Monday, August 16, 2010

Maintaining Private Wells and Personal Responsibility for Your Water Supply

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates public water systems, the responsibility for ensuring the safety and consistent supply of water from the estimated more than 21 million private wells belongs to the well owner. These responsibilities should include knowing the well’s history, testing the water quality annually (or more often as needed), and having the well system and its components inspected regularly by a well driller licensed or certified by the appropriate state agency where the well is located. In Virginia that is the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation, DPOR.

Installation of private wells is regulated by various state agencies. State/local agencies that oversee private wells are usually responsible for approving the location of a well, inspecting the well after construction to verify proper grouting and adequate water yield, maintaining records of the well driller’s log, verifying the most basic pot ability of water by requiring at a minimum bacterial testing. In some regions of the country the Department of Health tests wells annually or at least did until the recent budget crisis. The well driller’s log should be reviewed by all homeowners (or potential homeowners). It identifies, the depth of the well, the depth of the casing, the types of soil and the, yield of the well. This will give you some indication of the characteristics of the aquifer.

A drinking water well that is contaminated could significantly impact your health and the value of your property. There is no requirement, but as one of the 15% of American families whose drinking water is supplied by a private well, I feel I should test my drinking water for all the primary and secondary contaminants of concern to the US EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act. As the providers of our own water supply we need to serve as our own watch dogs, and ensure our safe water supply, no one else will. Part of the price of your own water supply is maintaining it and testing it. The local health departments have local rules and regulations for the installation of wells and can often help with testing for bacteria and nitrates which are the typical contaminants from septic systems, drain fields and livestock, but as the well owner you will need to take the initiative.

The water well test that was performed when you bought your house probably only tested for bacteria and nitrates, which is inadequate to be certain that your water is safe to drink. In addition, your water should be tested at least annually for those basic contaminants and after any flooding which might have impacted your well. The EPA recommends that you test your water well every year for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, and pH levels at a minimum. If you suspect other contaminants, test for those. Always use a state certified laboratory that conducts drinking water tests.

According to the Water Systems Council, you need to monitor the condition of the wellhead and inspect the well system annually. In their publications developed in partnership with the EPA they recommend that you routinely inspect your wellhead several times a year. Check the condition of the well covering, casing and well cap to make sure all are in good repair, leaving no cracks or other entry points for potential pollutants. Note any changes in condition. In addition, you should have the well system, including the pump, storage tank, pipes and valves, and water flow, inspected every 5-10 years by a qualified well driller or pump installer. The soil types, groundwater supply and materials of construction and depth of the well will determine the life of the well. Many wells can continue to produce water supply after a pump has failed and only need a new pump to return to service. This is especially true in areas of hard water where the well pump can have a relatively short life. If you notice a change in your water pressure, it may be time to have your system inspected. Do not ignore any changes in your water supply.

A drop in water pressure can originate in the pressure tank, the pressure switch, the pump or the well and water supply. A loss of charge in the pressure tank can be caused by a leak in the bladder or cause. Pressure to the tank is controlled by an electric switch that turns the pump on when pressure is low and off when the proper tank pressure is reached. A pressure switch can fail. In the well, a diminished water supply can be caused by drop in water level in the well due to drought or over pumping of the aquifer, or the well could be failing or a drop in pressure could be caused by a failing or damaged pump. Of course a drop in water pressure could just be caused by increased demand, if your pump is undersized for the number of plumbing fixtures in the house then using more than one bathroom at a time or doing laundry while hosing down the patio will cause a noticeable drop in water pressure.

No comments:

Post a Comment