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Water Quality/Well water issues



For some reason the website would not let me respond to the answer you gave me the other day, so I had to start a new chain.  

I am in the process of trying to get the water softener comapny to come out and test the water before and after treatment so I can get you those numbers.  However, Culligan did come out today to change replace the RO system.  I was not there because I was at work, but my mom went to my house for me and gave me some information from them.  They tested the TDS before and after treatment (I'm assuming the treatment being after it has gone through the RO system. Before treatment it was 1600 and after it was 30.  He mentioned that the TDS was over 3x the amount allowed and we could never sell the house with numbers that high and not being treated.  With TDS levels this high should we not be drinking the water unless it comes out of the RO?  I am instantly concerned because for the first few weeks we lived in the house we were drinking the water - I am most concerned with the fact we were giving our 18 month old the water!!  Is the water safe to be cooking with?

I will get you the other numbers asap so hopefully we can figure out why we have such horrible spotting on EVERYTHING!

Thanks again for all of your expertise!

ANSWER: Hi Amanda,
First of all don't panic!  Everything is fine - the information from the Culligan guy is simply not true. He said the TDS is over 3x the amount allowed.  Allowed by who? The EPA has a secondary drinking water guideline which says that TDS should be less than 500.  However, this is NOT an enforceable guideline since no adverse health effects are associated with the secondary drinking water contaminants and any concerns may be associated with aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color) in drinking water.

I lived in southern New Mexico for many years and the TDS in our well water was 3400 and the hardness was 900! We drank the water - it was actually quite good and Calcium and Magnesium are good for growing children for bone development.  We did soften the water so that it didn't fill our hot water heater up with cement! :-) But we drank the water and my 3 boys are now adults and very healthy.  What you want to be concerned with is what is in the water that makes up the 1600. Since the Culligan rep is throwing around those statements they should also be willing to do a complete analysis of what is in the water!

In any event, I would continue to use the RO water for drinking and cooking just to be on the safe side until you find out exactly what is in the water.  I am 99% sure that there is nothing in your water to be concerned about.  Very, very rarely do you find contaminants in wells as deep as yours.  The only concern with your water may be high sodium.  And that is not a concern unless someone in your home is on a sodium restricted diet.

So, as soon as you get those numbers let me know and we'll go from there.  In the meantime don't worry.  I don't see anything to be concerned about at this point.
Take care,

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Ok, I won't panic! = )  That is good to hear that you had similar issues and I am not alone in this!  My husband, daughter and I are all big water drinkers so this has been quite frustrating!

The only numbers the water softener people were able to give me were from a free test they did -

Before treatment
Hardness - 55
Iron - .6
pH - 8

After treatment
Hardness - 1
Iron - 0
pH - 8.6


Here are the results from a water test we had done before we bought the house.  This was done on November 11, 2012 and are after treatment system results:

Coliform - absent
E. Coli - absent
pH - 7.6SU
Turbidity - .15NTU
Color - 5CU
Odor - 0
Fluoride - .7mg/L
Chloride - 6mg/L
Nitrite Nitrogen - None Detected
Nitrate Nitrogen - None Detected
Sulfate - 1,192mg/L
Calcium - 5mg/L
Magnesium - None Detected
Hardness - 12mg/L
Sodium - 252mg/L
Copper - .02mg/L
Iron - None Detected
Manganese - .02mg/L

Hopefully these numbers will help!  I wish I could say the water tastes good, but it certainly does not - hence the RO system!  Hopefully we can now find a way to get rid of the spotting!

Thanks in advance for your help!

ANSWER: Hi Amanda,
Yes, the numbers you supplied did help. There are 3 things in the analysis that concern me.  The first is the high sulfate level. The second is the high pH and the last is the high hardness leaking out of the softener.


1. Have you changed the softener since you bought the house or done anything to address that high hardness level coming out of the softener?  You should never have over 1 or 2 ppm at the most coming out of the softener.  This analysis showed it was 12.  That is easily enough to cause the spotting you are seeing, especially with the high pH.  And these numbers are quite new - only a few months old.  So, unless you have addressed that particular issue this could be one area of concern.

2. The high sulfate levels: sometimes this can cause a laxative effect in certain parts of the population.  Has anyone in your family had unusual diarrhea?  Since the sulfate is removed in the RO system you probably wouldn't unless anyone was actually drinking large quantities of it. Here is a good article from the EPA on sulfate:

If you are able to get an analysis of the well water similar to the extensive one you supplied that would be great.  I don't need the bio tests (e-coli and coliform), or the color, turbidity, odor or flouride.
I'll wait to hear back.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thanks for the feedback. To answer your questions:

1. The softner was just put in less than 3 years ago, so no, we have not changed the softener.  They did come out and do some work on the softener and the test they did 2 weeks ago shows the hardness at 1.  They told me the hardness was fine.

2. It's interesting what you said about the sulfate and diarrhea.  My daughter has had constipation issues until we moved into the house.  She was drinking the water (RO system was not working so it was from the tap) because at the time we did not know anything was wrong with it.  My husband and I were not drinking the water because we did not like the soft water taste but she could have cared less.  So, we had her drinking it up until a few weeks ago when we realized the water might not be so great so we started her on Poland Spring water.  Well that just so happens to be when the constipation started again!

So since the sulfate is so high, even when we are cooking we should be using water from the RO system, correct?  What about if we are just cooking pasta - should the water we use to cook the pasta be from the RO?  Is there anyway to lower the sulfate level without and RO system?

Also, the water softener people told me the pH levels looked great - 2 weeks ago was when it was 8.6 after treatment (8 before treatment).  Why would it be lower before treatment?

I will looking into getting an analysis of the well water.


Hi Amanda,
I am still working on this but one quick point.  Even though the hardness was at 1 recently when the Culligan rep did the test the fact is that it was at 12 a couple of months ago.  I would like you to consider getting a strip hardness test and checking it at different times.  You see when the softener is first regenerated the hardness should be 0, then as the softener regenerant get's used up hardness may start to leak through.  Ideally that's when it should be regenerated again.  But if it continues to run before it gets regenerated it will bleed through some hardness as was noted in the test a few months ago.  I will send you info on the hardness strips I'm talking about.  They are not expensive, you can get them at Lowes or Home Depot for less than $20 for about 50 tests or online for even less and it only takes a couple of minutes to do the test.  Here is what I mean:  Go ahead and order a bottle.  I will send you info in a day or two on how to do that.  Things are kind of crazy with my work right now.

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Steve Young


I will answer questions on residential water treatment, i.e. use of softeners, filters, reverse osmosis systems, disinfection, iron and/or sediment removal and other issues facing the homeowner. I have worked extensively with well water systems.


I have worked in the water treatment area for many years as a consultant and as a professional environmental engineer in the private industry sector. I have designed reverse osmosis, deionization, and water softening systems. I have also done work in water quality and stream and river remediation as it relates to the Clean Water Act.

I am currently serving as an Expert for Home Improvement, Travel (New Mexico) and Travel (North Carolina);

BS Environmental Eng.

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