchment area will vary in the contaminants that they carry. Consider prevailing winds, terrain and geological factors to work out if distant sources of contaminants could affect your water. Think about your water source (roof, surface water, ground water) and if it could be affected by:
If any of these sources are (or were) present in your catchment area, you should ask for additional tests to be completed by the laboratory that you’ve chosen to test your water.
I'll be checking out various people's opinions on the different kits, then I'll pass my findings on to you. The wait won't be as painful as water torture. Promise.
I'd like to hear about your experience with the kits that you've used... what you liked or didn't like, what worked or didn't work, how easy they were to use, and whatever else you think is pertinent. Contact me to let me know.
A list of contaminants covered by the EPA Drinking Water Contaminants page
Contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or aesthetic effects (such as taste, odour, or colour) in drinking water: