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Free well test kits available for Three Forks residents

The Gallatin Local Water Quality District, in partnership with the Montana State University Extension Water Quality well-educated program, is offering free well testing kits to county residents using private drinking water wells.

Well testing kits are available at the Gallatin Local Water Quality District in Bozeman and the Madison Conservation District in Ennis. Residents who pick up a free testing kit will collect the sample by following the directions outlined on the packaging. They then send the water samples in the mail to a state-certified drinking water laboratory, such as Bridger Analytical Lab in Four Corners.

Although the test collection kit is free, the private well owner must pay for the testing itself. The price of the test will vary depending on the materials searched for. Cost-sharing options are available through the MSU well-educated program for those who consent to anonymously sharing the results of their well's test.

Nick Banish, the Gallatin Local Water Quality District manager, told The Voice that when residents share their information with the district, it allows those studying local drinking water to identify and understand the magnitude of potential groundwater contamination in order to address the problem. "It helps us to identify issues like arsenic hot spots," Banish said. Meggie Olson, a hydrogeologist for the water quality district, noted that a wide-spread arsenic contamination in Three Forks was discovered through residents who shared their well data.

Banish and Olson suggest that those living in the Three Forks area test their wells for nitrates, pH, corrosivity and manganese. "We advise people to really know and understand the chemical composition of the water that they're drinking," Olson said. Doing so could protect the health and well-being of all drinking water from private wells.

Olson said well owners could also test for calcium and magnesium. While these materials do not pose a serious health threat, treating the well with water softeners could improve the water's taste.

Due to the Madison River's proximity to the Yellowstone geothermal area, the local groundwater has elevated levels of arsenic. If a well contains arsenic levels above the recommended levels, the owner should take action to treat and remove the substance from the water to prevent serious illness.

Olson emphasized that testing pH and corrosivity is important as many Three Forks homes use lead or copper pipes. If the water corrodes these pipes, these materials could be leached into the water supply.

The water quality district especially encourages residents in areas that have recently experienced flooding to test their drinking water wells. "There's the possibility for contaminants to be flushed and mobilized into domestic drinking water wells," Banish said in regards to recent floods. Although the rivers have retreated to their banks, the contaminants may remain in wells.

Olson and Banish said they were happy to help residents interpret the results of their well tests and recommended that residents test their drinking water well annually for items of concern.

The MSU well-educated program helps track changes in the local aquaphor over time. Although the project originates in Gallatin County, it provides well testing kits to locations throughout the state.

Those interested can learn more about the well-educated program at