Flooding Can Affect Well Water - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Flooding Can Affect Well Water

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WHITEFISH -

Montana has a definite cowboy streak, and a part of that is drinking the water that comes straight out of the ground.

Health officials estimate that half of the people in Flathead County rely on well water.

Especially this time of year, though, that might not be the best idea.

Ron Schwegel has lived in the same house in Whitefish for more than 40 years. He has also drank the same well water for those four decades without a second thought.

"I'm still alive," said Schwegel, "so I figure that is good enough."

Many people out here feel the same way, but Jon Cuthbertson with the Montana Environmental Laboratory says there are two types of contaminants that can be in your groundwater.

There's the kind like E. coli that if you drink it, you'll know something is wrong right away.

The second type is more chronic, and can hurt you over a long period of time. Things like arsenic and nitrate are naturally in the ground and can increase your chances of getting cancer, but normally you can't taste or smell these things.

"When you go down to Mexico I say 'would you drink the water in Tijuana? All those people down there drink it.' And they say 'oh, no!' So why would you not test yours?" asks Cuthbertson.

This time of year, you've really got to keep an eye on this.

Quick snow melt and sudden flooding can change what's going on in your well, and carry basically unfiltered water right to your tap.

"The biggest concern would be an actual flood that would run over the top of your well and fill your well with surface water that would immediately be really bad," explained Cuthbertson.

Every place is different, but Cuthbertson says the Flathead Valley struggles with harmful amounts of fluoride, arsenic and even radioactivity out near Kila.

Schwegel says he wouldn't dream about switching over to city water, though.

"It tastes better, that's the biggest part," said Schwegel.

The EPA recommends testing your water once a year.

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