CORVALLIS - Oregonians concerned about whether their well water has high levels of nitrates can have their water tested for free March 20-21 at the Daffodil Festival in Junction City. The event is at the Long Tom Grange.

The testing is part of Oregon State University's Extension Well Water Program.

For the test, bring about a cup of untreated well water in a clean container to the Southern Willamette Groundwater Booth at the festival. The test is completely anonymous, said Gail Andrews of the OSU Extension Service.

"You don't need to label your container," she said. "Just make sure you recognize it because your results will be placed with the container. The test only takes a few minutes."

Andrews said people who take the test will have an opportunity to learn more about their wells and septic tanks, and how to protect their drinking water from nitrates. Information also will be available on the new Groundwater Management Area, which is being declared because of high nitrates.

Nitrate is the main form of nitrogen used by plants, Andrews said, and it is important to have enough in the soil for crops, gardens and landscaping. However, when nitrates make their way to drinking water supplies, they become a health risk. Public water supplies are tested regularly for nitrates and must meet strict standards.

"If you get your drinking water from an individual household well, it is your responsibility to test the water to see if it is safe to drink" Andrews said. "It is especially important for households with pregnant women or newborns to test for nitrates because of a rare type of 'blue-baby' syndrome, but all homes with private wells should be tested."

For details about the new Groundwater Management Area, visit the web at http://groundwater.oregonstate.edu/Willamette.

For information about safe drinking water from private wells, visit http://wellwater.oregonstate.edu.

Persons without web access can call Gail Andrews, of the OSU Extension Well Water Program, at 541-737-6294, for more information.