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State and local organizations working to identify dangerous contaminants in rural wells

Rural residents surrounding Modesto can get the Valley Water Collaborative to test their water for a variety of contaminants for free.

MODESTO, Calif. — Do you know what’s in your drinking water? Chances are, if you pay for it, it is tested and strictly monitored by the state. So what if you’re on a well?

Parry Klassen is the executive director of the Valley Water Collaborative. It’s a nonprofit based in Modesto dedicated to testing and providing safe water for residents. He says concerns about well safety is a major concern, especially concerning for people living outside of city limits in the Modesto and Turlock groundwater basins and beyond.

“You could have arsenic, which is naturally occurring,” explained Klassen. “And then there’s what they call legacy pesticide that were used decades ago that are persistent. It’s part of the reason they’re not used anymore.”

He said people need to be aware of the dangers.

“People ought to be checking what’s in their water to make sure that these, even the naturally occurring things, uranium is another one I didn’t mention, that’s in the water that people should be checking out,” Klassen said.

He said the state is aware many people on wells in the Central Valley don’t know what’s in their water.

The California State Water Resources Control Board recently provided a $5.5 million grant to expand the Valley Water Collaborative’s water testing program.

“That’s what we’re launching this week. We’re expanding our efforts to over 4,000 residents, about 50,000 people in the Stanislaus County area, and northern Merced county,” Klassen explained.

ABC10 asked if $5.5 million would be enough.

“Well, it’s going to get us a great start. Testing is very expensive. It can be up to $500 per well. And that’s part of the barrier, I think, in the past for private well owners to go get their wells tested,” said Klassen.

If people do discover their water is contaminated, the collective get them water and/or house filters, also for free.

Still, Klassen said people are mostly skeptical.

“People, when you tell them, ‘You get free stuff, free water, free testing.’ They go, ‘Yeah, right.’ And seriously, we’ve had a difficult time getting people to say, ‘Okay, let’s test your well and let’s get free water,’” admitted Klassen

He said for people in the areas surrounding the Modesto and Turlock groundwater basins, getting help is easy. They can go to the collective's website or call them at 209-750-3867.

“It’s really a matter of just applying and then we set up an appointment, the lab sets up an appointment to come test their well,” explained Klassen.

Laurel Firestone, a board member with the California State Water Resources Control Board, said people need to stay alert, especially as water becomes more scarce.

“That’s particularly true in this time of drought where water contamination levels may be increasing,” she said.

Firestone explained why people might not even know they have a dangerous problem.

“Many of these contaminants have no odor and taste," Firestone said. "So unless you’re doing testing or accessing a program like this to do testing, you don’t know whether your water is safe. If you rely on a domestic well, you have to know which contaminants to test for and then go out to test for them.”

Again, city water is highly regulated and monitored.

“But if you don’t pay your water bill and you’re reliant on a household domestic well, then nobody else is testing for your water,” said Firestone.

The state waterboard has an interactive map where anyone can go and see what are high-risk contaminants in their area. 

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