STILLWATER – Oklahoma well owners are on their way to healthier drinking water this fall thanks to the Oklahoma Well Owner Network.
The program, led by the Oklahoma Water Resources Center and Oklahoma State University Extension, provides free residential well water testing and training to rural counties in Oklahoma through a $200,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a $350,000 grant from the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Rural Health and Safety Education Program.
“In 2018 we surveyed citizens across Oklahoma on what their biggest water resource concerns were,” said Kevin Wagner, water resource center director. “Consistently across the state, Oklahomans’ key concern was drinking water quality.”
To address water issues in rural Oklahoma, the water center conducted a pilot program in Alfalfa, Pontotoc and Tillman counties in spring 2022 with the help of OSU environmental science students. More than 150 water samples were tested during the program with two-thirds of participants saying they planned to adopt annual well water testing.
“This program demonstrates OSU’s landgrant mission in terms of Extension, ag research and education,” said Abu Mansaray, a research specialist with the water center, who has helped plan and execute the water testing. “We are reaching out to Oklahoma communities to help address a critical problem that is not covered by federal and state agencies.”
In the Oklahoma Well Owner Network, well owners in select counties submit a water sample from their private well for testing. Researchers at the Oklahoma Water Resource Center then test the water samples for nitrates, total dissolved solids (salts), pH levels and bacteria. The test results are relayed to the well owners within one week.
Beginning this year, Extension specialists will partner with rural libraries to distribute educational materials specific to Oklahoma that support well maintenance and water quality improvement.
“We’ve hosted a few events at county fairs so far this year and have had good turnout,” said Jeff Sadler, water resource Extension specialist. “We are now looking for new opportunities to take this program to counties in Oklahoma where people are most interested in learning more information about their own well water and how to maintain it.”
The network will operate from now through spring 2024 and will conduct 24 testing programs across the state. Those interested in a well water testing event in their county can contact their local county educator or the Oklahoma Water Resources Center at water@okstate. edu to express their interest in having a well owner workshop hosted in their county.