Most of the homes in the United States get their water via community supplies which are regulated by the state and federal governments and never wonder – is well water safe to drink? However, plenty of homes in the U.S. get their drinking water from private wells, which allows homeowners to save money because they don’t have to pay for drinking water any longer. In fact, around 15% of people get their water supply from wells.
However, in recent years there has been a concern about the safety of drinking water and according to the USGS (U.S. Geological Survey), around 20% of private wells contain contaminants out of which 23% have very high levels, which can pose a serious health concern. In fact, private wells are not covered by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that sets regulations to ensure that the water delivered to homes is safe to drink.
This essentially means that there is no guarantee that the water supplied from private wells is safe to drink and this means that it is the well owner’s responsibility to ensure the quality and safety of the water before it reaches your tap. In fact, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that as a well owner, you must get the water tested at least once a year.
How Does Well Water Get Contaminated?
According to the CDC, over 15 million Americans get water from wells and use it for drinking and cooking. The groundwater that fills the well can get contaminated sometimes. The groundwater can pick up impurities from the rocks as it passes through. Pollutants can also seep into the groundwater. You can find traces of heavy metals, microorganisms, household waste, copper, lead, fluoride, etc. in groundwater.
Although the U.S. has among the safest water supplies in the world, the drinking water sources can still get contaminated by several things such as:
- Chemicals and minerals such as radon, copper, arsenic, calcium, etc.
- Fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
- Heavy metals from mishandled waste and mining operations.
- Fuel drilling and industrial contamination that introduces VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the well water.
- Poorly maintained septic systems or malfunctioning sewers.
Is My Well Water Safe to Drink?
You must always get the water from a private well tested to determine whether it is safe for drinking. Harmful parasites, bacteria and infections that cannot be seen by the naked eye may make the water unsafe to drink and cause diarrhea, nausea and vomiting and outbreaks of gastrointestinal problems, salmonella, hepatitis, norovirus, neurological problems, cancer and other health problems in the long run.
Testing the well water regularly can help to determine and guarantee the safety of the water. The other aspects to consider to ensure that your well water is safe and healthy are:
- How strong is the construction of your well?
- Where is your well located and what is adjacent to it that may cause an issue?
- What is the source of water from which your well water is drawn?
- How is the maintenance of the well and has the water been checked regularly?
- What are the human activities in the vicinity that can affect the well water?
Generally, the more deep seated your well is (ideal depth is 800+ feet), the cleaner the water will be and according to the CDC, it is recommended that you test your well water for nitrates, coliform bacteria and other contaminants at least once a year. You must also get the well water tested for the presence of metals, pesticides and inorganic materials before using it.
One of the ways by which you can prevent well water from getting contaminated is to ensure that all human activities should be kept at some distance from the location of the well. For instance:
- Septic Tanks: 50 feet
- Livestock Yards, Leach Fields and Silos Septic: 50 feet
- Fertilizer and Pesticide Handling and Storage, Petroleum Tanks and Liquid Manure Storage: 100 feet
- Manure Stacks: 250 feet
Testing of Well Water
When you are testing the well water, there are many contaminants and indicators that a tester usually tests for. The WQI (Water Quality Indicator) tests and measures the presence of contaminants and germs in the water. This helps to detect the presence of disease-causing sewage and bacteria that come from human and animal waste. As mentioned earlier, you should test your well water for total dissolved solids, pH levels, coliform bacteria and nitrates and if you suspect the presence of other contaminants, then test for those as well.
Who Should Test the Well Water?
Your county or local health department can test your well water for nitrates and bacteria and usually, this is done free of cost. However, if you want to test for other substances, then you can contact a state-certified water testing lab. You can also test the water yourself by purchasing a DIY test kit.
The best time to test wells that are used all year round is late summer. And, in the case of summer homes and camps, it is recommended that you test the water as soon as you move in.
So, the answer to the question, “is well water safe to drink?” Well, it is not recommended to drink water from a well directly without any protection or filtration. It is always advisable that you drink water that has been properly filtered, especially if it is from a well because the well water is extremely susceptible to contamination from a range of organic, as well as inorganic impurities. So it is recommended that you invest in a water filtration system in your home.
However, you must remember that while a water filter will offer peace of mind, you need to still test the well water because filtration will not remove all the contaminants from the well water completely. You should test your well water every 3 to 4 months to ensure that the water is safe for consumption. Also, it is very important to ensure that your well is properly maintained because a well-maintained well can provide your family and you safe drinking water for a lifetime.
Why Should You Disinfect Well Water?
Groundwater is not always 100% pure and since it collects in cracks of bedrock and spaces inside sediments, the water usually contains several broken-down minerals. Groundwater also contains microorganisms, which may be largely safe and useful.
However, there may also be hazardous pathogens present in the groundwater such as microbes like E. coli that can cause stomach issues, diarrhea, health problems and even death. These pathogens enter the groundwater via contaminated runoff from fields, feedlots and forests or flooding of septic tanks. Testing the well water routinely and disinfecting it can help to keep the water supply safe.
Well Water Treatment
If you discover that your well water is contaminated, don’t panic. There are several treatment options. However, you should keep in mind that there is no single treatment that can address all types of issues. Also, not only does water treatment help in removing contaminants, often, people treat well water for a better taste or simply as an extra precaution to make their drinking water safer.
A water filter or any other water purification system can help to remove several types of impurities and contaminants from well water. You can either opt for a biological process, chemical process or a physical barrier to filter the water and make sure that it’s safe for drinking.
Filtration systems using carbon filters help to remove lead and other types of heavy metals. Reverse osmosis systems strip out the impurities and contaminants that are not trapped by the carbon filter. Some types of water filtration systems include the countertop filter, under-sink filtration, water filter attached to the faucet, etc.
This can either be a physical process or a chemical one, where the microorganisms are deactivated or killed. The most commonly used chemical disinfectants are chlorine, ozone and chlorine dioxide. In recent times, physical disinfectants such as heat, UV light and electronic radiation are becoming quite popular to disinfect drinking water.
This is essentially used to reduce the amount of minerals in the water and reduce the hardness. Typically, this is done by replacing the calcium ions and magnesium ions in the water with potassium and sodium ions.
In the process of distillation, water is boiled. The steam is then collected and condensed, giving you pure water. The process helps to remove the solid contaminants and impurities present in the water.
It is extremely important to ensure that your well is properly maintained to keep your drinking water safe. According to the EPA, it is recommended that you inspect your well for corroded or cracked casings, cracking or settling of surface seals and for a missing or broken well cap.
Check all underground tanks that are used for the storage of oils, gas or diesel to heat your home, periodically. Minimize the usage of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides that can leach into the groundwater. Ensure that you keep your well protected from the wastes of wildlife, farm animals and pets.