Private Water Systems FAQs

Frequently asked questions about private wells, cisterns and springs.
Private Water Systems FAQs - Articles


How many private wells are there in Pennsylvania?

There are more than one million private water wells in Pennsylvania serving about 3.5 million people in rural areas. Approximately 20,000 new wells are drilled each year.

Are there required construction standards for PA water wells?

Other than a few county or local ordinances, there are no statewide construction standards for private water wells in Pennsylvania.

How should a well be constructed?

A drinking water well should have a casing that extends above the ground surface. The well should be cased underground to the beginning of bedrock to prevent loose soil and rock from filling the borehole. A grout seal should be filled around the casing to prevent surface water contamination. The top of the casing should be fitted with a sanitary well cap that seals the well to the outside to prevent insects and animals from gaining entry to the well.

How deep are most wells in Pennsylvania?

Wells in Pennsylvania can range from less than 10 feet to more than 1,000 feet deep. The average well is usually between 100 and 200 feet.

How can I find out information about my well?

State law requires well drillers to complete a well log for every well in the state. If you do not have a copy of your well log, you may be able to obtain a copy from your well driller. Many well logs are also available online from the Pennsylvania Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, Groundwater Information System.

Are water quality problems common in wells in Pennsylvania?

The majority of private water wells have at least one water quality problem. Some of these problems cause nuisance stains while others are legitimate health concerns. The most common health-related problems are coliform bacteria, lead, nitrates and human-made organic pollutants. The most common nuisance problems are corrosivity, hardness, iron, and hydrogen sulfide (rotten egg odor).

What are coliform bacteria?

Coliform bacteria include a large group of common bacteria. Some of these bacteria are harmful but many are harmless. They are used as an "indicator" to determine whether a pathway exists for dangerous bacteria to enter your water supply. Their presence does not guarantee that your water is unsafe to drink, but it does indicate that harmful bacteria could enter your water at any time. Coliform bacteria occur in about half of the private wells and springs in Pennsylvania.

What are drinking water standards?

Drinking water standards give the acceptable level of a pollutant in drinking water. There are two types of standards: primary and secondary. Primary standards apply to pollutants that cause health problems, such as coliform bacteria, nitrate, or lead. Secondary pollutants apply to pollutants that cause aesthetic problems (stains, odors, tastes) such as iron, manganese, or chloride. There are more than 100 pollutants with a drinking water standard.

How do I know what to test my water for?

Look at the land-use activities around your home. Pollutants that enter water wells can often be linked to activities on the land surface (mining, agriculture, industry, houses, etc.). Also note any symptoms of your water (tastes, stains, odors). These too can be used to guide water testing. In general, you should test your water annually for coliform bacteria. Get your water tested every three years for pH and total dissolved solids.

How close does an activity need to be to my home to cause a problem for my well?

Land-use activities that affect a well or spring can usually be seen from the home or are in close proximity to the home. Activities that are several miles from your home are unlikely to affect your groundwater quality.

Where can I get my water tested?

There are numerous state-certified water testing labs throughout Pennsylvania. You can also get your water tested for coliform bacteria at your local Department of Environmental Protection office.

How much will water testing cost?

Individual tests can range from just a few dollars to over $100. Total coliform bacteria usually costs $15 to $25.

Is water treatment the only solution to water quality problems?

No, there are usually several alternatives to a water quality problem. Simple maintenance of your water supply, like sealing a spring box, may resolve bacteria problems. Removal of the source of the pollution problem may also be used. In some cases, development of a new well or spring or connection to a public water supply may be possible to avoid the problem.

Is there one type of water treatment device that will solve all water quality problems?

Despite claims to the contrary, there is not one single water treatment device the will efficiently remove all contaminants. Many devices can remove multiple pollutants.

How should I buy water treatment equipment?

Use a certified commercial testing laboratory to determine the exact water quality problem and the level of the pollutant. Do not rely on in-home testing by water treatment vendors. Be very careful since this will probably be a major purchase. Visit with as many local vendors as possible and compare prices, service, and warranties. Ask for references and check with reputable companies that will be around to service your equipment if needed. Finally, get everything in writing!