Is it feasible to gather samples and get water tested independently?

2:01 p.m. on July 26, 2011 (EDT)
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I’ve been mulling the notion of gathering some samples from my frequent hiking areas to have the water tested. This notion is largely motivated by curiosity. There are several springs in the Smokies that I drink from with no treatment or purification (and have for a long time with no ill effects). Perhaps though, I’ve just been lucky. For better or worse I started the practice after noticing that none of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Ridge Runners that I’ve met ever treat their water. The ones that I’ve become acquainted with have been on the job for several years.

On my recent Roan Highlands hike I didn’t treat there either and was fine.

I’ve met a lot of AT thru-hikers over the years; some of them told me they never treated at all for the whole trail and were fine.

Regarding testing: The potential complications I’m thinking of are how to get a sterile vessel for transporting the sample (as to get a true and valid test), the cost of the testing source, and the veracity of the tester.

Have any of you fellow backcountry lovers ever attempted independent water testing?  

2:27 p.m. on July 26, 2011 (EDT)
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It is feasible, independent water tests can be done by anyone. Any home owner can ask for a kit from local water testing companies, just as would be done during a home sale.


The problem is this - with a back country spring, there's no telling whether a test today will contain the same contaminents as a test tomorrow.


Factors that would cause contamination includes human and animal excrement, as well as run off and chemicals that are natural or caused by heavy foot traffic.


To answer your question - I wouldn't personally waste my money, because the water could be completely different hours after testing.

2:28 p.m. on July 26, 2011 (EDT)
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also, complications of containing the water in a bottle for a long period of time before testing might be a moist, warm environment that encourages bacteria growth, which of course would skew results.

6:39 p.m. on July 26, 2011 (EDT)
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There are regions and specific sources that require treating water due to pathogens.  There are also places where water isn’t potable unless toxins are removed, something usually beyond the capabilities of what most trekkers bring for treating water.  That said There is lots of water that needs no treatment.

It is my opinion that only a fraction hikers actually need be concerned about backcountry water quality.  The big to do over water treatment is mainly the result of fears ginned up by commercial interests who manufacture purification products.  For example most water sources in the Sierras are potable.  In fact most tap water has more hazardous bio contamination that the typical Sierra stream.  Usually the reason people get ill in the backcountry is not water, it is personal hygiene issue (i.e. remember to wash hands before touching food, and water and cooking paraphernalia).

Regarding the question raised by the OP per conducting water assays, Iclimb indicates a primary issue, that once the sample is removed from the source what would be considered acceptable levels of suspended biotical may bloom to unacceptable levels before a lab can evaluate the sample.  Hence scientists usually conduct bio hazard assays in the field.  Also as Iclimb stated the quality of a given water source may vary, seasonally.  As an alternative to conducting your own surveys, consider sufing the web to inspect university and government caonducted evaluations of the water sources you are concerned about.


1:40 a.m. on July 27, 2011 (EDT)
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9:27 a.m. on July 27, 2011 (EDT)
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great stuff..thanks for the replies

9:53 a.m. on July 27, 2011 (EDT)
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I've only had dysentery once from a water source.  I don't want it again!  I'm glad I was off the trail before the symptoms hit:(

June 24, 2018
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