Water From Wells Can Cause Problems For Plants

Water From Wells Can Cause Problems For Plants
 Not only are more and more cities turning to water wells, but now many people are drilling for individual supplies. The Seymour Aquifer is what people drill into for those supplies. However, the water in that aquifer is dwindling down, and becoming very high in salinity.

“We have just gotten a tremendous amount of calls, here, on the well water,” said David Graf, Wichita County Agriculture Extension Agent. “A lot of people are drilling wells because of our drought situation.”

The water restrictions have cut city supplies for outdoor watering. Now, those people are resorting to drilling wells.

Graf said many of those calls were regarding a negative effect the water was having on various plants. That’s why Graf started a well water sampling campaign.

He sent off 45 samples from different wells around Wichita, Archer, and Clay counties. That water was sent to a lab at Texas A&M University to find out what was causing the problems.

 “They can actually run some tests there that tell us all the different components in the well water,” Graf said. “Then we can help people understand what those components are.”

The results from the testing gave Graf a good idea of what the main problems were in the well water.

 “One of the issues we have with our water is just the salinity levels are relatively high here, and what it will do is cause salt toxicity in our plants,” Graf said.

The average Total Dissolved Solids, in the water wells that were part of the sampling test, was 3,000 TDS. Texas A&M University assigned the upper limit for water used on plants, as 2,000 TDS.

The wells tested did range is TDS amounts. The lowest amount found, in a well tested, was 667 TDS and the highest amount was 8,412 TDS. The TDS of the water is just one factor in a range of different elements mixed for water quality.

“One of the issues that you have, and why it's not a simple answer for its good or bad water, is it depends on soil quality and soil type,” said Graf. 

About 7 of those that participated in the well sampling were told to discontinue use to their wells. It was determined that the water was causing more problems than benefits.

Clay soil is most prevalent in the counties tested, and the clay soil produces a negative effect when mixed with water of high salinity.

“Clay soils tend to hang on to those salt molecules, to the sodium molecules, and so if you get normal rainfall …it will help flush those salts on down to the root zone,” Graff said. “The scientists tell me it takes about a three to four inch rain event to really flush those salts on through that root zone which is the top 8 to 12 inches typically.”

When that amount of rainfall is not available the salt starts to cause different problems.

“The salinity level of the soil can start to rise gradually over time, and so that’s when you can see the problems down the road,” said Steve Smith, of Smiths Gardentown.

Smith was one of the first to recognize there may be a problem with the water. Although the problems may not be something you see right away, according to Smith. The results could take days, months, and even years to notice, according to Smith.

Not all of wells drilled will have a negative effect on plants. There is a huge variation in salinity levels between different wells.

“We had some people who had elevated salt levels but because they are in sandy soil they've been able to do fairly well with some plants,” Graf said.

Some of the results you may notice if you are using well water too high in salinity is the browning or dehydration along the leaf edge. Then you may actually start to see yellowing on the entire leaf, according to Graf.

Graf still recommends drilling water wells, as a source of water. Once the drill is complete, you need to test the water quality, according to Graf.

“Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of things that can be done,” if those levels are too high, said Smith.  “Gypsum can be applied to the soil and that can be marginally effective. If they are over that limit there are thing that they can do, like mixing it with captured rainwater.”

 A new list will be released the week of July 21, or July 28 on the county agriculture website. The list will detail plant sensitivity to salinity, and how different soils react. 

Brittany Costello, Newschannel 6