There's always something in the water
Hal Walter's recent Writers on the Range essay "There's Something in the Water" (HCN, 11/8/10) highlights a concern shared by every water-quality professional in the Rocky Mountain West: the presumption of safety. As a member of the Colorado Water Quality Association Board of Directors and a certified water specialist, I can unequivocally state that few wells in our area are of such high quality that they would not require, or at least benefit from, some form of filtration or disinfection.
There is no "pure" water in nature. Water is the universal solvent, dissolving over time almost everything it comes in contact with. Many of these contaminants, such as lead, radium, arsenic and fluoride, can pose serious health risks. Others, such as iron and calcium, can create aesthetic and mechanical problems in household plumbing. Many Rocky Mountain water wells can contain dissolved gases, including radon, methane and hydrogen sulfide. Even volatile organic compounds such as pesticides and herbicides can be present. Water is also the perfect breeding ground for many biological pathogens. All of these contaminants can be removed; many, like lead, at a relatively low cost. But it is each well owner's individual responsibility.
Over the centuries, the science of water chemistry has discovered many different methods of filtration and disinfection -- none of which is a universal solution. One can only recommend that well owners begin by contacting a local Water Quality Association member; in Colorado at www.cwqa.org, or elsewhere in the West at www.wqa.org.