The Iowa state-wide rural well-water survey design report: a systematic sample of domestic drinking water quality.

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Thursday, February 1, 1990
GR Hallberg
BC Kross
RD Libra
LF Burmeiseter
LMB Weih
CF Lynch
DR Bruner
MQ Lewis
KL Cherryholmes
JK Johnson
MA Culp
Journal Title: 
Technical Information Series 17

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the University of Iowa (UI) Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination conducted a survey (a one-time sampling) of the quality of private drinking-water supplies used by rural Iowans. The State-Wide Rural Well-Water Survey (SWRL) was carried out between April 1988 and June 1989. The two primary objectives were to address: 1. What proportion of private rural wells in Iowa are affected by various environmental contaminants? and 2. What proportion of rural Iowa residents are utilizing well water containing these environmental contaminants?

To provide a statistically valid framework, a systematic sample, stratified by rural population density, was designed. A target of 698 sites was defined, based on statistical considerations, available funds and logistical constraints. The systematic framework was defined using every 5-minute intersection of latitude and longitude in the state; the intersections chosen for sampling sites were distributed proportionally through the population, based on county-level rural-population density. The drinking-water well closest to each chosen intersection was selected for sampling. Iowa Cooperative Extension Service county staff identified eligible participants, based on design criteria.

The effect of temporal variability in groundwater quality during the survey was addressed in two ways: 1. 10% of all sites were sampled a second time, but during a different season; 2. all sites within a county (or counties), typifying six general hydrogeologic regions in Iowa, were sampled quarterly. In addition, routine sampling was seasonally dispersed throughout the state.

Standardized procedures for field activities were employed during SWRL. An appointment was arranged for each site, so that a resident was available to interview. Information was compiled on items such as well construction, agricultural practices, water treatment, past water-quality problems, waste disposal practices, and the general health status of rural residents. The drinking water wells' construction and placement characteristics and proximity to point-sources of contamination were inventoried by field staff. Sampling points were chosen as close to the well as possible; the water-system was purged until tracking measurements stabilized. Samples for laboratory analysis were collected in pre-treated containers supplied by the laboratories. Field quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) included blank, spiked, and duplicate samples. Custody forms tracked the movement of all sample containers.

All primary samples were analyzed for total coliform bacteria; nitrate (+ nitrite)-N, ammonia-N, and organic-N; major inorganic ions; 27 commonly-used pesticides; and selected pesticide metabolites. The participating laboratories had U.S. EPA QA/QC plans in place, and the SWRL plan utilized and verified their implementation. The method detection limits (MDL) for pesticide analyses were set as the minimum practical concentration quantitation limit for each analyte in a groundwater matrix, established through QA/QC procedures. Groundwater-matrix effects necessitated an increase in some SWRL MDLs, relative to a reagent water matrix. This may cause an increase in false negative detections, but should minimize false positive detections.

Overall completion criteria were established for the and were met successfully. For 1. site-inventory, sample collection and analysis, and 2. return of voluntary health questionnaires, criteria of 95% and 60%, respectively, were set. These criteria were met, at 98% and 85%. The final SWRL well-water sample was 686 sites. Sample and analysis completeness were also set for each county. County criteria were met with one exception, for inorganic ions: 92 counties (of 99) were sampled at 100% of the design; 94% of the 10% repeat sites were resampled; and 93% of the quarterly sites were sampled 4 times. In total, 1 ,048 well water samples were collected and analyzed. Of the 686 sites, 47% were the primary rural-residence selected (i.e., closest to the 5-minute intersection), and 79% were among the first three choices. The most common reason a selected residence was not sampled was the inability to contact a current resident (70%); < 8% of persons contacted were unwilling to participate.


Hallberg, G. R., Kross, B. C., Libra, R. D., Burmeister, L. F., Weih, L. M. B., Lynch, C. F., & Bruner, D. R. (1990). The Iowa state-wide rural well-water survey design report: a systematic sample of domestic drinking water quality.