How to Test Drinking Water – Permaculture Safety Tips

How to Test Drinking Water – Permaculture Safety Tips

Water quality is dependent on:

  1. The water source:
    1. Town water.
    2. Rainwater.
    3. Bore water.
    4. Dam water.
  2. Water transport & storage:
    1. Pipes to storage.
    2. Storage container material & cleanliness.
    3. Pipes from storage.

Other factors to consider:

  • Regularity in which it is topped up.
  • Open/closed to contamination.
  • Cross contamination.
  • Heated/cooled during the day (growth of organisms, physico-chemical changes).
  • Degradation of materials (containers, piping etc).


pH (acidity and alkalinity) of the water, is largely dependent on dead and decomposing organic matter (which will cause acidity).  Target pH = 7 (neutral) however pH = 5-9 is acceptable.  If you find:

  • pH = 1-5  Fill a bag with carbonate mineral & hang into water, this will adjust to pH = 7.
  • pH = 6-14 Add “pH up” from aquarium shop or diluted hydrochloric acid (1 part acid : 10 parts water) to adjust dropwise to pH = 7.

You can buy “pH strips” from EBay for $1


“Salt” is a positive + negative ion which comes together when dried, but is dissolved between water molecules when in water.  It can be many ions – most of which are metals.  It is measured as EC (electrical conductivity) and TDS (Total Dissolved Solids).  Safe drinking water = 0-1500 us/cm.

You can buy a EC meter for $20 on EBay.


Turbidity or cloudiness will tell you if clay minerals are present.  Clay particles suspend between water molecules to the point that when holding up a glass of water, light from a torch will not shine through.  If clay minerals are present – it will need to be removed via filters.

Heavy metals may dissolve in groundwater & be transported to your location.

You can buy a “heavy metals water test kit” on EBay for $15


Micro-organisms include bacteria, protista, fungi, plants & animals.  Your aim (what you are doing) determines whether they are detrimental or beneficial.

  • Bacteria….are too small to see or identify by themselves.  These will need to be cultured (grown) into a colony for identification.  Add a drop of the water to be tested to sterilized (boiled) agar on a small glass dish (also sterilized).  Place into an enclosed fishtank (all sides & air sterilized via antibacterial spray).  Allow the colony to develop for one week.  If something grows – you have bacteria.  You may attempt to identify which strain via online research into colour & colony shape.
  • Protista, fungi, plants & animals…if you obtain a list of common harmful organisms in you area – you can identify some of them yourself by researching online what they look like – then using a USB microscope camera to find them.  Take a drop of the water, mix with microscope slide stain (to see the organism + kill it so it stops moving), place it on a slide – then place the camera over it.  Use x 1000 magnification.

Microscope x 1000 from EBay $20

Microscope slide form EBay $1

Microscope stain from EBay $7

Got any more ideas?  Add them in the comments below…

About The Author

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About The Author

Chrissy-Tiina Laurikainen

In person + online permaculture teacher. Online permaculture consultant. Upkeep of a 30 acre rural property (using permaculture & other agroecological techniques). A communal research laboratory focusing on free innovation in the works. Doing what I can to support LIFE on planet Earth!!

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