How a lack of awareness about ground water promotes confusion about the safety of private water systems.

The public is slowly being conditioned to accept municipal and rural water systems to the exclusion of private water systems. A farm in Minnesota.

Spurred on by special interest groups, the public has been - and is - slowly being conditioned to accept municipal and rural water systems as a way of life - to the exclusion of private water systems. In some areas of the country where locating satisfactory ground water sources is especially difficult, landowners often are led to believe that water problems can be solved only by the government or other public entities.

Public and rural water systems are expensive to build and maintain. Thus, they require as many customers as possible to pay the monthly fees that continue forever. I believe it is time for everyone involved in the well drilling industry to make every effort to inform the general (and especially the rural) public about the intrinsic value of private water wells vs. public water systems. The very survival of the well drilling industry as we know it demands it, and I personally try to pass this message along at every one of our jobsites.

I am absolutely astounded when I see rural water systems pumping water hundreds of miles to rural property owners, when, in fact, had these landowners drilled in the right locations on their own properties, they could have their own private water supplies!

An example of how the general public can be easily misled and influenced occurred here in my area of central Minnesota some time ago. The daily newspaper ran a short article describing some of the most common causes of ground water pollution. The article in itself was informative, well written, and received widespread publicity. As so often happens, however, “scare stories” often take on a life of their own, and a few self-appointed activists with far too much leisure time on their hands took it upon themselves to write numerous letters to the editor predicting the “imminent depletion and contamination of Minnesota's ground water!”

The writers had absolutely no basis or foundation for any of their ridiculous statements, but it didn¹t matter. The local county board of commissioners soon was inundated with demands to determine the extent of the county¹s ground water pollution. Intimidated by a group of vocal activists, county board members ultimately decided to use tax monies from the general revenue fund and offer free water quality tests to anyone in the county who wanted their water tested. The test results were to be made public at a later date. When the results were tabulated some months later, it appeared that a high percentage of the water tested was badly contaminated with unacceptable levels of nitrates and coliform bacteria. Quite naturally, more letters to the editor followed.

Locals feared the ground water was jeopardized. A ground water assessment.

For the next few months, ground water pollution was the topic of conversation throughout the area, and dire predictions were made about the impending disaster. I immediately questioned and challenged the results of the water survey. In talking to well drillers with whom we regularly worked, all agreed that the published test results had to be inaccurate. Based upon their own recordkeeping, the published results in no way reflected the true representation of the county¹s general ground water quality. Every well driller was convinced the published water quality test results were totally flawed.

Because of my work within the well drilling industry, I always file away news articles about water-related issues. Retrieving the many recent letters to the editor from my files and crosschecking the names and addresses of the writers in the local telephone directory, I made a surprising discovery. Most of the writers had addresses suspiciously clustered around our local state university! Not being a rocket scientist, it took me a long time - about five seconds - to realize most of the writers were impressionable students with an on-going agenda (probably encouraged by an equally unknowledgeable professor).

Ever so slowly the truth did come out, and people began to realize that things were not quite as bad as the many “prophets of doom” would have us believe. After further research, it became evident that the perceived problem was not in the quality of the local ground water, but in the quality of human nature itself:

When the county offered “free” water testing to county residents, many people took advantage of the opportunity to have the water tested in their older, existing dug wells. Most of these wells no longer were being used, but just out of curiosity, many people in the county availed themselves of the “free” water test! Additionally, little care was exercised in the taking of the samples, and thus the results of the survey were totally flawed - but for the average uninformed reader, it appeared central Minnesota's ground water was seriously in jeopardy!

Such is human nature I guess, but once again, it demonstrates the folly of statistical analysis. Things have settled down once again, but I'm sure the self-appointed activists are looking eagerly for another cause to occupy their time! ND