Coliform bacteria are microorganisms found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals and humans. When water comes in contact with feces, the runoff can carry the bacteria, which is prone to cross-contaminating drinking water sources. It is, therefore, important for those who have private sources of drinking water to know what coliform bacteria are, why they matter, and how to do water testing.

Water, Water Everywhere

We truly take for granted how easy it is to get water. It is one of the few resources that is basically free and universally accessible (for the most part). We are so used to this ease of access that it rarely occurs to us to think about where the water is sourced from. Even with high-mesh filtration systems, any source for water can be prone to contamination, often by way of floods.

During an untimely deluge, cross-contamination between septic systems and drinking water is prone to happening, and when it does, there’s a pretty good chance that the water could become contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria.

What Are Fecal Coliform Bacteria?

Fecal coliform bacteria are microorganisms that lives in the intestines of warm blooded animals, including pigs, cows, and humans. They are an anaerobic (meaning they do not need access to air to thrive). Coliform bacteria are a group subdivided into several species, the most notable of which is Eschericia coli (E. Coli), which is often the subject of news stories regarding outbreaks. Coliform bacteria’s mode of travel is usually through overloaded septic systems, cross-contamination caused by flooding, or runoff of livestock feces into rivers and lakes.

Why You Don’t Want This In Your Water.

While contamination of water with coliform bacteria does not necessarily guarantee that you will become infected with a harmful pathogen, it is used as the benchmark by which water safety is measured. State and federal regulations require constant monitoring of drinking water sources to ensure the presence of coliform bacteria, and other contaminates, remain at safe levels. Where there is a private water supply such as a well, it is the owner’s responsibility to actively monitor and routinely test for contamination.

The presence of a relatively benign strain of coliform bacteria in your water could indicate the presence of not-so-benign strains like E. coli. Symptoms of E. coli infection include severe gastrointestinal and abdominal pain, frequent vomiting, and diarrhea (which can be bloody).

Testing Your Water

While a coliform bacteria infection is unlikely to kill you, it is still a lengthy, unpleasant experience that can be avoided by routine testing of contaminant levels. In the case of public sources of drinking water, there are routine tests and officials are required by law to inform citizens of a potential threat of infection. However, for people who have private sources of water like a well, testing must be undertaken by the owner. For those who wish to test the water themselves, the process most used in the testing of well water is membranous filtration. This involves passing samples (usually of 1 mL and 10 mL) through a filter with a membrane mesh with 0.45 micron pores. The filter is then placed in a petri dish with the goal of culturing the target bacteria with an appropriate medium while eliminating any others through heat treatment.

Getting Professional Testing

For those who want to spare themselves the hassle of having to go through a grueling testing process, there are professional services available for the testing of coliform bacteria. AquaKnow provides testing services to homeowners, ranchers, drillers, and municipalities, and are dedicated professionals in multiple areas of water testing services.