Jessica Levinson is an environmental engineer from Nyack, New York. She has her undergraduate degree in biology and her master’s degree in environmental engineering. Jess is the past recording secretary for the Long Island Water Environmental Association and past Co-Chair of the Rockland Chapter of Clearwater. She has experience working on wastewater projects and has done research with the Department of Energy.
Did you know that approximately 15% of Connecticut is on private well water? According to the web site for the Connecticut Department of Public Heath, those 400,000 wells serve over half a million residents in this state. This may not seem like a lot. But for this suburban girl, it was more than I imagined.
I knew nothing of well water, applicable regulations, and the tedious work required to keep those wells free of bacteria. That all changed when my husband and I started looking at real estate that had wells instead of municipal water supply. While I was busy looking at the “cute” (i.e. small) kitchen with a bathroom the sickening shade of Pepto Bismol, I overlooked the listing sheet with the small words “private well” where I should have seen “municipal”. I realized I had better get educated on private wells.
As a matter of fact, most of the houses we looked at had existing wells. However, those that have wells on their property are not immune to the construction of a new well. The aquifer, fresh ground water deep below the surface, is not necessarily an unending reserve of water. Depending on the amount of water held in the aquifer and how many homes are dependent on that aquifer, it can dry up and another well will need to be drilled. If a well is not in place, a licensed contractor can be very helpful with planning out where to install one, along with the Connecticut Department of Public Heath.
Since wells and their formation are not regulated by any federal agency but are instead governed by local laws and permits, it is important to check with your local town or city agency before undertaking the creation or maintenance of a well. In addition, each homeowner is responsible for having their wells tested against contamination. This is unlike municipal water systems where the town or city performs laboratory tests on the drinking water on a routine basis. Each state maintains different standards depending on contamination sources for that area. For instance, the Connecticut Department of Public Heath has set forth ‘Action Levels’ of certain contaminants (manganese, radon, uranium, naturally occurring arsenic, etc.) and bacteria that are native to that environment and can reach the aquifer.
Cliff Treyens, Director of Public Awareness for the National Groundwater Association, put together a handy guide titled What’s a Private Well Owner to do? Eight Tips for Maintaining Your Well. The guide provides obvious common sense and also good survival tools that most individuals wouldn’t even consider.
His number one piece of advice is to not service the well yourself, unless you are a professional. The well is constructed of what should be a sterile environment and a pump. Placing your grubby hands in there could contaminate the water, not to mention the possibility of breaking a very expensive pump. When choosing a professional, think of it as an interview as you did with your home inspector. Have them give you references and a sample report. They should be able to provide you with what materials and methods they will be utilizing. Also check any applicable licenses enforced in your area. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of hiring a good professional. An unqualified professional could contaminate your water source with their grubby hands or careless work techniques.
Mr. Treyens provides a detailed list of what a professional should provide at the end of their work. Included in the report should be the following: A flow test to check output, static water level, and running water level; inspection of well equipment; test of coliform, bacteria and nitrate levels; and water quality such as odor and cloudiness.
Another concern is your water’s pH balance. Acidic water could decay the piping and create holes in both the well and the interior plumbing. These holes offer a source for contamination and will need to be repaired. Should the water be on the acidic side, pH in the 6 range, it is recommended to install a water neutralization system. The down side to a water neutralization system is that it has tendency to increase the hardness of the water. While hardness of water is not harmful at all, it can be a bit of a nuisance. Hard water makes it difficult to develop lather with soap, causes “soap scum” in bathrooms and calcification of plumbing fixtures. Not to mention the fact that hard water provides fertile ground for a bad hair day.
If your house depends on oil to function or if you have a septic system on your property, your professional well keeper should be made aware of this so he can check for possible contamination from those sources. You may want to also have them check the property for abandoned wells, if you don’t know where these sites are located. If you do have abandoned wells, make sure they are sealed properly. Any bacteria, animals or debris that fall into abandoned wells could have a direct route to the aquifer and thus contaminate the drinking source.
Although not mandated, an annual inspection should be performed by the above stated professional. But for the rest of the year, the homeowner should maintain a safe area for the well. Make sure the cap is secure every time it is opened or if it has been broken and call to have a water evaluation performed. Only a small amount of bacteria can grow to large amounts that could contaminate the water. Avoid the use of pesticides and other chemicals that could penetrate the ground and find their way to your water source.
If your water does come back with a contamination level, make sure that the well is cleaned and the water tested again. It could be a simple contamination of the well and not the aquifer. If the aquifer is contaminated, other methods will need to be outlined, and bottled or boiled water should be used, until the situation can be remedied.
Although the EPA and Department for Public Heath both state that wells that are maintained are safe, pregnant women, children, the elderly and people with lowered immune systems are at a greater risk for waterborne illness. If those situations apply to you, your well should be checked more often.
For this same demographic, some think bottled or boiled water is better. Generally speaking, there are a lot of good filtration systems on the market that it may be worth the money to have peace of mind and have your well water filtered.
One last note to consider about private wells: If you lose electricity, you also lose water. Now you might be thinking that you aren’t really interested in bathing in the dark, but if you live in an area where a storm knocks out the electricity for a day or two every now and again, you may want to invest in some bottles of water for those long hours without TV and water.
For more information, you can check out the Connecticut Department of Public Health website or the National Groundwater Association.
Images courtesy of Carol Mandras.