Thursday, October 9, 2014

Protect Your Well and Solve One Coliform Problem-$100

My Well
I received a comment/question on my blog that said: “There is a hole in the half moon well plate thru which one can pour Clorox if needed. It is (usually) plugged, but the plug on my well plate was missing and (apparently, from the smell) an animal crawled in and died... (I tried) 2 heavy treatments with pool chlorine (10%), (but it just) stopped the smell for 6 days. “

What the writer describes is not a well cap appropriate for a drinking water well. It may be a well seal also known as a split caps and are used for venting a well, with the hole he refers to is not for putting chlorine in a well, but is an air vent. These types of caps are not suitable for outdoor use if it is even a sanitary well cap. A sanitary split cap is only appropriate for indoor use in an enclosed well house or basement. Sanitary split caps are usually equipped with a threaded hole, instead of a plug where an air vent should be installed. However, the writer describes his well cap as having a “half-moon well pate.” A properly sealed well does not have any kind of half-moon well plate. There is a type of well cap used on monitoring well with a port, but these were never intended for drinking water well. Also, a long time ago, there were wells where they used to drip oil or lubricant into the well, but that has not been done in decades. The caps on those wells were just ports.

I was very sorry to read the writer’s story because fixing the problem is going to cost thousands of dollars. To restore drinkable water the writer is going to have to clean out the well or if cleaning proves ineffective, the well will have to be replaced to restore drinkable water to the home. It is much simpler to install a sanitary well cap than to fix a problem like the one described by the writer. For want of a $100 sanitary well cap the well was probably ruined. A “well professional” he called said that in his twenty years of experience it was the worst smelling water he had ever come across. That comment convinced me it wasn't hydrogen sulfide, but indeed dead animal(s), though chlorination will alleviate a hydrogen sulfide smell for a while it is not always easy to diagnose a problem by email or even smell, testing the well water to be certain can be expensive, also . It is much simpler to maintain your well and cap then resolve a problem like the one the writer described.
example of a sanitary well cap

A sanitary well cap is also called a vermin proof cap for good reason. Standard well caps usually have screws around the side that hold a one-piece cap onto the top of the well casing (pipe). This allows insects, small animals like mice or surface water to enter the well. If you a single piece cap or any kind of cap with a plug or plate, replace it now! If the well cap does not properly seal the well, insects or vermin can crawl through gaps around the casing or through unscreened vents or open holes and build a nest inside the well casing and cap in the wire tangle at the top. Bacteria can reach unhealthy levels when enough droppings or dead bodies fall into the well water- long before the water smells or tastes bad. Once the smell is really noticeable the well may be beyond repair. In case you do not know, groundwater fills the spaces between rocks, sand and dirt. It is hardly ever a flowing body of water. The well is drilled into the ground and generally lined with pipe for the first 50 feet. Below that, it is a borehole in the rocks that fills with water from fractures which are way too small to allow dead bodies (even insect bodies) to flow through. The dead animal or animals came down from the top of the well and that is the only way to clear a well.

There are two basic methods for cleaning a well—mechanical and chemical. Generally a combination of the two is the most effective approach and the trick is finding a company qualified and with the equipment to perform the work. The universe of “well professionals” is a mixed one. Someone who understands pumps, piping and pressure tanks may have limited knowledge of geology and water chemistry or simply not have access to the right equipment. In many places anyone can call themselves a well professional. Even licensed well drillers and water system professionals have a limited range of knowledge and it can be tough to find someone who specializes in well restoration. In addition, if a well is too old and the steel casing is corroded it may not survive cleaning and you may end up replacing the well anyway. A water well system contractor who has both the training and equipment can help you decide which methods to use, depending on the condition of the well.

  • Mechanical processes for and removing debris from the well include: pressurized air, steam or water; wire brushes or scrapers; agitation of water in the well; and sonic waves.
  • Chemical cleaning often involves the use of various acids to loosen or dissolve debris so that it can be pumped out of the well. Depending on the nature of the cleaning job, there are also polymers and “caustic” chemicals (like chlorine) to remove debris. Chlorine is great for disinfecting, but not necessarily for cleaning or ridding a well of a dead animal or animals.

The age, condition and construction of a well will determine which methods can be used to clean it. If a well’s water intake areas or the well casing have corroded significantly over time, they may be damaged or destroyed by more aggressive cleaning practices. In such cases, it is probably best to save your money and proceed directly to drilling a new well. Well cleaning should be followed immediately by a thorough disinfection of the well system and should be completed by the water well contractor to ensure that it is done properly. Make sure you work with a qualified water well system contractor/driller who is licensed and qualified and has experience cleaning wells (or drilling new ones) in your area. Knowledge of local geology is important.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates public water systems. However, the responsibility for ensuring the safety and consistent supply of water from the 21 million private wells belongs to the well owner. A properly sealed well cap protects against all types of contamination. It is the first line of protection against pollution and contamination of your well. If you drill a well or own one, make sure your well has a sanitary well cap, which is a two piece cap with a rubber gasket seal between the two pieces. The rubber seal is the key component for keeping vermin, bug and environmental pollutants out of the well. A Sanitary well cap also has a vent screen, or more likely two vented screens between the gasket and the electrical wiring (conduit) port. A vented screen is necessary to equalize the pressure difference between the inside and outside of the well as the water is pumped, so you do not create a vacuum and draw dirt and contaminants into the well.
from Montana Water Quality District
Well caps keep out insects and vermin that prefer a dark, damp environment to nest and prevent surface pollutants from entering the well. Insects can cause major problems in a well. Bacteria levels of the water can rise from their droppings, and sometimes the bugs themselves can get trapped in the wells, die, and decompose in the well water. So, the first thing you should do as a well owner is make sure you have a sanitary well cap and the gasket and screens are in good condition, and the cap is properly bolted. Check your well a couple of times a year to make sure the cap remains sound.

My cast iron sanitary well cap was only nine years old when I decided to replace it with a cast aluminum well cap. The gasket had deteriorated and the rust on the well cap was preventing me from getting a good seal, so I replaced it.  The next thing you should do is make sure that the ground surface slopes sway from the well casing in all directions to keep surface water from flowing down the well pipe. The grouting does deteriorate over time (especially if you hit it with the lawn mower) and keeping water away from the well head helps prevent contamination. The well in the stone surround at the top is my well. The well is too close to the driveway. The stone surround and an adjustment to the driveway slope directs water from the drive down slope and the stone surround keeps people from backing into the well when they turn around.

A neighbor of mine had coliform bacteria (but not fecal coliform or E. coli) appear in their well. They replaced their well cap and repacked the soil around the well area so snow melt and rain would not flow to the well head. Though, their well had been grouted at construction, grout flaws and failure from damage (hitting the well with the lawn mower or the UPS truck backing up for instance) can undermine the seal that the grout provides. It is not possible to grout or re-grout an existing well. However, these two simple steps- a new well cap and packing the soil around the well area so water flows away from the well solved their problem, The continued effectiveness of the solution was confirmed at the county water clinic this past spring. Of course my neighbors knew they had a problem because they tested their well regularly to make sure the water was safe to drink. You are your own water supply company. You need to take care of your well and test your water – not once, but regularly.

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