Yes, public information is the key. I am finishing an eight page narrative for residents on several aspects of water quality for private wells. One section is on treatment strategies. The paragraph on nitrate treatment is provided below. Because we have an entire sector (government, manufacturers, etc.) using the term filter for everything I have adopted the philosophy that changing the use of an entrenched term is not a productive task. Originally, in an earlier draft, I made a stronger statement than the one that appears in the narrative below. I stated that the term filter was misused. Whenever I make a statement that counters convention I require myself to cite a reliable reference. Not being able to find one, I softened the language.
portion of current draft:
3.3 Dealing With Problems
If testing shows a drinking water well is contaminated then certain questions follow. The questions depend on the contaminants found. Is it a shallow well? Where is the well located? What activities are going on around the well (septic system, agriculture, etc)? Frequently problems can be corrected by well maintenance. Sometimes they cannot. When the problems cannot be corrected, the water can often be treated before use. It is always best to remove the contamination source or relocate the well rather than treat the water. Once again, because it is very important, treatment should only be done when corrective measures fail or are impractical. Why? Because treatment systems require ongoing maintenance. If they are not regularly serviced they not only can fail to do their job, they can cause more harm than good.
When it is a nearby septic system causing the problem, the problem can usually be corrected. Many other causes are harder to correct because they impact the entire aquifer. If the well is a shallow well then the problem may be solved by upgrading to a modern deep well. The whole process can be overwhelming for the resident. Our role as watershed managers is to help with interpreting problems and to recommend solutions.
When corrective measures fail, there are two primary ways to treat elevated nitrates in the water: reverse osmosis and ion exchange (each has its advantages and shortcomings). There are whole house systems and “under the sink” units. The whole house system is by far the best approach. The reverse osmosis systems should be available for under $1200 installed. Standard Water softeners, boiling the water, and simple filters will not remove nitrates. Standard water softeners remove calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese. There are some more expensive softeners that have additional capabilities for nitrate removal. Boiling kills bacteria. Strictly speaking, filters remove particles, but treatment systems are often called filters, even by manufacturers. So, when you hear the term filter be sure to get a detailed specification for the particular system being discussed. All treatment systems require regular maintenance. If they are not maintained they will be ineffective and, perhaps, dangerous.