Watch Your Water
By George Giltner, Adv. Master Gardener
Detrimental substances to plants and animals are may be found in tap water. Therefore it is wise to “Know your Water” as many bumper stickers are seen while traveling. The severity of these problems vary from mild diarrhea (usually due to bacteria or sulfate compounds) to extreme cancer risks like the Camp Lejeune area where approximately 1 million Marines and family members drank and bathed in water with toxins at concentrations up to 3400 times permitted safety levels (1953-1985). On the Ag side, plant toxins from water reduce yields to destroy crops like high sodium irrigation water. Tap water with a high pH (alkaline) reacts with acid pesticides making them ineffective.
So, how does one “Watch Water”? Obtain the analytical results of your tap water supplied by the La. Department of Health and Hospitals . A CD Rom can be obtained for around $27 (Kate Gilmore, SDWIS State/Compliance Support Manager, 223-342-7499). A “complete” analysis is only done once every three years as required by the EPA. For testing pH, an inexpensive pH meter along with current calibration standards can supply reliable values. Coliform and mineral tests are available on-line, but purchase from reliable vendors like LaMotte or send samples to another state, or certified water lab for cross checking results. Health professionals, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, National Institute of Health, and the American Kidney Foundation are excellent sources for interpreting lab results.
The EPA is a regulatory agency which delves into legalities and changing standards. While it does provide primary (Maximum Contaminant Levels to prevent adverse health effects) and secondary standards (guidelines that are not enforceable), these are “Man’s Laws”, not natural law. Louisiana has a law that states if a person is bitten by another person with natural teeth it is “Simple Assault”, but if that person is bitten with false teeth, it is “Aggravated Assault”. Natural law responds to the effect of the bite instead of a legal definition of real teeth and false teeth.
Sodium and pH values are currently classified as secondary standards by the EPA. The secondary standard for pH is 6.5 to 8.5 for drinking water. The recommended EPA value of 20 mg/L for sodium in drinking water is based on a 500 mg/day, low sodium diet. Yet the EPA lists sodium as a secondary standard that is still under evaluation. Therefore, legally, a community water service does not have to report these values to its customers. However, natural law with its “effect of the bite” does impact the water customers. Some states, like our neighbor, Texas, does require sodium to be given to consumers due to health concerns.
Locally, 2012 La. Dept. of H & H lab results from Beauregard Water District #3, exhibits high pH values (above 8.5) in half of its 10 wells. Some of the effects of this alkaline water include acid/base reactions that neutralize medications and pesticides, damage to soil/plants/animals, and killing of aquatic life. Industry cannot discharge 9+ pH water into waterways, yet 3 water wells at Ragley were over this EPA limit. One positive feature of these high pH wells is that the water makes an effective anti-acid for overeaters.
Around 60% of the District #3 sodium values are at or above 70 ppm. 40% of the sodium values are above 100 ppm (between sodium levels of a diet Coke to a Sprite). Dr. J. Benton Jones, Jr. (Plant Nutrition and Soil Fertility Manual, 2ed, 2012), a leader and authority on plant nutrition, states that sodium in irrigation water above 70 ppm, and bicarbonate above 40 ppm can be detrimental to plants. Sodium bicarbonate and sodium carbonate are the primary compounds responsible for the high pH in this water system.
Plants are like people in that some are more sensitive to sodium than others. The very young and old, diabetics, people with cardiovascular, kidney, hypertension diseases, and genetic sodium sensitivity should keep their daily sodium intakes very low. While the EPA is in a state of flux over MCL values, a medical professional (dietician, doctor, etc.) can provide better advice. If the doctor tells you not to drink “Sodas”, be sure to tell him about your water sodium levels. Over a lifetime, most medical professionals agree to keep blood pressure down, low sodium is the key.
For plants, a rain barrel is an excellent alternative to a bad water supply. Also ponds and shallow wells can provide good irrigation water in our area. For baby, note that supercenter stores sell gallon-size containers of “Baby Water” for good reasons. Grandparents and the rest of sodium sensitive people may want to invest into a reverse osmosis system, or cut down on sodium in foods to reach low sodium levels below 1500 ppm/day. Remember that a gallon (min. daily consumption) of 100 ppm water will equal around 400 ppm sodium. Coffee lovers will be delighted to discover the true flavor of coffee when they switch to distilled or very low sodium water.
Consumers are mainly concerned about health issues with tap water. But, a few water systems are focused on just making money and business/mechanical operations. A common sense water department hires a hydrologist that is as valuable as a proven geologist looking for oil. The success rate of the geologist, his science and support team determine his value and reputation. Hopefully, future water resources can be tapped with the same expertise and creativity that the oil industry has used. Amateurs do not belong in a business that affects the health of so many people, nor do water employees that dismiss health and Ag issues.