Test water wells yearly
Feb. 4, 2018 at 10:30 p.m.
Updated Feb. 5, 2018 at 6 a.m.
Hurricane Harvey took Mary Jane Wittnebert's only source of drinking water at her home: her water well.
Wittnebert, 79, lives in rural Calhoun County between Seadrift and Long Mott.
Harvey blew away her water well building, tank and water softener system.
About three weeks after the hurricane, when she had electricity again, she had a water well operator set up a temporary water well system until she could get the building rebuilt.
"He set the tank on the slab and set it up and ran the wires and everything on the ground ... until we could get everything hooked back up," she said. "When you live in the country like this, if you don't have water, you just can't live here."
Many water wells were flooded or damaged because of Harvey, which could have led to contamination.
Residents with private water wells should get the wells tested if they haven't since Harvey and should continue to do so yearly, agriculture officials said.
Until her building was restored with a new water well, water softener and chlorinating systems, Wittnebert cooked with and drank bottled water. She only used the temporary system for bathing and washing. About a month ago, she had her water well tested, and her results were good.
"It's very important to be sure we don't have bacteria or anything swimming in our water we don't want there," Wittnebert said. "Water is a very important thing. We drink a lot of water in this household."
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service has offered four rounds of free water well testing in Crossroads counties through extension offices since Harvey. Officials tested for E. coli, which would show if there were contaminants in the water including other fecal-born pathogens, said John W. Smith, extension program specialist.
"Our big concern is that when it flooded in the Hurricane Harvey area, did that floodwater go over the top of the private waterway and actually get into the well itself causing a contamination?" he said.
Wells that were damaged and not flooded also had the possibility of being contaminated, he said. The concrete around the well may have cracked, letting in unwanted water.
Officials find E. coli in about 10 percent of the wells they test in the Crossroads. Right after Harvey, they found about twice as many contaminated wells, Smith said. Levels are back to normal now, five months after the hurricane.
E. coli can cause gastrointestinal sickness, which in extreme cases can cause serious health problems, Smith said.
Private water well owners should get their wells tested by a National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program-certified lab such as the Victoria County Public Health Department. If a well is contaminated, the owner should get a certified water treatment specialist to help fix the problem.
Leland Traux, who owns Truax Water Well Service in Victoria, said after the hurricane, business doubled for him. Most of requests he received were for blown-over pressure tanks and broken plumbing. Some of the water well sheds also blew over and ripped all the wires out of the wells.
He stayed busy for about a month after the hurricane and still responds to some storm-related problems.
If a tank blew over, Traux reinstalled the plumbing and put in new pipes. If the wires had problems, he replaced them, he said.
"If it's the actual pipe that broke off and the pump went down inside the well, I'd have to go fishing with a cable and pull it back up out of there and then put new pipe and wiring and rebuild the whole system," he said.
For Traux, a water well service call costs $150. Prices range from a $50 pressure switch to a $1,000 pump. To have everything replaced would be between $1,500 and $1,800, but each company has its own pricing, he said. To have a well water tested at a certified lab is between $20 and $30, he said.
Yoakum-based Chandler Drilling Inc. didn't receive many damage calls for its area, said office manager Stormy Seekamp. The company did receive damage calls closer to the coast, she said. The coastal area had longer service times because of all the damage.
Weeks and months after the hurricane, the company received a lot of requests to fix broken windmills that generated water wells to fill stock ponds and troughs for livestock. The problems weren't noticed immediately because of all the rain, Seekamp said.
Most Harvey-related work was completed in two to three months after the storm, but the company is still receiving calls about damaged windmills.
The company also received many calls about flooded water wells and questions about what to do. Officials advised owners to test and sanitize their wells before using their wells' water, Seekamp said.
"The Crossroads area, the biggest concern was floodwater contaminating the water wells," she said. "We didn't have a lot of that in our Yoakum area. We were lucky to not have as much flooding."
The Safe Drinking Water Act was established in 1974 and requires public water systems to test their water several times a year. There are no regulations regarding private water well owners, so they have to take on the responsibility themselves, Smith said.
"Once a year, (they) should get their well tested for bacteria," he said. "The health lab there in Victoria is a really good place, a certified lab."