Like most well owners, they hadn’t tested their drinking water in years.
They’d been meaning to get one of those home-testing kits and do it themselves but, well, you know how that is. So, when they saw a flyer for Vashon Water Testing at the Country Store, they called the number.
Kevin Wanamaker showed up a few days later.
The “they” in this tale is an island couple who, by request, shall remain nameless.
The test results showed signs of coliform bacteria in their water. Wanamaker went looking for the source and noticed that mice had chewed a small hole in the top of their water tank.
“When I first saw it, I thought, oh, a mouse got in there,” he says. “No. It was at least 15 mice, judging by the partially decomposed bodies and the stains of previously decomposed bodies that were somewhat embedded into the tank.” Wanamaker determined all this while power-washing and bleaching the entire inside of the 3,000-gallon tank.
(He also “shocked” the well with chlorine.)
“Coliform bacteria is everywhere,” he says. “But because of the unknowns, it shouldn’t be in your water supply. That was a reason to check out their well and water tank. I found the hole, and then it just developed from there.”
Wanamaker has tested and treated more than 35 private well systems since launching Vashon Water Testing (vashonwatertesting.com) in November 2022.
The mouse incident remains, for him, “the worst thing I’ve found thus far.”
Wanamaker stepped into the water testing business at a precarious moment for the Island’s roughly 1,300 well owners who had just lost the services of Bob Seibold, a long-time local expert for wells and water testing. The news of his retirement last year was met with what is best described as panic.
Seibold’s company, Island Pump, Inc., had been servicing island well owners for 34 years, installing and maintaining their wells, pumps and tanks, and testing their water. Wanamaker remembers the concern on his realtor’s face when she told him about Seibold’s departure.
“She was coming out of a meeting where they had broken the news,” he recalls. “‘We’re all in the lurch’ is how she presented it to me.” As she went on to describe the importance of Seibold’s role, a light went on for Wanamaker.
“The island had this need,” he recalled thinking. “It made sense for one person to do the testing instead of every homeowner. I thought, ‘I can do that. I’ll learn what I need to learn.’”
Before moving to Vashon in 2020, Wanamaker had been a builder, a stone mason, a massage therapist and a sales rep for a company that makes robotic arms. He’s a versatile problem-solver who’s used to running his own business.
He studied the water testing process and protocols, as well as the contaminants which present the most immediate danger: nitrates, bacteria and arsenic. He talked with Seibold, who agreed to forward any old clients or calls. He introduced himself and his services to the local Windermere and John L. Scott realty offices.
Surprisingly, the lion’s share of his water-testing business has come via word of mouth. In about 70 percent of those cases, “I see something that needs to be addressed,” said Wanamaker. “Most are things that could be ignored, moderately successfully, for a while. Though I’m finding a fair amount of IRB in wells.”
IRB, or Iron Reducing Bacteria, isn’t harmful in and of itself, but it can be a nuisance. It can stain surfaces and clog small spaces like the pores of a filter or the interior workings of an appliance. It also presents a platform on which other, potentially harmful bacteria can grow.
Wanamaker recalled one job where IRB had managed to invade and damage a homeowner’s in-floor heating system. “It’s a breach in the wall,” he says about IRB. “It’s easy to deal with and you don’t want to ignore it.”
From Wanamaker’s perspective — limited though it may be at this point — most island well owners do ignore their water systems. “I don’t think anybody tests twice a year,” he said.
Fortunately, most wells, pumps and tanks are built to last. “You can usually get away with neglecting your water system for some time,” Wanamaker continued. “But you’re just gambling that nothing unwanted develops. From what I’ve seen, most wells have something going on with varying degrees of how serious that is. Arsenic, nitrates, and coliform bacteria are the big [issues]. IRB, SRB (Sulfur Reducing Bacteria) are also pretty common.”
Washington State doesn’t require private well owners to test their water. Rather, the State Department of Health recommends that you test your water once a year for nitrates and bacteria, and twice a year for arsenic — once in summer and again in winter. If, however, you decide to sell your home, most counties and lending ainstitutions require testing to demonstrate that your home’s drinking water is safe.
It takes about half an hour and $286 to have your water sampled and tested here on Vashon these days. That total includes Wanamaker’s fee ($200), the cost to collect and transport samples to Tacoma, the Tacoma lab’s testing fee ($18 for most contaminants), and a $10 processing charge.
“We consider it money well spent,” said the island well owners with the mouse problem. They were thrilled to report, in an email, that, their “water is now testing free of bacteria and the system is running well. We have a new lid on the water tank (!) and ongoing pest service. Going forward, we plan to monitor our water system with yearly testing.”
It’s a happy ending.
This article was previously published on the blog site of Vashon Nature Center — part of an ongoing series by Vashon Island Groundwater Protection Committee member and author Mary Bruce. Vashon Nature Center blog articles on water subjects are partially supported by a King County Waterworks grant. Read more at vashonnaturecenter.org.