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Water systems test positive for E.coli

June 23, 2017 GMT

Five valley wells have tested positive for E.coli and total coliform bacteria, Teton County Public Health officials said. Four of the wells are private and the fifth is a well for a camp.

“The people who are affected are aware,” said Emily Freeland, Teton County Public Health’s environmental health specialist. “They’re doing everything in their power.”

Public Health does a “tandem test” for both E.coli and total coliform bacteria.

E. coli is a type of bacteria that is found in the digestive system of humans and animals and can indicate the presence of more serious microbes like giardia and norovirus. E.coli may pose a special threat to infants, young children, the elderly or people with severely compromised immune systems.

“Not all E.coli makes you sick,” said Freeland. “But it’s an indicator organism for fecal contamination.”

Total coliform is an indicator organism that is used to tell if surface organisms can get into a well. If a well is sealed properly, bacteria shouldn’t be able to get into the system, Freeland said.

Officials are encouraging private well owners to test their wells even if a problem doesn’t seem to be apparent. Freeland said that while one or two positive E.coli samples per year are relatively normal, it’s more unusual to already have five different positive tests. Public Health tests approximately 1,500 samples a year of private and public water sources.

“Throughout the year we usually see quite a few,” Freeland said. “But we’ve seen more.”

Approximately 10,000 people are served by private wells in the county, Freeland said.

“The only way to know is to test, really,” Freeland said.

There are a variety of strains of E.coli, but Public Health doesn’t test to determine those specifically.

Fecal contamination can come from several sources. If septic systems aren’t installed properly or well caps aren’t installed, animal waste can make its way in. And if E.coli can get in, more dangerous contaminants can, too, Freeland said.

Runoff this spring due to a record-setting winter might be a cause.

“Flooding is one of those things that can often contaminate wells but you don’t always know,” Freeland said. “It doesn’t take obvious signs of flooding for there to be a problem.”

In addition to testing during high runoff times, well owners are encouraged to test their water immediately after a flood, seismic activity, well maintenance, distribution system maintenance, new well construction, a change in water color, odor or taste, and before real estate transactions.

Public water sources are required to test at least monthly. If you’re a private well owner, it’s your responsibility to go to Public Health to learn how to collect samples and pick up sterile sample bottles from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 460 E. Pearl Street.

Drinking water testing is conducted weekly on Mondays and Tuesdays. Make sure to drop off samples before 2 p.m. on those days and pay $18 per test.

If your well tests positive for bacteria, Public Health will reach out and work directly with you to determine the root cause of the problem. Remedies at that point include flushing high levels of chlorine through the system or using UV lights to kill bacteria.

If you experience any gastrointestinal symptoms, Public Health recommends you see your physician.