A man kneeling in front of a well head collecting water

New Kansas State University partnership works to help locals know their water

Story by Melissa Harvey, KCARE Communications and Marketing Coordinator

Over 43 million people nationwide depend on private wells for drinking water. Kansas follows that trend, with more than 151,000 people sourcing drinking water from domestic private wells, according to the Kansas Geological Survey. Most citizens tout their well water as fresher and cleaner than chemically treated water from municipal water systems.

However, thinking your well water tastes better is very different than knowing your water is safe for consumption, according to Stacie Minson, an extension watershed specialist with the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment (KCARE) at Kansas State University.

People standing around a room stuffing envelopes
Kansas-State University staff and volunteers organizing direct mailings on the Know Your Water program. Photo by Stacie Edgett-Minson

She recently spearheaded a program for residents called Know Your Water. It’s a new partnership funded by K-State 105 and involves several K-State departments, Fort Hays State University, the City of Hays and the Ellis County Environmental Office. This spring, the team provided residents with direct mailings on how to schedule private well testing and, in some cases, offered that testing free of charge.

“It’s important for people to know about the water they use – where it comes from, where it goes, and is it safe. The more they learn, the more they understand how precious water truly is,” said project partner Holly Dickman, water conservation specialist for the city of Hays, Kansas.

Minson said that the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act doesn’t regulate private wells, and they aren’t subject to the same monitoring and testing as public water. This can sometimes lead to people’s misconception that their water is safe. However, some private wells are contaminated by improperly disposed chemicals, animal wastes, pesticides, and more. Minson said that poorly located wells, inadequate construction or delayed well maintenance can also contribute to contamination.

“That’s where Know Your Water comes in. It’s here to remind residents that they are responsible for all the quality and safety aspects of their well water, and then to provide important and accessible instructions on how to do just that,” she said.

In addition to testing private wells, the team offered residents in specific areas the opportunity to complete an irrigation system audit, in order to promote more efficient water use.

“Undergoing an irrigation audit was eye-opening. It transformed how I view watering: from a routine task to a precise science. This helped us ensure our landscape thrives while using the water in the most efficient way possible,” said Trevor Giebler, a Hays resident who took part in the program.

A home with irrigation on the front lawn with buckets distributed across the yard.
An irrigation audit at a home in Hays. Photo by Stacie Edgett-Minson.

As part of their outreach, the Know Your Water team updated several water quality publications that are now available free of charge. They distributed more than 30,000 copies of the publications to residents of Ellis, Norton, Graham, Sheridan and Decatur counties. In addition, all 105 K-State Research and Extension offices received printed copies of the publications along with communication materials to help agents spread the word in their communities.

So far, the program has received about 100 responses for well testing and irrigation system audits, and Dickman hopes the team’s education and awareness efforts will lead to improved water resource resilience for many.

“The Know Your Water project gives us one more avenue to raise awareness and educate people of all ages about water,” she said.

K-State 105 is a university initiative to support comprehensive economic growth and advancement solutions in each of the 105 counties of Kansas. According to the university, K-State 105 leverages the statewide KSRE network to deliver knowledge and solution-driven innovation to every Kansan, right where they live and work. Learn more about K-State 105 at k-state.edu/105.

Stacie Edgett-Minson, Kansas State University

Headshot of Stacie Edgett-Minson

Stacie Edgett-Minson has been a KCARE extension watershed specialist since 2003. Stacie developed the EPA-approved 9-Element plan for her watershed, and today her work centers around implementing the goals and practices from the plan to address water quality issues and TMDLs in the 2,400 square mile watershed that drains into the Kanopolis Reservoir. In partnership with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), Stacie collaborates with local landowners to install BMPs to reduce TMDLs in corridors along Big Creek and the Smoky Hill River.

Stacie also works to encourage farmers and ranchers to participate in two state of Kansas programs targeted towards the watershed. The Drinking Water Protection Incentive Program (DWPIP) focuses on soil health practices including cover crop within a 2-mile radius of the City of Kanopolis. The Kansas Reservoir Protection Initiative (KRPI) offers financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to install sediment reducing practices within the riparian corridor of targeted watersheds across the state of Kansas.

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