Monday, June 24, 2019

Being a Well Owner

The Private Well Class program is a collaboration between the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the Illinois State Water Survey at the University of Illinois with funding from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. They have continuing education well classes and webinars that are free and can be accessed at The following was gleaned from a presentation made by Steve Wilson the Director of the program and a groundwater hydrologist.

Well owners are individually responsible for managing their water supply. Private wells are not regulated. Many contaminants are colorless, odorless and tasteless, while some contaminants only effect taste or odor. As a result private wells can be safe and great tasting, or contaminated and only testing for a broad range of substances will enable you to tell the difference. On top of that, groundwater quality can change over time. You should test your well annually.

State and local government requirements for private well water testing are rare and inconsistent; the responsibility to ensure safe drinking water remains with the property owner. Only one state, New Jersey requires the testing of private wells before a property containing a private well is sole. The New Jersey Private Well Testing Act (PWTA) went into effect in September 2002. The PWTA is a consumer information law that requires sellers (or buyers) of property with wells in NJ to test the untreated ground water for a variety of water quality parameters, including 32 of human health concern, and to review the test results prior to closing of the sale. However, there is no requirement for homeowners not engaged in a sale to test their own water. That is your responsibility and your choice.

If you have a well (or are thinking of buying a house with a well) the first get a copy of the well log and then you need to understand what the well log tells you. The well log or as it’s called in Virginia the Water Well Completion Report usually contains information like the type of well, depth, geology, casing, screening, water level and recharge rate. Understanding the geology is very important to understanding your water quality. The geology can inform you of the likely naturally occurring contaminants present in the groundwater (like iron, manganese, arsenic, calcium carbonate) and the water quality issues the contaminants create. Geology can also inform you of the vulnerability to contaminants. You also need to test for man-made contaminants that are likely to have impacted the groundwater. Possible sources of groundwater contamination:
  • Leaks and spills of petroleum products from leaking fuel tanks (both heating oil and gas and diesel fuel tanks), pipelines, and spills and releases. Motor oil can also pose a threat to groundwater. It is estimated that over 4 million gallons of used oil are disposed of improperly by do it yourself oil changer in Virginia each year. Improper disposal can impact groundwater.
  • Military installations have historically used solvents as degreasing agents for machinery and equipment, disposed of waste on site, have had underground pipelines associated with fueling operations, and fuels storage systems. These have often been large quantity operations and can result in significant impact to groundwater especially where the aquifer is unconfined.
  • A landfill is a site where trash and garbage are disposed of. Historically, mixed waste was simply buried and this resulted in contaminated leachate impacting groundwater. Leachate is the liquid formed when rainwater and snow melt filter or percolate through buried refuse. If the leachate is not captured and treated it can contaminate groundwater. It is reported that a quarter of CERCLA (Superfund) sites are old landfills.
  • Coal ash, the remainder left after coal is burned to generate electricity, is buried or impounded near many water bodies. Thermoelectric power generation requires water for cooling, so these plant typically are located adjacent to rivers and other surface water bodies, but also have the ability to impact groundwater.
  • Onsite Sewage Disposal Systems both traditional septic and AOSS.
  • Cesspools, which directly disposed of untreated sewage wastewater into pits, are no longer permitted in Virginia.
  • Improperly abandoned wells present a pathway for direct contamination of the aquifer.
  • Excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides or improper application or disposal of these substances in agriculture or landscaping can contaminate groundwater.
  • Improper management, storage and disposal of animal waste from manure piles, animal waste lagoons and feedlots can contaminate groundwater with biological contaminates and nitrate. In southwestern Virginia coal mining can impact groundwater with acidic runoff. Tailing ponds used to dispose of mining waste can be a source of groundwater contamination. Mining is often associated with acidic impacts to groundwater.
  • Finally, coastal areas can be affected by saltwater intrusion caused by heavy pumping of the groundwater, a decrease in recharge or an increase in sea level.
The costs of well ownership are not insignificant. Drilling/ replacing a well can cost $10,000-$20,000 or more. Well construction standards and codes have changed significantly over the last 30 years. In Virginia well construction standards went into effect in 1992. At that time all existing wells were grandfathered, Many wells still in use and existence are in pits or were hand dug and are subject to surface contamination, rodents, and other pests. These wells are not sanitary or safe and should be replaced or at the very least brought up to code.

Well equipment needs to be maintained and replaced. This can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars. Even the well itself with eventually wear out. The big ticket items are the pump and pressure tank. Submersible pumps used in modern drilled wells are more efficient than older style jet pumps and should last longer, but silt, sand, and excessive mineral content can impact their life. There really is not good data on equipment life in private well market, most of the data is from light industrial and community systems and the life of the single family home pump is extrapolated from that and equipment tests. A submersible pump operating in low-sediment water may have a 15 year life while the same pump in high sediment water and without adequate sediment and check valve protection may fail in 4 to 6 years. About 10% of the pumps in my neighborhood had failed in the first 8 years and another 10% have had component failure requiring a repair in that time. The submersible pump in my well was designed for 20,000 hours of operation. If it is still operating at 17 years old, I estimate that it owes me nothing and should be replaced. It is 14 years old now. Make sure you have the money on hand to repair you well and water system when the time comes.

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