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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

UNL Extension in Lancaster County

Natural Resources

THE WATERWHEEL: A series dedicated to one of our most treasured resources - Water

THE WATERWHEEL - Drinking Water: Bacteria

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Water WheelThe presence of bacteria is a concern when considering the safety of drinking water. Intestinal infections, dysentery, hepatitis, typhoid fever, cholera and other illnesses can be caused by specific disease-causing bacteria.

Bacterial contamination can result from a number of sources. Human and animal wastes are a primary source of bacteria in water. Additional sources include seepage or discharge from septic tanks and sewage treatment facilities; insects, rodents or animals entering a well; or flood water or surface runoff entering a well.

The environmental protection agency (EPA) requires all public water suppliers test for coliform bacteria and deliver water that meets the EPA standard that no coliform bacteria be present. Owners of private water supplies are responsible for having their water supply tested to ensure it is safe from bacterial contamination. If a private water supply contains bacteria, both well location and construction should be evaluated in an attempt to identify and eliminate the source of contamination. A contaminated water supply can be disinfected with appropriate methods.

About Flooding:


Flood waters commonly contain high levels of bacteria. Whenever a well is inundated by flood waters or surface runoff, bacterial contamination is likely. Shallow wells and wells that do not have water-tight casings can be contaminated by bacteria infiltrating with the water through the soil near the well, especially in coarse-textured soils.

Testing for bacterial contamination and nitrate should be considered after flooding.

This article appeared in the NEBLINE Newsletter.


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PHOTO Credit: Rita Shelley

Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A, Lincoln, NE 68528 | 402-441-7180



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