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Water Quality Testing: How to Do Water Tests Simply, Inexpensively and Accurately

A set of downloadable files which will help you do water testing as simply and inexpensively as possible, and understand and make the best use of the results.

$14.95 — 34 page PDF document, Word document, and Excel worksheet- BETA VERSION

Village women in Mexico monitoring wells for nitrate contamination.

Testing potable water for general and fecal coliforms.

Testing village drinking water for general and fecal coliforms with Coliscan Membrane Filtration and Hach presence/ absence tests. The coliform levels from the drinking water well were consistently lower than the purchased bottled water, and frequently zero coliforms per 100 ml, which is a lower level than than frequently found in bottled drinking water in the US.

Testing a spring in Mexico used for drinking water for electrical total dissolved solids/ electrical conductivity.

Tap water on right has no general coliforms. Same water after passing through a reverse/ osmosis drinking water filter (left) is positive for general coliforms. It's about to be tested with a UV light to see if it also has fecal coliforms (it didn't). R/O treatment removes chlorine, and general coliforms often will develop. In most cases this is a net improvement.

Shallow hand dug community well next to a contaminated river.

River water in background has 20,000 coliforms per 100 ml, 500 times more than is typically considered safe for swimming. Amazingly, the water from the hand dug shallow well in the foreground had zero.

Photograph of a plate from a local swimming hole showing general and fecal coliform bacteria concentrations (sample size is 5 ml).

Who needs this information?

This information is especially useful for lay people who have an interest in the quality of natural waters or a water system, including water quality activists, surfers, managers of small water systems (particularly those attempting to meet the onerous clean water act requirements for potable water systems supplied from surface water), rural homeowners, development workers, aid workers and other water guardians who want to learn to test water or improve their existing testing program.

The suppliers of water quality testing supplies seem to assume that users are well-versed in all applicable lab techniques. They also seem to assume that users don't care how much the tests cost, or how much trash is generated.

This packet is designed to give your water quality testing effort a boost by sharing what we've learned about doing inexpensive, materials-efficient tests that help give an accurate picture of what is going on.

These tests range from easy to somewhat, but not too technically involved. The coliform bacteria tests are the most involved. If you think you could do high school chemistry lab experiments well if you did them over and over, you'll be fine. Detail orientation and persistence are the keys.

What the packet covers

The examples include samples showing the quality of natural waters, including:

They also include samples from water and wastewater systems, including:

Author: Art Ludwig. Oasis Design, June 2004. 8.5x11, 34 pages, 7 tables. $14.95 for three file set (3.21 mb).

You can download files (or have them e mailed to you) immediately after processing your order.

All files have a 30 day unconditional money back guarantee. If you are not satisfied with the file for any reason, just let us know and your credit charge will be refunded in full (there is no shipping/handling for downloads).

System and software requirements

All the information is in PDF format and can be viewed/printed with the Adobe Acrobat free reader.

Microsoft Word or google docs is required to use the editable version of the instructions. Microsoft excel or google sheets and some idea of how to use it are required to use the editable version of the data entry spreadsheets.

At present there isn't any interpretation of the examples.

This item is somewhat ragged around the edges; a "public beta."

If we'd found it at the start of our water testing program, it would have saved us thousands of dollars of time. Please Email us if you've found it highly useful, incomprehensible, or have other thoughts to share.


Equipment and materials

General and fecal coliform testing materials

Do you need an incubator?

In order to get:

...you need an incubator. A lab incubator costs several hundred dollars. However, an inexpensive incubator for baby chickens works, if you've got the patience to set the temperature carefully and you keep it away from temperature swings and extremes.

Hovabator 1602n incubator weight 4lbs 7.5 x18 x18 $33.95; A lightweight Styrofoam incubator. It has it's own adjustable thermostat and provision for humidifying the interior, which can help keep petri dishes from drying out in arid conditions.

General and fecal coliform levels from 20 to 20,000 per 100 ml? A cheap and easy test

Use Coliscan® Easygel®.

Coliform Easygel (28001) - Coliform growth medium- 10 tests/set $13.50

Coliscan media have a refrigerated shelf life of 6 months. Frozen, they last a year or more. At room temperature, a couple weeks.

You also need:

See Micrology Labs contact info at bottom of next listing.

General and fecal coliform levels from 1 to 100 per 100ml-A somewhat more difficult and time consuming test

Use Coliscan® Membrane filtration kit.

The apparatus is more involved, the materials are still cheap.

Coliscan MF Water Monitoring Kit - # CMFK2:

The kit comes complete. Kit includes: 1 Filtering apparatus, 1 Syringe with hose (vacuum device), 2 Coliscan MF bottles, 20 membrane filters, 20 dishes w/ absorbent pad, 20 3 mL Dropper, 5 filter support pads, Instruction and interpretation guide. $39.50

Coliscan media have a refrigerated shelf life of 6 months. Frozen, they last a year or more. At room temperature, a couple weeks.

1 888 easygel 327-9435 http://www.micrologylabs.com

Micrology labs is a small operation; you can get people who really know what they are talking about on the phone.

General and fecal coliform levels, presence/ absence in up to 100ml

Presence/Absence Test, with MUG, disposable, twelve pack

Product #: 2401612, $ 40.30

In order to check for fecal coliforms, you also need a UV lamp: Hand-held, battery-operated, long-wave UV lamp. Uses four AA batteries not included.

Product #: 2584600, $ 18.85

800 227-4224 http://www.hach.com

Electrical conductivity, TDS and Temperature

I like the DiST®5 handheld EC/TDS/Temp meter. It has these features:


If you have to be able to report to the EPA, this is the cheapest solution I know of:

2100P Portable Turbidimeter

Product #: 4650000 $ 837.00
800 227-4224 http://www.hach.com

Air travel with water quality testing materials

Important note:If you're traveling by air with your water test equipment, be sure to take MSDS sheets and a convincing story about how you are a water guardian, not a bioterrorist. MSDS's are readily obtainable from the manufacturers.

$14.95 — 34 page PDF document, Word document, and Excel worksheet- BETA VERSION


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