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Why Do Garden Water Testing

July 08, 2016

When your garden includes ponds and streams, water testing is probably a good idea. Earlier this year, we attended a seminar on retaining and recycling water in rural locations. One of the conservationists who spoke made a point of saying (paraphrasing): “There’s no such thing as a clean babbling brook on our rural properties anymore.” His point being human development and agriculture have contaminated a lot of the running water on land.

Water gathered for testing at lab

Looking at the color or clarity of water doesn’t tell the whole story.
Lab water testing can take the mystery out of your water.

When we purchased our new property that includes a couple of ponds and a small creek that receive water from livestock land uphill and then empty downhill into a county ditch that then empties into a slough that then passes into a protected wildlife estuary, I put in a call to the Skagit Conservation District for help getting information on our pond and stream water quality.

Padilla Bay sunset in July

Being a resident near a gorgeous protected estuary is an honor & a responsibilty.

Our goal wasn’t to start raising koi in the ponds or to drink the water from it. Rather, we wanted to get a good understanding of whether the water would be toxic for the dogs that jump into it and drink from it. We wanted to be sure that the existing population of native tadpoles, frogs, salamanders, water insects and predators would continue to thrive. And, we wanted to understand what level of nastiness might be both passing into and out of our property via the existing water ways.

tadpole metamorphosis to froglet

Native Pacific tree frog transforming from tadpole to frog in our pond.

Our local conservationist helped connect us with a local water testing lab, Edge Analytical. Edge helped us choose a few tests to run to set a healthy baseline on our water. We began with basic tests for things like nitrates and fecal coliforms. Certainly, we could run any number of additional tests, but both the conservation district and the lab suggested these were where we should start. Both told us to expect some naturally occurring levels of coliforms as any open water has animal traffic, and, well, shit happens.


When these bulls live upstream from you, guess what runs downstream?

Our test results came back in just a few days. They weren’t something I could understand on my own, but fortunately, the folks at Edge are very happy to help anyone understand the reports. So, I placed a quick call to the lab and was connected to the Director of Laboratories, Larry Henderson. He helped me understand that our tests came back with pretty healthy report levels (on the tested materials.)

Flat Coat Retriever in garden pond

We try to keep dogs out of our pond so they don’t disrupt our amphibians & water plants, but sometimes pups like Raven, a flat-coat retriever, can’t resist taking a plunge. Knowing the water isn’t horribly toxic helps us keep calm when she dives in.

We could continue to test for more levels — like oxygen which can be depleted by big water plant or algae blooms. And, when oxygen is depleted by plants, animal life in the pond can suffer. But, for now, it appears that our primary pond that drains into the creek and eventually into the bay is clear, with a happy balance of native breeding frogs, insects, salamanders and plant life.

Young Pacific Tree frogs on pond lily pad

In early summer, native Pacific tree frogs emerge from their underwater tadpole state. Keeping the water healthy for them helps ensure they complete their lifecycle. And, as adults, they’ll help keep mosquitos & other unwanted insect populations to a minimum.

It is a living space, so things may change over time, but for the moment, the watery wildlife is thriving beautifully, and should a pup dive in or take a drink occasionally, we won’t be terribly concerned that an immediate vet trip is necessary.

Great blue heron in slough near Padilla Bay

Native great blue herons forage in ponds, sloughs & nearby Padilla bay. Keeping water clean helps keep them healthy & well fed.

And, when our resident great blue herons and other waterfowl return to troll the pond for froggy sustinance, we’ll rest a little easier knowing they’re foraging in a fairly healthy eco-system. And, as our babbling brook flows away from the pond and through the native forest, we’ll stay hopeful that the natural bio-filters of the forest will do even more the filter the water before it heads into the greater Padilla Bay estuary system.


  1. It is interesting that your results were actually pretty healthy. I’m glad that you had your water tested, or you might’ve continued worrying for no reason. This might be a good idea to do for water near me, do you have any tips for contacting someone who can test the water for my community? Thank you for sharing!

  2. Brooke, you could try contacting Edge Analytical, the lab mentioned in this article, for assistance with your water testing needs. Good luck!

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