The spring that is north of town, on Burnt Mountain Road has been in use for many years, by locals and those from far away who would make the trip to Jasper just for the spring water.
By Paul Pugliese,
Ga. Extension Service
Question: Should we have the water we collect and drink from a popular roadside spring tested?
Answer: There are a number of roadside springs scattered throughout north Georgia that are popular among local residents. Many folks enjoy drinking “natural” spring water because it reportedly tastes better than municipal water sources. The main difference in taste may be the presence of natural minerals such as calcium in the water and the lack of chlorination treatment. However, just because it tastes better doesn’t mean that it is safe to drink nor does it provide any perceived health benefits. In fact, quite the opposite is true since these spring water sources are not tested or treated.
Another potential concern is that roadside springs are not securely protected and could be easily contaminated by accident or on purpose by vandals with malicious intent. Surprisingly, many people drink spring water without any treatment. However, this is strongly discouraged, especially for pregnant women, children, senior adults, and those with compromised immune systems who are especially vulnerable to water-borne illness that may even result in death.
County Extension offices provide a number of water testing services for local residents. Tests for basic water quality and microbiological analysis (E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria) are the most commonly requested by local well owners. These tests are primarily recommended for household wells or irrigation wells used for fruit and vegetable crops. All wells that are used for drinking water should best tested for bacteria as soon as a new well is constructed and at least once a year thereafter. More frequent testing should be considered if the well has been inundated by surface water runoff, recent flooding, or if a neighbor’s well is contaminated. Also, continuing illness in a household may raise the suspicion of bacterial contamination.
Bacteria are common organisms in nature and some are pathogenic—capable of causing disease in humans. Some coliform bacteria originate from human or animal fecal sources and are abundantly found in soils, surface water, and vegetation. The presence of E. coli in water indicates direct contamination with fecal matter. Other pathogens that may be present with fecal material include protozoans, such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia, and viruses.
A spring is formed when the water table intersects the ground surface due to geological or topographical factors. Spring water is groundwater that is close to the surface and more open to surface contamination than typical well water. A recent study by Pennsylvania State Extension tested 34 roadside springs across the state of Pennsylvania and found that 97% failed at least one drinking water standard. The most common health-related pollutants found in the samples tested were total coliform bacteria (91%), E. coli bacteria (34%), and lead (3%). A subset of springs were also tested for the presence of Giardia and Cryptosporidium and found that 88% of samples tested positive for these parasites. The water quality of these roadside springs changed very little throughout the year. All springs had total coliform bacteria present in all seasons, despite seasonal variations in water flow.
Although it is possible to have spring water tested, it really isn’t practical or informative, since the test will only tell you if the water is safe on the day you actually sampled it. A single negative water test from a spring water source does not ensure that the water is clean, since potential contamination from surface water can happen on any given day. Untreated springs are largely considered unsuitable as a drinking water source. Anyone considering the use of springs for drinking water should consider boiling water for several minutes or using special water treatment filters prior to consumption. As a Boy Scout, I learned that you should always boil, filter, or treat spring water with chlorine or iodine tablets when backpacking and camping—because you sure don’t want to deal with Giardia when you’re a hundred miles from civilization.
Paul Pugliese is the Extension Coordinator and Agricultural & Natural Resources Agent for Bartow County Cooperative Extension, a partnership of The University of Georgia, The U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Bartow County. For more information and free farm, lawn, or garden publications, call (770) 387-5142 or visit our local website at ugaextension.com/bartow