Humans have been relying on well water for thousands of years. They have been digging wells for millennials. Examples include 10, 000-year old wells in Cyprus, 8, 000-year old wells in Eastern Mediterranean, 7, 400-year old wells in Germany and the Czech Republic.
Today, 40% of well water is used for irrigation worldwide. Wells provides billions of people globally with drinking water. In America, for instance, roughly 15% of the population gets their water primarily from private wells – that’s almost 42 million people.
Private wells are, however, not covered by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which regulates to ensure the water supplied to homes is safe to drink. This means that there’s no guarantee that the water from most private wells is safe to drink.
What is a Well (water well)?
A water well [or private well] is simply a long and wide hole dug deep enough into the ground that it penetrates the water table/aquifer from which it fills it up with underground water. A pump or a container like a bucket is used to draw up the water from the well.
What is Well Water?
Well water [also called groundwater] is untreated water retrieved from a water well or the ground where it’s stored in aquifers (water table) which are layers of permeable rock and soil beneath the ground’s surface that hold water-soaked from the rain and other precipitation.
Getting The Well Water
The process of getting well water to your glass is pretty simple.
To create a private well, a hole is sunk into the ground until it penetrates and ends below a water table (aquifer) which is a permeable layer of gravel and sand or other sediments that hold water underground.
It’s often atop a hard bedrock layer.
The hole is held open by a pipe (casing) which reaches all the way down to the aquifer (the source of the water/underground reservoir of water). The water in the saturated rock and dirt particles is pulled by gravity down into the empty space left at the bottom part of the hole that’s beyond the water table.
It fills the bottom of the hole with fresh underground water.
Some casing (always steel) is driven right into the hole (by either casing advancement with rotary or cable tool drilling method) to help prevent the collapse of its walls. The casing usually has a drive shoe attached to its bottom part to prevent damage during driving – it also helps make a solid seal with the formation.
In most wells, bentonite or a grout seal is also added to prevent contaminants in the ground from entering the water supply.
At the end of the casing, the remaining lower portion of the hole in the intake form which water fills the bottom part of the borehole that’s below the water table – it can be bare solid bedrock or be screened and gravel-packed based on the geological conditions.
The casing also serves to provide the housing for a pumping mechanism as well as the pipe that moves the water from the pump up to the surface.
A pump is installed to draw up/retrieve the underground water at the bottom of the borehole, to the plumbing pipes.
It’s powered by a motor, driven by hand, or by an attached windmill and pulls the water all the way from the water table and distributes it throughout the plumbing system, and ultimately into the house for consumption.
Old wells used just simple buckets on ropes to draw the water. However, more modern wells are equipped with pumps which suck the water up the borehole.
From the plumbing system, the well water is delivered into a home via a pipe that’s connected to a pressure tank.
The pressure tank serves as a storage vessel containing water and air – it provides storage of the well water under pressure once it reaches the house.
The water is stored under pressure mainly for delivery between pump cycles.
From the tank, the water flows into your home’s piping system to where it needs to go, to your storage tank, shower, toilet, kitchen faucet, or any other faucet in the house.
The storage tank not only serves as a reserve capacity during periods of peak demand but it also helps protect and extend the pump’s life – it reduces the number of on/off cycles, as well as the overall system maintenance.
A ball valve is also usually installed in the plumping system and it serves as the shutoff valve on the main supply line from the storage tank to the house piping system.
Well water is used for many purposes.
In the USA alone, about 82 billion gallons of fresh well water is withdrawn daily for various uses which include:
Wells are a major source of drinking water supply in the United States and worldwide at large.
Almost over 100 million Americans (about 51% of the total population and 99% of the rural population) supply their own home water, often by a well which they use for drinking, or other domestic/household uses like cooking and washing.
They use about 3.2 billion gallons of the total well water withdrawn daily just for drinking.
Approximately 33 million Californians including those that live in rural areas use well water for drinking either from a private domestic well (over 13 million households) or a public supply.
It also serves as a buffer, especially against the adverse effects of drought and climate change.
During dry years, for instance, well water makes up to 60% (or more) of California’s total water supply, and approximately 40% during a typical year.
Public supply was the third largest use of well water in the nation by 2015, at over 40 billion gallons of water daily.
The water is usually withdrawn by local counties and cities for public uses like for delivery to households, businesses, industries, and community uses such as water services at public buildings, firefighting, and for community swimming pools.
The second-largest amount of well water in the United States is used for irrigation of crops, such as squash, rutabagas, and the delicious eggplants.
It accounts for almost 60% of the total well water withdrawals nationwide which is over 100 billion gallons per day. That’s almost three times greater than public supply, which is the second-largest use of groundwater in the country.
California, Nebraska, Arkansas, Idaho, and Texas are the highest users amongst all the states. They cumulatively account for over 40% of the total well water used for irrigation nationwide.
Texas takes the lead with the highest number of irrigation wells, at over 81,000.
Besides that, more than 90% of the groundwater that’s pumped from the Ogallala which is the country’s largest aquifer (about 250,000 sq. miles stretching from South Dakota to Texas) is used for agricultural irrigation. That’s equal to ⅓ of all USA’s irrigated agriculture.
Generally, well water/groundwater is the major source of water for irrigation – it supplies more than half of the water (some 57.2 billion gallons daily from 475, 796 wells) used for agricultural irrigation.
The rate was much lower in the past like in 1900 where the U.S used only about 2.2 billion gallons of well water daily for irrigation from around 17,000 wells. In more arid countries such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Pakistan, irrigation accounts for up to 90% of well water use.
Well water is also used in industry and manufacturing, especially for cooling and rinsing. The total amount used every day by industries, especially the food industry was around 2.6 billion gallons by 2015.
Mining facilities as well use a lot of groundwater/ well water, particularly saline groundwater – about 80% of the withdrawals were used for mining and occurred in California, Texas, and Oklahoma.
Other uses include thermoelectric power (the largest at more than 100 billion gallons per day), aquaculture (about 1.6 billion gallons per day), and livestock purposes (about 1.2 billion per day).
Well water/groundwater is equally a source of recharge for rivers, wetlands, and lakes. It replenishes creeks, streams, wetlands, and rivers that support wildlife. The groundwater is released slowly, which in turn helps moderate stream temperatures and flows, thereby providing critical flows and habitat for fish spawning as well as other wildlife.
Benefits of Using Well Water
Well water has many benefits, including:
Well water is reliable and ample (nearly endless). You hardly have to worry about interruptions like is the case with municipal water which often runs into problems that are out of your control.
There will be no supply being cut off due to a natural disaster or any other emergency like mass flooding or burst water main across the neighborhood or town.
These problems lead to water shut off which affects everyone that depends on the local water supply system.
With private well water, however, you won’t have to worry about losing access to your main water source (the well). You would rarely be affected or ever face a widespread issue like sewer contamination or a burst water main pipe across the town.
You always have access to the well water even if the nearby community has water usage restrictions.
Moreover, a water well can be drilled anywhere into a water table provided equipment can fit, which means you can have it as close to your home as it possibly can, unlike city water that travels miles to get to your faucet.
With a water well, your access to the well water belongs entirely to you – you’re not dependent on the municipal source.
You may still have to fix it in case it experiences issues, but you won’t ever feel like you don’t have control over your own water because it’s close by and readily available almost throughout/when you need it most.
Deep drilled wells also recharge themselves, so they are able to provide a constant and steady supply of water that isn’t easily affected by dry weather conditions, plus you can as well withdraw the well water from just about anywhere – you are not limited to a single region.
Well Water is Cost-Effective
Well water is the most cost-effective method of delivering water to your home.
It provides financial benefits and long-term savings because the well water that you pump from the hole into your home is free after the initial installation cost and you get practically an endless supply of it – a well can last for 30 to 50 years.
There are no usage fees or paying water bills every month. No municipal fees, rising costs, or hidden charges since you are not connected to a local water supply.
If you’ve installed a septic system, then you won’t also get a monthly sewer use bill, so you considerably cut down your monthly bills – it saves you cash by eliminating recurring water bills.
Besides lowering the utility bills, in many places, there are national, city, and even federal tax credits available for having a well dug on your property which is another financial benefit that helps keep the cost of installation low.
Although the water is free, there are still a few costs you’ll need to cover like periodic maintenance and paying fees for inspections/testing to ensure the water is continually safe to drink and use and also paying for the electricity used to pump the water from the well into your house.
You may also need to invest in a water treatment system (water softening or filtration system) depending on the quality of the well water.
Generally, you’ll have to spend some money on maintenance and periodic repairs but overall, well water is a more cost-effective choice that provides long-term savings than paying monthly water bills.
Offers Health Benefits
Because well water comes from the aquifer underground, rather than from run-off or surface water, it’s often cleaner and fresher.
It’s usually naturally filtered and fine to use without the extra additives like chlorine, fluoride, and other chemicals which are commonly used to treat city water.
You can as well filter the well water to remove any contaminants without using chemicals such as chlorine.
Apart from being free of additives, well water typically tends to have higher nutrient and mineral content (calcium and magnesium) than surface or city water (treatment plants usually remove most of if not all of the natural minerals from city water).
Those nutrients and minerals are very healthy for the body, especially for children. They can help improve brain function and reduce muscle and joint inflammation. They can as well help with weight loss.
Well water is also usually immune from natural disasters like floods which could result in contamination. Such natural disasters tend to disrupt most cities’ ability to supply healthy water to homes.
Unless the disaster is very bad and widespread, wells are normally immune from this problem.
Moreover, although this may depend on personal preference, well water often tastes better and more refreshing than chemically-treated municipal water because it’s all-natural and high in minerals and nutrients.
It’s Environmentally Friendly
Many municipal water treatment plants use chemicals to clean the water in order to make it healthy and drinkable.
These chemicals aren’t really good for you or the environment.
All those chemicals and solid matter produced during the treatment process require frequent elimination and in most cases, they end up back in the environment.
In addition, these processes tend to use large amounts of energy.
In contrast, well water comes right from the earth and usually goes through natural filtration processes through the earth, slate, and even rock, hence it’s much better on our environment compared to city water.
Increases Your Property Value
Having a well on your property is often an asset since you don’t pay for any water rights to the local municipal source.
Properties with efficient and viable water wells usually see their value increase although it would depend on the type of well installed, the condition/quality of the well water, and also the age of the well.
For instance, if you own a farm, installing irrigation wells can help significantly increase your property value.
The Disadvantages Of Using Well Water
Although well water is filtered naturally by the earth, it can become contaminated by both natural and unnatural (human activities) sources.
The following are some of the common contaminants that can be found in well water and their sources:
Microbial contamination includes microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. These pathogens contaminate well water through the feces/fecal materials from humans and animals.
Leakage of both human and animal waste from manure, malfunctioning sewers, or on-site sanitation systems (like septic tanks and pit latrines) located too close to a well can seep underground and reach the well water thereby causing microbial contamination.
Water run-off from either rainfall or snow-melt can as well contaminate private wells by washing various microorganisms on the surface into the well system.
Chemical contamination is quite a common problem with well water. It comprises organic chemicals used widely in agriculture and industrial sites, and also found in many household products such as inks, dyes, petroleum products, disinfectants, paints, pharmaceuticals, sealants, and solvents.
The most common contaminants are nitrate, nitrite, and phosphates which are present in fertilizers, pesticides, human sewage, animal waste, and industrial waste.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from industrial pollutants like petroleum products (gasoline) and solvents are also common chemical contaminants that can end up in well water.
These chemicals enter into well water through agricultural/surface water seepage and run-off, especially where pesticides and fertilizers are heavily used. Runoff from CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) can also contaminate a private well.
Heavy Metals and Trace Elements
Heavy metals include lead, arsenic, copper, chromium, cadmium, antimony, selenium, and more. They can contaminate private wells through either groundwater movement or surface water seepage and run-off.
Most of them come from household plumbing systems and service lines, mining sites, petroleum refineries, cement plants, municipal disposal, and natural mineral deposits.
Others such as radon and arsenic occur naturally and dissolve in groundwater when it moves through rocks and soil.
Heavy metals and trace elements are available at different levels in different areas of the U.S but there are regions where they can be found at harmful levels in well/groundwater.
They are released into the environment mostly from uranium mining and milling, nuclear power production, and coal mining.
The elements may also occur naturally in groundwater in certain areas. They can contaminate well water through groundwater flow, flooding, and wastewater seepage.
Fluoride is another very common contaminant that’s present in many aquifers and well water.
It’s equally added to some city water to boost public health. It isn’t necessarily harmful but at excess levels, it may be harmful to your dental health.
Hard Water and Scale Buildup
Well water typically contains high levels of minerals in solution compared to surface water. It often contains high levels of both calcium and magnesium dissolved from rocks and soil beneath the earth’s surface.
These minerals precipitate and make the well water hard.
This is a problem that’s very common throughout the country with about 85% of private well owners affected.
Although the hardness minerals may not pose a threat to your health, over time, they can become an expensive issue.
They can precipitate resulting in scale buildup which may end up clogging pipes and damaging the plumbing systems as well as other home appliances like water heaters, dishwashers, and washing machines.
They can also cause scale buildup on plumbing fixtures such as faucets, sinks, and bathtubs – the scale can stick around for years making them less efficient.
Staining is yet another common problem when using well water that’s hard.
The limescale due to the hardness of minerals can stain your fixtures, sinks, tubs, dishes, glasses, and other household items – it leaves behind an unsightly white residue and spots.
Hard water also tends to cause clothing to become rough and lose its color, requiring them to be replaced more often.
The most frustrating stains, however, come from high iron and manganese content in the well water.
High iron content is particularly a major nuisance as it causes unsightly orange stains that make appliances look rusty and are difficult to remove.
As mentioned earlier, well water is usually laced with various microscopic contaminants which could pose a serious health threat, especially when consumed daily.
Nearly over 7% of all water-borne disease outbreaks nationwide are associated with unregulated private wells.
Pathogenic microorganisms or biological contamination is one of the biggest concerns.
Consuming well water containing bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and other microorganisms can lead to gastrointestinal illnesses and infection. E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni, and Shigella are some of the common bacterial contaminants that can be found in well water.
As for the viral contaminants, the most common ones include sapovirus, rotavirus, enteroviruses, norovirus, and hepatitis A and E, while parasites include Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora cayetanensis, Giardia lamblia, and microsporidia.
E. coli and Cryptosporidium pose the greatest health risk in private well water. They enter the water through the feces of either infected humans or animals, and they can cause severe intestinal illnesses.
Another major concern is nitrate contamination.
At high levels, it can cause a number of health issues like cancer and kidney problems.
Pregnant mothers, nursing women, infants, young children, and the elderly are, particularly at a higher risk.
When taken into the body, the nitrates are converted into nitrites. Elevated levels (above 10 mg/L) of both nitrate and nitrite pose a more serious threat for infants that are less than 6 months.
The high nitrate/nitrite levels in the drinking water can cause methemoglobinemia (“blue baby syndrome”), where the nitrate reduces the blood’s (hemoglobin) capacity to carry oxygen.
It’s an acute condition that can occur rapidly within days with symptoms including blueness of the skin and shortness of breath. The infant can become seriously ill and even die.
Lead contamination is another primary concern when it comes to health issues associated with drinking well water. It’s especially harmful to young children, infants, and pregnant women.
According to a study done by Indiana University researchers, children in homes that rely on private well water are about 25% more likely to have high blood lead levels compared to children in homes supplied by community water.
When well water with elevated levels of lead and other heavy metals is consumed, it can cause serious health issues such as kidney, liver, and intestinal damage, acute and chronic toxicity, anemia, and cancer.
High levels of arsenic (above the approved levels) for instance, can lead to heart disease as well as several types of cancer – it contributes to approximately 1,000 deaths annually.
Certain organic chemical contaminants present in well water can also lead to chronic health issues which take quite a long time to grow. They can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, circulatory system, reproductive system, and nervous system.
Radionuclides which are radioactive forms of elements like uranium and radium can as well contaminate private wells and pose health risks such as causing toxic kidney effects and increasing the risk of cancer.
Fluoride is equally another contaminant that can be a significant health risk in case of excessive consumption. It can cause dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis as well as tooth discoloration and pitting of teeth.
Most Well Rely on Electricity
Well water depends on electricity to power the pump so that it can pull the water from the ground. This means that if the electricity goes out, the pump stops working and as such, no water is delivered into the house.
In other words, you have to ensure there’s an alternative/backup source of electricity around like solar power or an emergency generator in order to maintain a continuous supply of water, especially if the electricity goes out for a prolonged period.
Make Your Well Water Safe
Well Water Testing
Unlike public water systems, private wells are not regulated by either the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or State regulators, so it’s up to the owner of a private well to get it tested routinely and even more often in some cases.
You can do it through laboratory testing or any authorized research facility. It’s a really important step as it allows you to know whether your well water is safe and clean for you and your family to drink and use.
Without testing, the quality of your well water is unknown and you can’t rely on your bare eyes because it may not be safe despite how it looks and tastes.
Your bare eyes can’t see the harmful microorganisms (bacteria, parasites, and infections) that could be present in the water.
Even when you are not becoming ill, the water may still not be safe.
Some contaminants/microorganisms present in well water can lead to long-haul health issues and they often come from surface or groundwater supplies. There are certain chemical contaminants in well water that can cause chronic health issues which often take quite a very long time to grow.
Even if your neighbors well get tested and observed to be safe, you shouldn’t assume that yours is safe because that would depend on many factors including local surface and underground geology, depth of the well, development of the well, what activities take place around and near the source of the well, and more.
The well water quality (contaminants levels and threshold for recognized safe levels) can change regularly or over time like upon refilling/revival.
For example, you may have tested your well water for arsenic a few years ago and it was safe. The same water may now not be safe due to changes from the EPA where they lowered the concentration of arsenic that’s considered safe.
For instance, the maximum contaminant level (MCL), specifically for arsenic, was 50 parts per billion but EPA changed it to 10 parts per billion which means the same well water which was considered safe is now unsafe.
Even if it looks clear and tastes fine, it can still be contaminated since the contamination levels can change almost any time, so just because it was safe at one check/test, that doesn’t guarantee that it will remain safe.
Other indicators for Well Water Testing
There are other aspects that may indicate that your well water needs testing and they include:
- If there are any known problems with well water within your area or if there’s a sudden change in the water quality like the taste, odor, or color, or if you suspect that someone has become sick after drinking water from your well.
- When a new well is drilled within your area or if you repair or replace your existing well or any of its parts – a change in your well water system is likely to create a change in the water quality.
- If the surrounding conditions are altered such as when there’s flooding, land disturbances, new construction or industrial activity, or waste disposal sites are set up or located near your area.
- When water treatment devices aren’t working as they should or if bacterial growth or scale build become visible on fixtures and the plumbing system.
Where to Test the Well Water
It’s important to have your well water checked and tested by a trained and licensed water well systems professional at a certified laboratory.
Most county/state health departments accept samples for well water testing – they can guide you on what to have your well water tested for as well as how to take the sample and how to submit it.
It’s highly recommended to ensure that comprehensive testing is done regularly because there’s a misconception that getting a well checked will ultimately reveal water quality issues which, unfortunately, it’s not the case.
A basic water screening/checking has lots of “blind spots”.
It’s not the same as comprehensive testing because it gives no information about the levels of lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium 6, nitrates, radon, or VOCs unless you decide to test specifically for those elements.
It can’t also give information about the presence of bacteria or other pathogens in the water. It only checks if the system is not faulty instead of the purity and safety of the water which can only be done through comprehensive testing.
Other Things to Look For
Besides testing for the contaminants, the well owner needs to perform regular visual inspections to ensure the entire well water system is in good condition and contact a well water system professional in case any issues are discovered.
Visual Inspection of the Wellhead
You need to regularly examine the area right above the ground surface over your well including:
- The casing (the pipe protruding from the ground) to ensure it’s at least 12-inches above the ground
- The well cap (the cap on top of the casing) to ensure that it’s securely attached
- The electrical conduit (if present) – check and verify that all the connections are secure
Visual Inspection of Well System Components plus other Equipment
You can visually inspect the various components of your well system away from the wellhead. Note the condition of:
- Above-ground water pump – ensure motors are properly vented and cooled, check for shaft seal leaks, rust, or any other sign of weakened fittings
- Above-and below-ground water storage tanks
- Above-ground well system wiring as well as other parts like pipes, joint seals, connections, pressure relief valves, gauges, and the water meter if it’s present. Look for signs of corrosion or breakages, or any smell of burned connections or wiring
- The electrical control box and its connections
- The filtration equipment – check that the filters are recharged or replaced as required by the manufacturer
- The water softeners and conditioners – ensure they are working properly and maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions
While it’s not really required by the government, testing your well water is an essential step to keeping your family safe, especially if you have small children and elderly adults around the house or if someone in your house is nursing or pregnant.
These segments of the population are more sensitive and vulnerable to most of the contaminants than the rest.
You may also want to have your water tested first before use if you’ve purchased or are in the process of purchasing a home with well water.
Ensure a comprehensive test is carried out – don’t just rely on the initial tests done during the home buying process because the quality of well water can change constantly.
If the tests were done recently, then ensure it was comprehensive.
How often should the tests be done?
The National Groundwater Association (NGWA) and the EPA recommend testing your well water at least once a year, especially for coliform and E. coli bacteria, nitrates, lead, and any contaminants that are of local concern, at the absolute minimum.
More frequent testing may be necessary if there’s a sudden change in the water quality detectable through changes in color, taste, or odor.
You can check with your local public health office or environmental health department for guidance on the type and frequency of testing based on your specific area.
The scope and frequency of testing tend to vary from state to state. There are those that have certain testing requirements while most in fact don’t require comprehensive testing. In Indiana, for instance, the state doesn’t require the private wells to be tested yet some Florida counties require testing of new private wells and repairs.
New York requires any well serving 5 or more people to undergo testing for contaminants. New Jersey, on the other hand, has a Well Testing Act that requires buyers or sellers of a property that has a well to test the untreated well water for various different quality indicators and to also review the test results before closing. The state also requires landlords to carry out well water testing once every 5 years and provide a copy of the test results to each tenant.
North Carolina counties have one of the stringent laws as they require wells to be tested for chemical and bacterial contaminants within the first 30 days of completion. Samples are sent to the respective local health department or laboratory which provides a report of the results plus what the passing limit for each contaminant/element is.
Most of the state and local environmental or health departments often test for E. coli bacteria, total coliforms, fecal coliform, nitrates, VOCs, and PH. A concise, clear, written report is delivered to you following the test, explaining the results and recommendations.
With the help of an expert, you can look over the results to understand them and determine what sort of well water treatment solution is best for your specific conditions. It’s important to know what kind of contaminants may be present in your well water so that you can get the right treatment solution.
Well Water Treatment Solutions/Systems
There are lots of different treatment options for dealing with or treating different kinds of problems associated with well water. Keep in mind though that there’s no single treatment type/solution that can address all the problems at once.
You may have to combine several systems to get the best results because well water treatment is not just about contaminants. Some people treat their well water to improve its taste and to stop and prevent scale build-up. With that in mind, here are some of the most common treatment solutions for well water:
A water filtration system or water filter is a device that’s able to remove different kinds of impurities/contaminants from water by use of a physical barrier or chemical and/or biological process. They are composed of two categories: point-of-entry and point-of-use.
Point-of-entry systems are usually installed in the main water line after the water meter and they treat most of the water that enters a house – a good example is a whole house well water filtration system. On the other hand, point-of-use systems are systems that filter water in batches – they usually deliver water to a tap like one on a kitchen sink or an auxiliary faucet that’s mounted next to a tap.
That said the most common types of home filtration systems for treating well water consist of:
Carbon Well Water Filters
Carbon filters are a more inexpensive option when it comes to well water filtration systems. They are available in different types; granular activated carbon filters (GAC), radio flow GAC filters, and carbon block filters. They only have a slight difference but utilize the same media and mechanism for removing contaminants.
They use activated carbon which is a filtration media that consists of a very microporous structure that traps and holds organic chemical molecules which are present in the water that flows through it.
These carbon filters are mainly used to remove chlorine and organic compounds in both well and municipal water. VOCs like benzene, xylene, toluene, oils, pesticides, herbicides, and some chlorinated compounds are the main target chemicals removed by the use of carbon filters.
Their other major use is the removal of sediment, color, and bad tastes and odors. Most of them are used as point-of-use systems such as under sink water filters, counter-top water filters, or faucet-attached water filters. They are equally used in whole house water filter systems.
Reverse Osmosis Well Water Filtration System
A reverse osmosis (RO) system is one of the very effective filtration systems for dealing with potential well water contaminants. An RO system is basically a special form of water purification system that utilizes several filtration stages to remove contaminants from the water.
It basically involves 3 main filtration stages that include; a carbon pre-filter, the RO membrane, and a carbon post-filter. The main filtration stage is the RO membrane which is a semipermeable membrane (Thin-film composite membrane, TFC) with pores sized from about 0.001 to 0.0001 microns. It acts as a molecular sieve with its extremely tiny pores being able to trap around 95 to 98% of all the contaminants present in well water.
It’s very effective at removing microscopic contaminants including microorganisms like bacteria and viruses as well as dissolved solids/minerals like sodium and calcium.
Other contaminants removed by the RO membrane are trace elements, heavy metals, fluoride, VOCs, and other organic chemicals. It strips out contaminants not caught by carbon filters which make up the pre-filter and post-filter stages of the RO system. Nearly everything lurking in well water is filtered out including nitrate and nitrite.
Many RO systems also incorporate further filtration stages, such as remineralization/alkaline filter which helps raise the PH level of the purified water and also to restore the healthy minerals (calcium and magnesium) removed by the RO membrane thereby improving the taste of the water.
UltraViolet light filtration is another optional stage incorporated in some RO systems and it involves using UV rays to destroy microbes and germs that the RO membrane was not able to capture. It’s the most effective method of disinfecting bacteria-infested water which makes it suitable for untreated well water – it can help kill all the harmful bacteria and microorganisms lurking in the water.
Generally, an RO system is the best option if you go with water filtration systems as the method for treating your well water. Depending on your needs though, you can go with either a whole house filtration system (if you want to filter all the water entering your house) or an under sink water filter system (if you want to filter just the water that comes out of a specific tap in your house).
You would also want to make sure too that the water filter you choose bears an “NSF Certification” label to guarantee that it’s proven to remove all the contaminants that it claims to.
A water softener is a sort of device that’s used to reduce the hardness (amount of minerals) of the water. It comes in various kinds but the main ones are salt-based water softeners and salt-free water softeners.
In salt-based water softeners, sodium and potassium ions are usually added into the water to replace calcium and magnesium ions (otherwise known as hardness minerals) which are responsible for creating the hardness of the water.
Salt-free water softeners, on the other hand, can be water descalers or water conditioners, both of which don’t use any salt in treating water hardness. The most common ones are the electronic water descalers which are electronic devices made up of coils of insulated electrical cables that are wrapped around the main water supply line of a home.
They use very strong electromagnetic waves to alter the chemical structure of the hardness minerals (calcium and magnesium) thereby preventing them from precipitating and forming limescale. They prevent limescale buildup in the pipes and also help remove existing limescale without adding or removing anything from the water.
Besides the electronic water descalers, there are other options like magnetic water descalers. These too utilize almost the same principle as the electronic water descalers to deal with water hardness – there are no additives used during the process.
If your well is high in hardness minerals, then installing a water softener besides your water filtration system can help soften it and make it better for your plumbing system, appliances, washing, and even skin.
You might want to consider investing in a salt-free water softener since it doesn’t use any additives (nothing is added or removed from your water). It’s an efficient and environmentally friendly option compared to salt-based systems which usually produce massive amounts of briny wastewater.
Distillation is basically a physical process of separating components of a mixture through evaporation and condensation. Water distillation, in particular, is also another form of the water purification process that helps separate water from its impurities.
A distillation system/unit typically consists of four main components; a heat source/element, a boiling chamber, condensing chamber/coils, and a storage tank for holding the distilled water.
The impure well water containing different contaminants is boiled to produce steam which is collected and condensed in the condensing chamber and then channeled to a separate storage container. All the solid contaminants present in the water are left behind in the boiling chamber.
The collected distilled water is very pure. The distillation process is so effective much like the RO system. It removes nearly all minerals, salts, heavy metals, trace elements, and chemicals lurking in the well water. It also kills biological contaminants such as bacteria, parasites, viruses.
However, the resulting distilled water may still have some impurities, especially VOCs because some of them have a lower boiling point compared to that of water and as such, they can evaporate too during boiling and end up in the collected distilled water.
That said though, distillation is still an effective water purification process that can help remove most of the contaminants in the well water, especially heavy metals, organic chemicals and bacteria, and other pathogens. There are many water distillers that are purposely designed for residential use. They are often available as compact countertop units that plug into an electrical outlet.
Disinfection is either a chemical or physical process in which pathogenic microorganisms become deactivated or killed. It’s the process used to treat and clean most of city water supplies and even well water supplies.
Some of the most common chemical disinfectants include chlorine, chlorine dioxide, and ozone while physical disinfectants include UV light, electronic radiation, and heat.
Water chlorination is part of the many ways/methods of disinfecting or treating well water with the use of chlorine. The chlorine basically deactivates the pathogenic microorganisms by destroying their cell membrane. Once the cell membrane is completely weakened, the chlorine enters the cell in which it’s able to disrupt its respiration as well as DNA activity.
This process of disinfection can kill or eliminate many different kinds of bacteria in the well water such as the coliform bacteria. Apart from disinfection, chlorine can provide a residual which can help prevent the growth of bacteria and other pathogens in water storage tanks. The downside is that it can cause the water to have an unpleasant taste.
Generally, chlorination is an effective method if you are looking to deal with a one-time bacterial or biological contamination case. You can also consider full chlorination which is a common method used by well drillers for treating persistent contamination of bacteria and waters affected by the flood. It typically involves introducing a high level of chlorine into the well for a temporary period to kill bacteria that may be present in the well water and aquifer.
It’s a technique often done by professionals but it’s something that you can also do by yourself at any moment. However, while chlorination is effective and relatively economical, it only fixes the issue temporarily making it not really reliable in case of a long-term and persistent problem.
You have to disinfect the well periodically (after about every 6 months) to keep your well water safe and free from bacteria and other pathogenic microorganisms.
Additional Safety Measures
You can take several precautions as a private well owner to reduce exposure of your well water to potential contamination. They include:
Proper Well Location
Proper well location and also the construction is vital to the safety of well water. You want to make sure the ground/area surrounding the wellhead slopes away from the well so as to divert surface runoff and rainwater away from it.
If where it’s located is a low-lying area that’s prone to flooding, then consider getting a water well system professional to raise the casing to a minimum of 12 inches right above the previously recorded flood level – or you can have a new well sunk outside the flood-prone area altogether.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has an excellent guide on well sitting.
Maintain Proper Distance from Other Systems
It’s essential that the well is dug away from buildings, waste systems (septic systems), or chemical storage areas (even fuel tanks) to avoid contamination in case of a leak or a pipe burst.
A water well systems professional can help you determine the local codes and requirements. Generally, each system should be about 100 feet or more away from the other. You should maintain at least 15.24 meters (50 feet) between the well and your kennels, feeding areas, or your livestock operations.
Periodically Check the Well Cap
Check the well cap regularly to ensure that it’s sealed tightly and that the filter/screen on the vent is clean and intact – look for cracks and any evidence of tampering.
You want to ensure too that all the conduit connections with the well cap are connected properly and also in good condition. If the well cap has a lock, then check to see whether the lock has been tampered with. You should as well inspect any underground storage tanks (holding diesel, gasoline, or home-heating oil) for leaks.
Practice Safe Water Habits
Don’t plant pile mulch or do landscaping around the well cap. Physically remove all growth vegetation with root systems that are within 10 feet of your well. If you landscape your yard, ensure that there’s no low area near the wellhead where rainwater could collect.
When mixing or using herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers in landscape maintenance, do so away from the well and use absorbent pads over concrete so the spill doesn’t get washed off and then seep into the ground.
Well water is extremely important to all societies, especially in regions where the water surface is scarce or there’s a limited supply of municipal water like in semi-arid and arid areas.
It provides an ample and reliable supply of water for both home use and other activities like irrigation and industries.
If you own a private well or get your water from a community well, ensure that annual or regular water quality checks are done and preventive maintenance carried out so that you are sure your water supply is always safe.
If you are planning to dig a new well on your property, then make sure you get trained professionals to do the digging and to conduct water quality tests and regular maintenance. You would also want to invest in an appropriate water treatment system based on the condition of your well water to ensure that it’s always clean and safe to drink and use.
According to the U.S Geological Survey data, most of them are in the East (eastern United State). In counties such as Alaska, New Hampshire, Texas, and California over 30% of the residents rely on well water daily.
The percentage rises to as high as 40% in most rural areas like Maine, Vermont, and northern New England.
The Great Lakes states also rank highest, especially the Piedmont region of North Carolina, Michigan, and Virginia – over 2 million residents use a well.
In Florida alone, an estimated 2.5 million (approximately 12% of the population) depend on private wells for their daily water supply for drinking, cooking, washing, bathing, toilet flushing, and other needs.
Counties in the Great Plains as well as the northern Rockies also have a high number of people who rely on a well despite being sparsely populated.
All these people and many other more worldwide, often in more rural locations, are not connected to the large public-supply water systems. They supply their own water for use from their private or public wells which is good since they get to save money out of it – as long as the well water is safe, they no longer need to pay anything for water to drink.
Most importantly though is that wells provide an ample and reliable supply of water especially for home uses and irrigation.
In many places where surface water is scarce, like in deserts, people wouldn’t be able to survive and thrive without groundwater and the only way to get at it is by digging wells.