Regular testing is the only way to assure safe drinking water if you have a private water supply such as a drilled well. City water supplies test their systems on a regular basis and the results are available by contacting your city offices. For the private water systems, however, many contaminants do not cause odors or water discoloration. Kansas State Extension water quality specialists summarize their reasons for advising that regular tests be taken:

Tests show about half of the state's private wells fail to meet safe drinking water standards established for public water systems by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Only testing will tell you if you have contaminants that can affect human health. You can't rely on your senses to tell you they're present.

Water use and ground water recharge can affect the quality of the water you drink. Accidents and spills can contaminate the well without you knowing it. Regular testing tells you the changes that are occurring and their health implications.

No single test can give you confidence that your water's safe. Basing decisions on a single test is like checking the oil in your car only once, so periodic tests will reveal only its quality for that particular point in time.

Routine testing allows you to establish a record of your water quality. It's also helpful in proving good water quality.

Testing helps to identify the unexpected; for example, the well casing could crack, letting in contaminants, or you could have cross connection contamination.

Testing is cheaper than treatment equipment or alternative water supplies.

The bacteria and nitrate are the most likely contaminants in your private well or water system, though pesticides, heavy metals and lead also can show up. Lead is probably the third most common contaminant. Hardness also is a concern for many rural homes and also can be tested and reveal its change in status. After bacterial and nitrate, other contaminants are quite small by comparison, unless some other particular concern is indicated by a test.

Remember that nuisance problems such as staining minerals (iron and manganese), hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium), taste and odor, which our senses often detect, seldom affect a person's health. However, because our ability to taste, smell and see reminds us of their presence, we probably put more emphasis on solving nuisance problems than on solving health-related water problems that can affect our families over the long run.

Consider the lab reports as a historical document. Each time a new test is taken, compare the results for any small or large changes over time. This also may be valuable information if the property were to change ownership. Also, anytime that the well has been opened or disturbed, such as when inspection or repairs are made, results in a direct opening that may have allowed an outside source of contaminate to enter the previously sealed system.

To test your water, consider these steps:

Identify the laboratory you will use from a list supplied by the Extension office or from a state certified lab.

Collect the sample, following the procedure in the sample container (also see a copy of the Extension bulletin, "Taking A Water Test").

Evaluate the test results, using the Extension bulletin, "Understanding Your Water Test Report," and retain the results for reference.

Troubleshooting now for next season's crops

The early growing season is an excellent time to scout fields for nutrient stresses as well as other problems. Although the early growing season is too early to actually predict final yields, much of the potential yield had been determined by the decisions made by the operator in the fall.

By shortly after spring emergence, the farmer knows how good a job he has done on such practices as seed bed preparation, seed selection, stand establishment, early season weed control, planting date, fertilizer application, etc. There are, however, uncertainties about later season disease, weed and insect pressures and weather conditions that may have a major impact on final yields and crop quality. Early season field scouting allows the farmer to note any problems that exist with the possibility of correcting or at least gaining knowledge to make adjustments for next year. Now is a great time to review the 2009 growing season and make notes for the next crop.

The first observation should be the field pattern of the poor growth. Making observations as to pattern (streaks, random, etc.) and interaction with soil types are important clues. You also should review the history of the field for such things as seed bed preparation method, previous crop, fertilizer rate and method of application, herbicide use, etc. You also should note whether the poor growth is unique to this field or are other fields planted to the same crop showing similar symptoms? Riding in the combine gives you an excellent view of final crop condition at harvest time.

For assessment of nutrient deficiencies, its best to have a separate plant and soil sample collected from both the good and poor growth areas. This allows comparison of analytical test results. For relatively young plants, whole above-ground plant samples should be taken with 12 to 15 plants selected from each growth area. Each soil sample should consist of 10 to 15 cores taken near where the plants are collected avoiding any starter fertilizer bands.

Remember, the reason(s) for poor plant growth are much easier to assess when symptoms first appear. Trying to reconstruct the crop's growth after harvest to pinpoint reason(s) for disappointing yields is extremely difficult. But now is the time for preparing for the 2010 crop with soil testing at the top of the list.

For further information, stop by the Extension Office at 501 S. Ninth or call 272-3670.