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Essential Water Treatment?

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So, the Troop went camping last weekend at two sites...


Due to limited water resources at site #2, the SM decided to conserve their packed water by using water from an open well source at site #1.


They did not treat the water, no one had any equipment/chemicals to do so. And they didn't boil it.


The next day the U.S. Park Ranger informs everyone that the source was tested the day before and has E. Coli.


Wife and I just look at each other and ask why we put up with this.


So far just mild/moderate diarrhea but this will be doctor day if it does not stop.


I'm sure I've missed some important point in all this ... what should a troop carry with them for water treatment?(This message has been edited by Engineer61)

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I always carry iodine tablets. The scouts certainly had the ability to boil the water, which is treatment enough for any biological contaminant.


Never drink untreated/untested water.


I will say, if folks would follow the signs at campgrounds and not clean their dishes at the well head; E. Coli is atypical in ground water. The campground should post a notice.

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I guess I would want to know more about this before passing judgment and concluding that anyone did anything wrong or careless. I'm not sure exactly what is meant by "open well." An old-fashioned hand operated pump or a Jack & Jill style open hole with a bucket and crank? I think most people when they come across a pump or spigot in a public area of a park or campground assume that the water is potable unless it is posted otherwise. Was this water usually potable and the e-coli showed up in a routine test? The fact that they were testing it would seem to suggest the Ranger thought people would consider it potable. Occasionally municipal water systems issue boil orders following test results. Does that mean I should boil my water at home? My in-laws have a private, untreated well that they test once a year. Are they being foolish?

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Yah, contamination from Leave-Much_Trace campers or ranchers is da only viable explanation. Real shame, that.


Ordinarily, I'd tend to trust ground water, eh? It's tapwater for homeowners across much of da U.S. ;) When well water is unsafe in parks, it's always been posted in my experience. I think in this case da fellow who did the testing blew it by not posting right then, and otherwise your son's troop just had a case of really bad luck timing.


Yeh have to think about it like taking a bouncing grounder to the face playin' ball. Sometimes, in any activity, yeh just get the bad bounce. And then yeh deal with it.


If a troop is goin' into an area where they expect to use surface water, that's a different story. While there's still plenty of surface water that's just fine to drink, da Leave-Much-Trace camper crowd has done a much better job of contaminating a lot of the sources. In that case there are three potential treatments (besides boiling, which works on all da biological contaminants).


Halogens (Iodine or Chlorine). Easiest for kids, and cheapest. Put da tablet in, let it dissolve, wait for an appropriate length of time. Works fine on viruses and bacteria, takes a bit longer on da bigger parasites like giardia, and won't work for some of da big cysts.


Filters. Heavy, expensive, clog easily, and most kids manage to cross-contaminate 'em by not being careful. Works on da bigger parasites, though not so well on viruses (ex. Hep A).


UV. Expensive initial investment, but relatively fool-proof and kinda cool. Requires batteries, so harder to make work for long expeditions. Kills everything, works faster than any of da others. Really grimy water will need to be strained first.



(This message has been edited by Beavah)

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I'm picturing one of these things:




That isn't an "open" well. It has a concrete cap, and the only time surface water can directly contaminate it is when there is flooding (that's not to say, if it is fairly shallow, that surface contaminants cannot leach into the water, as Beavah suggests).


This is an open well:




I've never seen one in a public recreation area in the U.S.

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I've several absolute concrete rules that concern water treatment ...first filtering, followed by purification with a rest period to allow the chemicals the time to do their job. The other is filtering, followed by boiling.

Also, I won't draw water directly from a river, or lake. Instead, I'll look for a small feeder creek that I feel isn't contaminated by cattle. There isn't a filter on the market that can remove growth hormones, antibiotics, and a host of other ills that ranchers feed their livestock. Lastly, I'm the only one that fills his water bottles.

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My thoughts.



If a well with a cap and a pump, like Blanc's first link, then I too would not purify UNLESS noted.


If an open well, then yes.


Now I don't own a pump, but I have used one once and it was a pain to pump. I've used iodine and vitamin C tablets to get the taste out. I've also used the bleach before too. But back then, I was lifeguarding and the taste didn't bother me ;)


Someday, when I really need it, I'm going the straw filter or gravity fed filter route.

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I can answer a couple of your questions.


If you're on municipal water, no need to boil unless the utility issues a warning. Municipal systems receive extensive daily testing.


A home well that is tested annually and has no history of problems would comply with regulatory requirements in my neck of the woods. I would not consider its use "foolish" in any way. It is "tested" water.


Groundwater generally does not have issues with biological contaminants. I would agree that normally a well pump or spigot in a campground in a campground is likely potable. They receive regular testing. I also see yahoos washing dishes (among other things) right on top of the well head. There is a reason campgrounds post signs not to do cleaning at the wellhead. I lightly treat water from campground spigots and pumps during heavy use seasons for this reason.



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Campground did post a notice, the morning after they had used the well....when the test results arrived.


Don't know the context of the well, but since Scout called it "open" I'm guessing it was not a hand pump/cap variety.


I agree that contamination is rare in true ground water wells...sealed caps, no back flow, no local contamination possibilities....grew up on well water ... never a problem (except hardness and iron).


Sigh... just another bump in the road.

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My approach is pretty simplistic. I don't trust any water source unless it is clearly marked potable or I have been told by a reliable authority that it is potable. I usually carry a filter.


One advantage to filtering the water is that it helps keep boys busy doing something constructive.

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For those who have had the opportunity to own a pet goldfish, if one uses chlorine treated water, you need to leave it sit 24 hours prior to use so that the chlorine has a chance to evaporate. If one doesn't want to wait, run it through a carbon filter, it takes out the chemicals including insecticides, pesticides, along with the chlorine. One does not rely on a micro filter to remove bacteria/viruses.


1) Filter water through coffee filter to remove debris, etc.

2) Chlorinate with household bleach (5.5% solution) Industrial bleach can run up to 18% solution so beware that all bleach is not the same.

3) Filter through carbon to remove all bad chemicals, i.e. herbicides, insecticides and of course the bleach.


Also remember that chlorine is 6X's more effective than iodine in removing bacteria and viruses.




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A large municipality in this region only recently started filtering their water (due to that bad, bad, government regulation by the EPA, tsk, tsk). Before that, I could easily identify living protozoans in their finish water, using the microscope, and sometimes you could actually SEE organisms in it. But their watershed was well-protected and to my knowledge there were no outbreaks of any nasties like occurred in Milwaukee.

I know that there are plenty of people in this country who still dip water from streams for their daily needs, and who don't seem to become ill. I also know that when I'm in the islands, the water I drink is merely collected from protected streams, untreated. No ill effects...I'm willing to accept the risks in that case, plus I've tested most of it.


But I also know that in this country, having actually tested the water in hundreds of places, I will NOT drink from untested, unlabeled streams, lakes, wells, or even springs...unless I have boiled it or filtered it using a sub-micron filter. Anything less is just a spin of the cylinder and a pull of the trigger.

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