Well Water Testing
Private Ground Water Wells
Many people in the United States receive their water from private ground water wells. EPA regulations that protect public drinking water systems do not apply to privately owned wells. As a result, owners of private wells are responsible for ensuring that their water is safe from contaminants.
Ground Water and Wells
When rain falls, much of it is absorbed into the ground. Water that’s not used by plants moves downward through pores and spaces in the rock until it reaches a dense layer of rock. The water trapped below the ground in the pores and spaces above the dense rock barrier is called ground water, and this is the water we get when we drill wells. Another common term for ground water is “aquifer” or “ground water aquifer.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau. Current Housing Reports, Over 15 million U.S. households regularly depend on private ground water wells.
All private wells use ground water.
Private Ground Water Well Fast Facts
Over 15 million U.S. households rely on private, household wells for drinking water.
If polluted ground water is consumed, it could cause illness. Ground water pollution can be caused by seepage through landfills, failed septic tanks, underground fuel tanks, fertilizers and pesticides, and runoff from urban areas.
It is important that private ground water wells are checked regularly to ensure that the water is safe for drinking.
Typically, private water systems that serve no more than 25 people at least 60 days of the year and have no more than 15 service connections are not regulated by the EPA.
Well Siting & Potential Contaminants
The safety and effectiveness of a well depends greatly on its location. It is important to maintain safe distances between a private ground water well and possible sources of contamination.
Possible sources of contamination and minimum distances from wells include:
- Septic tanks: 50 feet from well
- Livestock yards, silos, septic leach fields: 50 feet from well
- Petroleum tanks, liquid-tight manure storage and fertilizer storage and handling: 100 feet from well
- Manure stacks: 250 feet from well
What to test for in your well
Several water quality indicators (WQIs) and contaminants that should be tested for in your water are listed below. A WQI test is a test that measures the presence and amount of certain germs in water. In most cases, the presence of WQIs is not the cause of sickness; however, they are easy to test for and their presence may indicate the presence of sewage and other disease-causing germs from human and/or animal feces. (Please see Water-related Diseases and Contaminants in Private Wells for a list of additional germs and chemicals in drinking water wells and the illnesses they cause.)
Examples of Water Quality Indicators:
Coliform bacteria are microbes found in the digestive systems of warm-blooded animals, in soil, on plants, and in surface water. These microbes typically do not make you sick; however, because microbes that do cause disease are hard to test for in the water, “total coliforms” are tested instead. If the total coliform count is high, then it is very possible that harmful germs like viruses, bacteria, and parasites might also be found in the water.
Fecal Coliforms / Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Fecal coliform bacteria are a specific kind of total coliform. The feces (or stool) and digestive systems of humans and warm-blooded animals contain millions of fecal coliforms. E. coli is part of the fecal coliform group and may be tested for by itself. Fecal coliforms and E. coli are usually harmless. However, a positive test may mean that feces and harmful germs have found their way into your water system. These harmful germs can cause diarrhea, dysentery, and hepatitis. It is important not to confuse the test for the common and usually harmless WQI E. coli with a test for the more dangerous germ E. coli O157:H7.
The pH level tells you how acidic or basic your water is. The pH level of the water can change how your water looks and tastes. If the pH of your water is too low or too high, it could damage your pipes, cause heavy metals like lead to leak out of the pipes into the water, and eventually make you sick.
Examples of Contaminants:
Nitrate is naturally found in many types of food. However, high levels of nitrate in drinking water can make people sick. Nitrate in your well water can come from animal waste, private septic systems, wastewater, flooded sewers, polluted storm water runoff, fertilizers, agricultural runoff, and decaying plants. The presence of nitrate in well water also depends on the geology of the land around your well. A nitrate test is recommended for all wells. If the nitrate level in your water is higher than the EPA standards, you should consider other sources of water or ways to treat your water.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
VOCs are industrial and fuel-related chemicals that may cause adverse health effects at certain levels. Which VOCs to test for depends on where you live. Contact Signature Home Inspection to discuss which VOCs to test for in your region, including benzene, carbon tetrachloride, toluene, trichloroethelene, and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).
Other germs or harmful chemicals that you should test for will depend on where your well is located on your property, which state you live in, and whether you live in an urban or rural area. These tests could include testing for lead, arsenic, mercury, radium, atrazine, and other pesticides. Contact Signature Home Inspection for our professional recommendations.
Please remember that if your test results say that there are germs or chemicals in your water, you should contact your local health or environmental department for guidance in interpreting the test. If tests reveal germs or chemicals in your water, Signature Home Inspection will help to connect you with your local health or environmental department for guidance in mitigating the issue.
When to have your well tested
At a minimum, check your well every spring to make sure there are no mechanical problems; test it once each year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels. If you suspect other contaminants, please discuss them with us and we can advise you on testing, as some of these tests can be expensive. We recommend that you begin by consulting a local expert, such as the local health department, about local contaminants of concern. You should also have your well tested if:
- There are known problems with well water in your area
- You have experienced problems near your well (i.e., flooding, land disturbances, and nearby waste disposal sites)
- You replace or repair any part of your well system
- You notice a change in water quality (i.e., taste, color, odor)
Who should test your well
A qualified professional who is familiar with well water collection should be the only person collecting the water samples. Signature Home Inspection is fully qualified to perform well water testing, and works with state-approved laboratories for analysis. We will then advise you on your options for mitigation, including treating your water with filtration systems, water-softeners, distillation, or disinfection.
Regular maintenance of your well is required to ensure the continued safety of your water and to monitor for the presence of any contaminants. The National Ground Water Association provides information to help you schedule a well water checkup, or you can learn “How to Get Information on Wells Where You Live.”
According to the National Ground Water Association, here are some steps you can take to help protect your well:
- Wells should be checked and tested ANNUALLY for mechanical problems, cleanliness, and the presence of certain contaminants, such as coliform bacteria, nitrates/nitrites, and any other contaminants of local concern, (for example, arsenic and radon).
- Well water should be tested more than once a year if there are recurrent incidents of gastrointestinal illness among household members or visitors and/or a change in taste, odor, or appearance of the well water.
All hazardous materials, such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, and motor oil, should be kept far away from your well.
- When mixing chemicals, do not put the hose inside the mixing container, as this can siphon chemicals into a household’s water system.
Always check the well cover or well cap to ensure it is intact. The top of the well should be at least one foot above the ground.