Massachusetts Water Resources Research Center at UMass Amherst

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How can I get notified of upcoming WRRC grants and conferences?
A: Subscribe to the WRRC-L mailing list and you will get email messages alerting you of grant and conference opportunities. Right now this is not a listserv for everyone to use as a message board, so traffic is very low.

Q: Where can I have my well or tap water analyzed?
A: UMass does not analyze samples for private citizens. You will have to hire a commercial lab for your analyses. See the list of DEP-approved labs or look in your phone book's yellow pages under Laboratories-Testing or Water Analysis. The Environmental Analytical Lab at UMass-Amherst does not do analyses for private customers, but does take samples from citizen groups monitoring their local water bodies.

Q: What should I have my drinking water tested for?
A: It depends on what your situation is.

  • If you suspect fecal contamination from failing septic systems or animal contamination, ask for fecal coliform or E. coli bacteria testing.
  • If you suspect contamination from agricultural sources, ask for nitrate testing. Too much nitrate in drinking water is very harmful to babies.
  • If you suspect petroleum-type contamination (oil, gas) or chemical pollution (trichlorethylene, etc.), ask for Volatile Organic Carbon analyses.
  • If you are concerned about salt (important for people with high-blood pressure), ask for sodium and chloride testing.
  • If you are concerned about metals, ask for lead and copper testing.

Many towns have recommendations/requirements for drinking water. Ask your Board of Health or check the following web sources: Information on drinking water contaminants can be found on the EPA Drinking Water Contaminants web site, which lists contaminants and the maximum contaminant levels allowed. Another good source of information is the EPA site for private well owners. Finally, check EPA's Signs of Common Water Quality Problems.

Q: Who can help me interpret the results I get from the lab?
A:
The EPA Drinking Water Contaminants site lists maximum concentrations allowed for many contaminants, so you can compare your results to the listed numbers on that site. Also see the Safe Water Drinking Hotline (800-426-4791), How safe is my drinking water?, or the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's web site on drinking water FAQ. You can also learn more at the EPA Drinking Water Contaminants web site.

Q: Where do I find help on pollution remediation?
A: On the web, check the EPA site on private drinking wells: what you can do

Locally, you can contact your town's board of health or your regional Department of Environmental Protection's office: Western, Central, Northeast, Southeast.

Q: I'm concerned about a pond or river in my town. How do I find out whether it's healthy or not?
A:
Check the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's Water Quality Assessment Reports. Scroll down to see individual reports in specific watersheds. Don't know which one is your watershed? Locate yourself on the map

If your water body has been assessed and found to be polluted, it will be listed on the Massachusetts Year 2006 List of Integrated Waters. Other years are available on Massachusetts TDML reports.

Contact the Massachusetts Water Watch Partnership (MassWWP) to find out if there is a local non-profit monitoring the water body of concern, or check the on-line directory. Or view MassWWP's self-survey web page to decide whether monitoring is for you.

Surf Your Watershed is an EPA web site where you'll find some information about water bodies (click on your watershed)

Q: Where do I find out where the aquifer lies near my house?
A:
Go to:

Q: My child is doing a water-related science project. Where can I find helpful information?
A:
This is a really broad question that should be further defined. Consider formulating a question that can be answered by running an experiment or survey. Keep the question focused. "How is water quality in Massachusetts?" is too vague and overwhelming. Rather, concentrate on a specific problem in a specific area, such as "Is there enough oxygen in the lake to support a cold-water fishery?" or "Is Quabbin Reservoir water better than our well water for drinking purposes?" Then do a web search to get started.

EPA has an excellent water site for middle and high school students, great information and overviews and a section for younger kids. Another great site with background information and experiment descriptions for high schoolers is http://www.epa.gov/highschool/

Q: I keep horses (sheep, goats…) on my land. Is it safe for them to drink the creek water?
A:
The water quality is probably acceptable, unless you are downstream of a gross pollution source such as a livestock farm or a dense urban area. The concern is more whether your animals are negatively impacting the water quality of the creek. Ideally you would prevent or restrict access to the creek, and provide an alternative source of drinking water for the animals. A good source of information or help on this topic is your county Conservation District or Natural Resources Conservation Service