You might not think about your well water very often, but it’s important. Your well can be contaminated with bacteria and other harmful substances that can make you sick.
Private wells can contain unsafe levels of nitrates and bacteria like E-coli which pose health risks in certain populations such as pregnant women and young children. If this sounds scary for you, don’t worry!
The good news is that there are simple steps you can take to protect your family from these contaminants.
This blog post will go over some common indicators of potential problems with your well and some of the best solutions.
Table of Contents
- What is Well Water?
- Is Well Water the Same as Ground Water?
- Is Well Water Better Than City Water?
- Is Well Water Safe?
- What are the Benefits of Well Water?
- What are the Dangers of Well Water?
- What are the Common Well Water Contaminants?
- How to Test Your Well Water for Contamination?
- How to Treat Well Water?
What is Well Water?
Well water is the water produced by a well.
A well is a structure made by digging into the ground to reach underground aquifers and then pumping that water out for your home.
A well is considered the oldest supply of water artificially made by humans.
Types of Water Wells
There are several ways to create a well.
A dug well is made by digging a hole in the ground using shovels or mechanical equipment.
It is a relatively shallow well with a regular depth of 10 to 30 feet before reaching the groundwater.
The surrounding walls are covered by casing material such as tiles, bricks, or stones to strengthen the structure.
Water quality issues are a concern since the ground water is exposed to the elements.
It is considered the oldest type of well.
A driven well is made by driving metal pipes into the ground.
Its depth is usually around 30 to 50 feet to reach the groundwater.
A drilled well is considered the most modern type built by using percussion or large machines with a drill.
Casings are necessary to support the structure and they can reach ground water with a depth of hundreds or even thousands of feet.
Drilling this type of well is usually done with new home construction when city water is not available.
Basic Components of Well
Well caps are used to prevent small animals, debris, and insects from entering the well.
They are usually placed on top of the well casing.
Modern well caps have vents to control the water pressure.
A well casing provides support for the structure.
It used to be made of bricks and rocks, but modern well casings are now made of plastic, stainless steel, and carbon steel.
They prevent contaminants such as toxic chemicals, dirt, and run-off water from penetrating the well.
They are perfect for unstable ground and contaminated areas.
The bottom of the well casing is submerged in an underground aquifer.
To prevent debris from entering the well, a well screen is placed over the bottom part of the well casing and serves as a filter for the water from the aquifer.
There are three common types of well screens available:
- continuous slot
- slotted pipe
- perforated pipe
During winter or in cold places, the ground and well pipes underground can freeze.
A pitless adapter is installed to prevent freezing between the casing and water line to your home.
It also provides an additional sanitary function.
For shallow wells, jet pumps are used to help the water to flow from the underground water supply and through the pipes to the home or storage tanks.
They are installed above ground and use pressure to move the water into your plumbing system.
Contrary to the jet pumps, submersible pumps are used in deep wells.
They are placed at the bottom of the well and submerged in water while connected to a power supply above ground.
Modern wells usually have storage tanks to store water.
Storage tanks are necessary to ensure good water pressure and support times of high consumption in the whole house.
Is Well Water the Same as Ground Water?
Groundwater is basically the water supply for all wells.
The well is a structure that is built to penetrate and access the ground water so it can be distributed to your plumbing system.
Is Well Water Better Than City Water?
Before we can determine which of the two water supplies is better, let’s first examine the characteristics of well water supply vs. city water supply.
The goal of both is to collect clean drinking water for people and other uses but there are pros and cons of each.
Well water is water extracted from underground through a well structure.
It is the oldest man-made water supply structure and private wells are a common source of tap water throughout the world.
Well water is common in rural areas or away from the city or busy region with more infrastructure.
Aside from the initial investment of building the well and maintenance of the well, it is a free water source.
However, water quality can be an issue, and wells might contain harmful contaminants if left untreated.
You can learn much more about wells from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) here.
City water is a tap water distributed by a local water supplier.
Water is treated in several stages before being distributed to the public, making it safe as drinking water.
City water might contain extra substances used for water treatment, such as chlorine and extra ingredients, like fluoride.
However, municipal water is regularly monitored for harmful chemicals per policy of the United States Health Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The initial investment of securing city water is often less than building a modern well structure.
You usually pay for the water you consume (and often for the water you send down the drain) and the pipes connecting your plumbing system to the point of entry of the city water.
Is Well Water Safe?
Unless well water is processed or goes through a whole house water filter system, it might have contaminants, depending on your area.
There might be various minerals mixed with your water source from underground mineral deposits. Too much of some of these minerals leads to having “hard water.” Hardness is not dangerous to people but can damage plumbing.
Agricultural areas might contaminate well water with chemicals including fertilizers and pesticides.
Industrial areas can contaminate well water with various toxic wastes, petroleum products, oil, and chemical pollutants.
Even dead animals and animal waste can mix into well water and lead to bacteria and other harmful microorganisms.
Naturally occurring fluoride may help prevent tooth decay but levels that are too high can be dangerous.
Therefore, well water is not always safe drinking water, and it is the responsibility of the homeowner to test and find solutions. Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can help with this or you can start with some simple tests of your own, like measuring the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids).
What are the Benefits of Well Water?
Well water is free without considering the investment for building the well and maintenance.
It often contains healthy minerals that might not be present in community water.
You have sole ownership of the well water if you have a private well.
Depending on the underground water source, it can provide you an endless supply of fresh, clean water.
What are the Dangers of Well Water?
Since the water source is not treated, well water can contain impurities like sediment from underground rock and soil.
You should regularly monitor and test the well water or risk your health if there are toxic chemicals that enter your well or the underground water. You should have concerns about your safety when the concentration of known pollutants exceeds the limits set by the EPA.
While open wells are not common in the United States, pets and children are at risk of falling in and surface contamination can lead to serious health effects to humans.
If the groundwater in the location of your well runs out or “runs dry,” it might be insufficient to support the water consumption needs. In this case, the well may need to be moved or drilled deeper.
What are the Common Well Water Contaminants?
Well water can contain microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other pathogens.
Possible bacteria include coliform bacteria and E coli bacteria.
These organisms might be naturally present underground or come from human activities, animal waste, leach fields, or natural disasters.
Nitrates and Nitrite Compounds
Nitrate and nitrite chemical compounds come from various sources.
Fertilizers used in agriculture, human waste septic systems and animal waste are the most common sources of contamination with nitrates.
They are often carried by rainfall and surface water run-off or water seepage to the wells.
Nitrate contamination with high nitrate levels can cause serious health risks.
Various industrial activities and operations involve heavy metals.
These heavy metals must be properly disposed to keep the surrounding environment safe.
Unfortunately, an insufficient waste disposal system or leakage can allow heavy metals to leach into the environment and your water plumbing system.
Iron is especially common and can lead to several issues including staining, smells, bad taste, and iron bacteria. Special iron filters will help solve this problem.
Most household products and products used in agriculture contain organic chemical substances including volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
These organic chemicals can penetrate your private well and end up in your drinking water.
These chemical pollutants can include radon, manganese, chlorine, magnesium, and calcium.
High levels of contamination are common on private wells near landfills.
If you are near a nuclear plant, coal mine, or uranium mine, high concentrations of uranium and radium can leach to your private well and become one of the problems for your safety.
High levels of radionuclides are among the primary sources of cancer.
Fluorine and other mineral deposits can produce fluoride in ground water.
There are also products that contain fluoride released into the environment.
Although it can be beneficial to your teeth and bones, excessive amounts can be harmful to both adults and children.
Too much fluoride can lead to skeletal fluorosis, dental fluorosis, tooth staining, and other health concerns.
How to Test Your Well Water for Contamination?
Water testing of private water well systems is like other water sources like surface water.
There are three ways you can test for chemical and other pollutants.
You can bring or send water samples to a certified test laboratory. They can provide a comprehensive test to determine the contaminants present in private wells.
There are also options of buying a testing kit or test strips you use at home. You can use a reactive test kit multiple times while you can only use a test strip in one water test.
Keep in mind that there are many different tests for different contaminants. A testing service or lab may be the best solution for comprehensive results and to answer any questions you may have about the results.
The water experts from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that people periodically test well water before they can be considered safe for drinking.
Of course, you don’t always need a water test to tell your water is contaminated, if you notice any of these issues with your five senses:
- Water that looks dirty with a red or brown color
- Water with specs or floating material in it
- Water with a bad smell like sulfur or another odor
- Water that tastes impure
- Water that feels slippery or like it contains other compounds
- Water that leaves scale, bacteria, or stains behind
These are all signs that further water testing should be done to find out what is wrong and ask more questions.
How to Treat Well Water?
There are several water treatment systems recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for wells to improve home water quality.
Let us examine how these home water treatment systems that will purify and make water wells safe to drink.
A well water filtration system is often considered the best overall water treatment option.
These use a series of filters to remove pollutants like nitrates, magnesium, chlorine, manganese, arsenic, iron, and radon.
A well owner may want or need water filtration for several different contaminants. You can combine many stages of water filters for the best treatment results.
Whole house water filtration systems improve the quality of water through your home, improve taste and odor, and have a long service life.
Well water can be a “hard” due to the mineral content in the groundwater.
Water hardness can cause limescale and calcium buildup problems anywhere there is water flowing, like the kitchen sink, bathtub, toilets, shower, and inside of appliances.
While not dangerous, hard water for bathing can cause dry skin and damaged hair.
The solution is to use a water softener, which will soften water and make better for all uses.
A water softener is a special type of whole house water filter used specifically for reducing hard minerals from any water source, including a private well or city water.
You can combine a water softener with other water filters that have the responsibility to remove hazardous substances from your water.
One of the common well water contaminants are microorganisms.
The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) promotes disinfection as an important water treatment solution to kill those microorganisms including coliform bacteria and make the well water safe to drink.
There are disinfectants available on the market to treat well water including shock treatment and ultraviolet light filters.
Shock treatment involves adding disinfectants like chlorine to the well water.
A healthier solution is to install a UV (ultraviolet) light filter that kills microorganisms as water enters the house.
If you want to completely remove the contaminants, your water treatment options could include distillation systems.
Distillation systems will purify your water and make it safe for your family by first producing steam and then collecting the steam once it is free from water problems.
The issue with distillation is that it is a very slow and inefficient process.
The most effective water filter for your home well water is a reverse osmosis (RO) water filter system.
You can get a whole house RO water filter that is great for families that wants clean, pure water everywhere in the house or a point-of-use RO system that will produce clean drinking water in one place, like the kitchen sink.
A reverse osmosis water filter system will remove most harmful microorganisms, dangerous substances, and minerals from your drinking water thus improving the water quality, odor, and taste.
RO systems will contain a RO membrane water filter as well as other filters that work together.
If you are looking for great a way to help improve your health and wellness, make sure that the water you drink is safe.
Drinking well water can be healthy but it can also contain dangerous chemicals and pollutants.
We recommend testing your own well water regularly and take action to remove any problems you find.
There are solutions for every budget and water issue.