Regional Initiatives

Drinking Water - Human and Livestock Health

This initiative focuses on developing, promoting the use of, and evaluating collaborative Extension-outreach programs, educational tools, and resources addressing human and livestock drinking water quality, irrigation water suitability, and functionality and maintenance of on-site septic systems; foster adoption of monitoring and management practices that improve human and livestock drinking water quality, minimize exposure of humans, livestock, and agricultural soils to waters of impaired quality, and reduce undesirable interactions between private drinking water supplies and domestic wastewater treatment systems.

Water Quality Interpretation Tool

Sustainable supplies of good quality drinking water are essential to the well being of rural homeowners, small towns, and the economy of the NPM Region. If contaminated, remediation of these water supplies is difficult. Drinking water quality standards for human consumption are enforced in public water supplies, however are not regulated for private wells. Consequently, private well water users are responsible for their own assurances of the suitability of water supplies for domestic, livestock, and irrigation use. Much of the water used in the NPM Region is supplied by private wells pumped from ground water aquifers. These aquifers can be susceptible to impacts from agriculture, mining, oil and gas development, and other surface land uses.

Livestock drinking water quality is not protected by regulatory oversight, putting the management burden on livestock producers and landowners to test, treat, and protect water resources used by livestock. Livestock problems resulting from nitrate, sulfate, TDS, and blue-green algae are known to cause economic losses and are well documented, but in general, a wide-array of water quality concerns have not received adequate attention by research and extension.

Farmers and ranchers who have exercised water rights from groundwater wells and streams to sustain crop and forage production need to know the suitability of their water for irrigation. Expanded energy development and drought both have significant effects on the salinity of irrigation water. As many of the NPM Region's states are establishing new water quality standards, landowners need up-to-date resources to evaluate suitability of tested waters and information on treatment and measurement of their water.

In response to these concerns, the NPM Regional Water team has developed an online assessment tool that offers instant water quality interpretation for thousands of residents. The interpretations provide an increased awareness of methods to reduce contamination and illness due to water-borne bacteria, as well as increased knowledge and awareness of water quality issues. These issues include proper testing procedures, private and public resources available for testing water, treatment guidelines, and well and septic system management.

The interpretation tool also includes recommended treatment processes to correct drinking water problems, links to information and resources, and the option for users to interpret their drinking, livestock, and irrigation water quality testing results.

Taking Care of Your Ground Water DVD

Well and septic systems have a direct connection to ground water and homeowners play a critical role in protecting those resources. This audience is widespread and growing throughout the NPM region. Often, visual media is a useful tool for reaching this audience and an effective way to show the connection of well and septic systems to the water cycle. An educational DVD was developed to illustrate the connection between private water systems and ground water, and to show homeowners the steps they can take to help protect ground water resources.

The main section of Taking Care of yOur Ground Water: A homeowner’s guide to well and septic systems, is approximately 17 minutes long and illustrates the connection a homeowner has to the water cycle, both as a user dependent on ground water for domestic water and as one who relies on components of the hydrologic cycle for domestic, on-site waste disposal. The DVD also illustrates how homeowners can help protect ground water resources. In addition, supplemental chapters range in length from six to 11 minutes and cover individual topics in more detail. Supplemental chapters include Protecting the Wellhead, Septic System Function and Maintenance, Water System Considerations for Buying or Building a New Home, Sampling for Well Water Quality, Interpreting Water Quality Results, Chlorinating a Well and Water System, and Water Treatment Basics.

Well Educated Program

The well water test program titled "Well Educated", is used in various formats in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming. The Well Educated Program guides private well owners through the process of testing well water quality, provides materials to help interpret test results, and offers insight on ways to help protect drinking water resources. The program is offered as a service for well owners to help locate affordable well testing services accompanied by test result interpretation, while simultaneously providing a useful water quality data source for managers. Click here to access the Well Educated fact sheets en Español.

United States Department of Agriculture Colorado State University Montana State University North Dakota State University South Dakota State University Utah State University University of Wyoming National Water Program