Protecting Your Water Well

Several steps are discussed to help homeowners and farmers protect and properly manage their private water well.
Protecting Your Water Well - Videos


In this video, we discuss groundwater and how to collect basic information about your water well. Proper construction features, location, testing and treatment of private wells is also addressed to protect drinking water.

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- [Bryan] Hi, I'm Bryan Swistock.

I'd like to talk to you for a few moments about how to protect and manage your water well to insure safe drinking water for you and your family.

Private water wells supply drinking water to about one million rural homes and farms in Pennsylvania.

This map shows water wells drilled between 1966 and 1994.

And more than 10,000 new water wells are drilled each year in the state.

A 2007 study by Penn State Extension of 701 water wells across the state found that 40% failed at least one health-based drinking water standard.

This same study also found that proper water well construction and management can help to improve drinking water quality.

Management of private water wells in Pennsylvania is voluntary.

Therefore, it's critical that water well owners have a good understanding of the effects of well construction, location, testing, and treatment to insure safe drinking water.

Water wells tap into groundwater, which is water stored below the ground surface in the cracks and pore spaces in the rock and gravel.

These saturated rock layers are called aquifers.

In Pennsylvania, most aquifers supplying water wells are 50 to 500 feet below the surface.

Groundwater's always moving.

Usually from higher elevation to lower elevation, just like surface water.

Sometimes groundwater emerges on the surface as a spring.

The general downslope movement of groundwater can help us to determine what activities are most threatening to a particular water well.

In this case, you can see a large turkey barn uphill and in close proximity to a nearby water well.

So, let's talk about six steps you can take to protect and manage your drinking water well.

First, for an existing water well, learn as much as you can about the depth, construction features, and flow of water.

This information is contained on a well completion report or well log that may be available from your well driller.

Some well logs can also be found online through the Pennsylvania Groundwater Information System, or PaGWIS for short.

Second, if you're drilling a new well, make sure that it's located at least 100 feet and uphill from any potential sources of contamination, like septic systems, barnyards, or runoff.

For existing wells, remove sources of contamination around your water well, where possible.

Third, unlike the well in this picture, make sure that your water well is properly constructed.

During construction of a new water well, make sure that the cement-like seal, called grout, is pumped around the casing to eliminate the chance for contamination from the surface.

Grouting is difficult to do on existing water wells.

Your water well completion report will detail any grouting that was done on your water well when it was drilled.

Well caps are important to safeguard the water well from contamination.

Improper well caps come in many forms, including tin cans and cinder blocks.

Most wells in Pennsylvania are fitted with standard well caps that loosely bolt onto the casing.

Note that the bolts extend around the cap and run horizontally to attach to the casing.

A 2007 study by Penn State found that 70% of the water wells surveyed had unsanitary well caps.

Unfortunately, they allow for a small airspace between the cap and the casing, which can allow insects and small animals to access the well.

Sanitary, or vermin-proof, well caps include a rubber gasket, which seals the cap onto the casing, preventing access to insects and other animals.

Sanitary well caps most often come in two pieces, which attach together with vertical bolts.

If your well is lacking a sanitary well cap, consult a local water well driller to have one installed.

The fourth step to protect your water well is to designate at least a 100 foot area around the well as a wellhead protection area.

Don't have anything in this 100 foot circle around the well that you don't want to drink.

Keep in mind that most of your drinking water will come from this area.

Guard dogs are certainly not a good idea for your water well.

Make sure you keep animals and animal waste out of the wellhead protection area.

Also, keep all chemicals, including fertilizers and pesticides, away from the well.

And try to keep vehicles and pavement outside the 100 foot area, too.

A fifth and very important step to protect your water supply is routine water testing.

You should always rely on state-accredited water testing labs rather than in-home kits or water treatment vendors.

The accredited lab can provide you with the proper bottles and sample collection instructions to insure that your results are accurate.

If you're interested in legally documenting your water well quality before a nearby activity, like gas drilling, mining, or construction, be sure to arrange for a professional from the lab to visit your home to collect the samples.

This process insures proper chain of custody for legally defensible results in cases whee damages are done to the water supply.

Water could be tested annually for coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria.

These are common indicators of contamination from surface water, human or animal waste.

And testing usually costs less than $40.

Every two or three years, it's a good idea to have an accredited lab check the pH and total dissolve solids, or TDS levels, of your drinking water for overall safety.

Symptoms of your water can also be useful to determine additional water tests.

In this case, an orange, brown, or black stain on the filters, sinks, or toilets and bad tasting water indicate the need to test for iron and manganese.

Other common symptoms in Pennsylvania groundwater wells are shown in this table, along with the most common parameters responsible.

For example, if you notice that your water leaves a grayish film or solid, especially when the water's heated, you should have your water checked for hardness.

Nearby land uses can also provide hints about the important water test parameters for a particular well.

This table provides a few examples of common land land uses in Pennsylvania and some of the associated water test parameters.

Consider adding these parameters to your testing in cases where the associated activity is within sight of your home.

A final step to protect your water supply is properly removing contaminants that are found above the drinking water standards.

Water treatment can be done for all of the water entering the house, such as this sediment filter, or treatment can be done at individual faucets using reverse osmosis or faucet filters.

When considering water treatment, take a copy of your water test report to various reputable water treatment vendors and ask for treatment equipment certified by the National Sanitation Foundation to remove those contaminants.

Safe drinking water requires proper voluntary management.

If you follow the six steps we've discussed in this video, you can help to insure that drinking water from your well is safe for the entire family.


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