Wells are the main source of water for millions of people around the globe. They provide an ample supply of water for drinking, home use, and irrigation. However, like the pH and quality of well water, the alkalinity of well water tends to vary from place to place. There are areas with low alkalinity well water while in other areas the alkalinity levels are pretty high.
In light of that, we’ll be looking today at high alkalinity well water, which I believe you’ve probably heard of and wondered what exactly it’s all about. Is it healthy or harmful? Where does it come from or what causes it? All these questions and much more we’re going to answer in this detailed post to give you a better understanding of high alkalinity well water.
We’ll look at exactly what it is, how it comes to be, how to test it, the benefits it offers, and some of its disadvantages, plus solutions to tackling them. We’ll cover everything essential you need to know about it, so let’s get started.
What is high alkalinity well water?
High alkalinity well water is basically well water that has high levels of carbonates and bicarbonates, or rather high levels of dissolved limestone. It doesn’t experience much change in its pH level, even when acid rain or any other acidic water is introduced into it.
Alkalinity itself is sometimes referred to as “Carbonate hardness” and it’s the measure of water’s capacity to neutralize acids or hydrogen ions. It acts as a buffer against volatile pH changes, hence, helping keep the water’s pH fairly stable. The alkalinity in the water is generally measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L) of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). For typical drinking water, the amount of alkalinity is usually around 20 to 200 mg/L.
High alkalinity well water, on the other hand, tends to have an alkalinity rating of over 300 mg/L, which represents high amounts of dissolved solids, particularly carbonates and bicarbonates.
It’s important to note that alkalinity is quite different from pH, even though it’s usually associated with high pH values. The pH generally indicates if water is a base or an acid, while alkalinity tells you the amount of acid the water is able to absorb without a change in the pH level.
In other words, you can have water with high pH, say at 11, but with very little alkalinity. At the same time, you can have water with a relatively high pH, like at just 8, but with a very high alkalinity rating. So, the pH of the water is not really the indicator of its alkalinity or its capacity to neutralize acids.
You can determine if your well water has high alkalinity by conducting regular tests. You can do it through an accredited water testing laboratory or any authorized research facility. This will involve taking a sample of your well water from any tap of your home and sending it to the qualified testing lab that you choose upon which they will conduct some type of titration and other tests, and then provide a report of the results.
The cost of testing or determining if your well water is high alkalinity will vary depending on the lab. There are also chemical test kits, automatic, portable titrators, and other devices such as alkalinity calorimeter and photometer that you can use to determine if your well water is high alkalinity. These are DIY devices, so they are more convenient than taking a sample of your well water and sending it to a lab, plus they provide more accurate results than the DIY chemical test kits.
The Main Reasons
Doing tests to know if your well water is high alkalinity is important in determining its ability to neutralize acidic pollution, mainly from rainfall (acid rain) as well as from several other factors like fill water, acidic sanitizers, and other product applications that are likely to change the alkalinity of the water over time.
It’s basically the best way to determine the sensitivity of the well water to acid inputs and this is important because high alkalinity, as we’ve mentioned earlier, neutralizes the water’s acidity hence keeping its pH stable and making it safe for us to drink – lower alkalinity means the water is more likely to be corrosive.
The majority of high alkalinity in well water is from calcium carbonate (CaCo3), leached from the surrounding soil and rocks that the water is exposed to. For instance, wells drilled into carbonate-type rocks like limestone-bearing aquifers create water with higher alkalinity. These rocks (mostly limestone) have high levels of calcium carbonate, which get dissolved in the well water, thereby significantly raising their alkalinity.
Therefore in general, the geology of the area is what directly affects the amount of alkalinity because the minerals and compounds (carbonates, bicarbonates, or hydroxides) from the surrounding soil and rocks are primarily responsible for high alkalinity in well water. Areas that have a high frequency of limestone certainly will have much higher alkalinity compared to areas with a high frequency of granite.
High alkalinity in well water can also result from various other factors like when the soil and rocks (limestone) get broken up for construction and mining. The dissolved minerals from the exposed rocks and soil can get into the well water through surface waters and increase the alkalinity level.
When limestone (calcium carbonate) is as well used to reduce the acidity at homes or when lime soda is used to soften the water, then it can easily runoff into surface water, ending up in the well and raising the alkalinity level of the well water.
Keeps the Water Safe to Drink
High alkalinity in well water is essential because it helps neutralize acids, thereby keeping the pH stable. It acts as a buffer which protects the well water from acid inputs like acid rain which could make it more acidic. The benefit of this is that it keeps the well water safe for drinking because lower alkalinity means the well water is more susceptible to acids and more likely to be corrosive and unsafe to drink.
Provides Essential Minerals
High alkalinity generally indicates that the well water contains a high amount of dissolved solids, particularly carbonates and bicarbonates. It also has a high amount of various natural minerals like calcium and magnesium which are quite beneficial to our overall health. Therefore, drinking high alkalinity water is not only safe but could also be a supplementary contributor to your total calcium and magnesium mineral intake.
Can Soothe Acid Reflux
Drinking high alkalinity well water can help ease acid reflux. Its acid-buffering capacity is more than that of regular drinking water hence it can have some therapeutic benefits for those struggling with acid refluxes.
Besides soothing acid reflux, high alkalinity in well water is believed to have several positive health benefits to the body, especially for those with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.
Some of these benefits include raising oxygen delivery to the cells, improving bone health, cleansing the colon, supporting the immune system, and anti-aging benefits. There are those that also claim it’s able to help with weight loss, provide resistance against cancer, and hydrate the skin and also detoxify it.
Although these claims are notable, there’s very little solid scientific evidence or research to ascertain them or support the few studies carried out to support the claims or that the body benefits from high alkalinity in water.
High alkalinity is not a pollutant nor detrimental to humans. It’s a natural characteristic of water. However, it’s generally associated with excessive dissolved solids, hardness, and high pH which may have some negative impact such as:
Due to the fact that it’s packed with minerals and other dissolved solids, high alkalinity well water may have a distinctly flat, funny taste that many may find unpleasant.
High alkalinity values (over 200 mg/L) are associated with very high dissolved solids which result in water hardness. This can have a toll on the plumbing system as it can cause scale buildup in the plumbing system (especially in the piping) clogging it like an artery such that water flow is significantly reduced. This can lead to poor water pressure throughout the house. So much scale build-up in the plumbing system could also potentially ruin faucets, showerheads, and other plumbing fixtures.
Scale build-up can as well occur in hot water systems like water heaters and even in other water-using appliances like washing machines, damaging their heating elements, and ultimately hindering their ability to function properly. It can cause an increase in power consumption and also the cost to heat water.
Staining is another common problem when using high alkalinity well water which is also usually referred to as hard water. The limescale from the hardness minerals in the water can stain fixtures, sinks, bathtubs, dishes, and other household items and water-using appliances, leaving behind an unsightly white residue, marks, and spots.
Using the high alkalinity well water to wash clothes can as well cause them to become rough and even lose their color, thereby requiring them to be replaced quite often.
Have Side Effects on the Body
Generally, drinking high alkalinity water is safe, but it can still cause several side effects on the body which include:
Lowering Natural Stomach Acidity: high alkalinity well water is associated with high pH, so when you drink it, it may have the effect of lowering the natural acidity level of your stomach. Stomach acidity is essential as it helps in killing bacteria in the body and expelling unwanted pathogens in the bloodstream. Hence, reducing the natural acidity level of the stomach means the body will be more vulnerable to bacteria and pathogens.
Gastrointestinal issues and skin irritations: drinking high alkalinity well water for a prolonged period is likely to cause excessive alkalinity in the body which in turn can cause skin irritations and also lead to gastrointestinal issues, which usually occur when the alkalinity level of the body is very high.
Metabolic Alkalosis: consumption of high alkalinity water can agitate the body’s normal pH level which can lead to a health condition known as metabolic alkalosis. This condition can cause symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, confusion, muscle twitching, hand tremors, and tingling in the face. It can also lead to a decline in the calcium levels in the body which could damage bone health.
Excessive high alkalinity in well water can be reduced using various methods: The main ones include:
Reserve osmosis water filtration systems offer one of the effective ways of reducing troublesome amounts of alkalinity in well water. It mainly utilizes an RO membrane known as Thin-film composite membrane (TFC) which is a semipermeable membrane made up of many microscopic pores that are as small as 0.0001 microns in size. It works like a molecular sieve where the extremely tiny pores are able to trap about 95 to 99% of all the contaminants and compounds in the well water including total dissolved solids, and minerals.
It effectively removes carbonates and bicarbonates from the water thereby significantly reducing its alkalinity. This is the most suitable solution for household use because the reverse osmosis system can be easily installed under the sink in the kitchen or even on countertops.
Ion Exchange Resin
You can reduce excessive alkalinity in your well water by installing a special ion exchange unit that’s designed to reduce alkalinity. These units usually feature an anion resin (negatively charged resin) that’s regenerated with sodium chloride. The resin removes substantially all the anions in the water which includes carbonates, bicarbonates, sulfates, and even nitrates. It’s not only able to eliminate water hardness but also helps reduce alkalinity.
The disadvantage of this method is that it replaces these anions with an equivalent amount of sodium and chloride ions hence leading to a high chloride and sodium ion concentration in the water, which could be undesirable for someone sensitive to high salinity or sodium level.
Besides the two methods, there are several other ways of water treatment that can remove alkalinity, although they are less suitable for household use. These include:
Lime softening: this process removes hardness but will precipitate an almost equivalent amount of alkalinity. It’s able to reduce total alkalinity but does also convert the -HC03 to -CO3, which is a stronger alkalinity ion. It’s usually restricted to municipal and industrial installations.
Chemical Feed Pump System: a chemical feed pump system works by injecting a weak acid solution which neutralizes the alkalinity of the water. Acetic and citric acid can be used, although they tend to leave citrate or acetate in the water which is not really desirable since it gives the water a taste.
Feeding of a Strong Acid: the feed of a strong/mineral acid can also neutralize the alkalinity of well water. In this case, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, or a combination of the two can be used. This process generally converts the carbonates and bicarbonates present in well water into carbonic acid. You have to provide some method to allow the resulting carbon dioxide gas to escape into the atmosphere. This acid feed technique also has its disadvantages which are pretty obvious. It’s especially important to have precise control over the process and caution when handling the strong acid.
The other effective methods of reducing excessive alkalinity of well water are the desalination process, deionization (demineralization), and distillation. Deionization and distillation equipment are quite expensive and tend to use large amounts of space.
High alkalinity in well water is good because it keeps it safe for us to drink. However, it does come with its disadvantages with the most adverse being too much scale buildup. While there are no scientifically proven serious health effects to drinking high alkalinity water, excessive alkalinity levels may have side effects on the body and even much more damaging effects on your plumbing system.
Therefore, it’s important to determine if your well water has excessive alkalinity through conducting regular tests using test kits, automatic alkalinity titrators, or through an accredited water testing laboratory or any authorized research facility. Doing so will ensure your well water has the right amount of alkalinity which is between 20 to 200 mg/L.