CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 11/27/23: A new hotline, website, and other resources will soon be available through the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) for private well and septic system owners and the water professionals that serve them.
In October, Steve Wilson, program director and groundwater hydrologist, and Hideyuki Terashima, ISWS principal investigator, received a total of eight grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to expand resources for WaterOperator.org and the Private Well Class program, which were initiated in 2012. With the new funding, the USEPA supports private well owners who are responsible for ensuring their own well water is safe. Throughout most of the United States, there are no government standards for water quality and safety for drinking water from private wells.
Private well hotline
The new hotline, which is expected to be active in early spring, is part of the drinking water hotline supported by the USEPA. For the new private well hotline, staff will answer questions and direct callers to resources available through ISWS’ extensive databases and programs. Wilson said he is expecting about 100 calls each month. The number will be available on the USEPA private well webpage.
Hotline users can also access a chat feature to receive answers to their questions, which might include how to know if their water is safe, how to test for contaminants, how to treat wells, and other basics of private well ownership.
“Ideally, well treatment should be proactive vs. reactive,” Wilson said. “That’s what we’re going for with these programs and resources.”
In late spring 2024, Wilson and Terashima will launch a national website for professionals who install, inspect, or pump septic and onsite wastewater treatment systems and homeowners who are not part of a centralized system in a community. Staff are now gathering data for the site, which will be a one-stop location for varied types of information, events, onsite wastewater operator training and workshops, and other data.
The site is unique in that all the information will have been added to the site from ISWS staff, not pulled from a bot, Wilson said. They’re now identifying all available sources of information for a comprehensive database. Wilson anticipates that, like the wateroperator.org site, the USEPA and other state agencies will rely on ISWS for the information they provide.
Septic and onsite wastewater management can be an important water safety issue, especially in locations where hundreds of houses each have their own backyard system and private wells, Terashima said. With that concentration of wastewater entering the ground to be treated by soil microbes, the area could possibly be overloaded with contaminants.
Although some of the grants are meant for technical assistance of current initiatives, another new project will ultimately help disadvantaged neighborhoods obtain financing to become connected to centralized water treatment facilities in their communities. The project involves creating a GIS interactive mapping tool for the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) to identify areas that use private wells with higher populations of people below the poverty line and minorities who have been underserved. Once they compile data from all 50 states, they will select 10 states where the maps will be used.
The data will point the project team to areas with the greatest need where there are homeowners who can’t afford to test their water or fix their well, Terashima said.
As part of a continual effort to disseminate information to well owners and professionals in well water-related fields, the ISWS team recently started a national workgroup of private well experts. The goal is to develop some standardized, consistent, and accurate information on private wells to quell some of the bad advice that’s circulating.
Private well webinars, events, a podcast, and resources for private well owners are available on the Private Well Class program website. For small systems operators, the website WaterOperator.org offers free resources.
Media contacts: Steve Wilson, 217-333-0956, email@example.com; Hideyuki Terashima, 217-300-7579, firstname.lastname@example.org