If you’re thinking of purchasing a home that has a well water system, you might have reservations about whether the water will be safe to drink or use for other needs, such as brushing your teeth and cleaning dishes. But well water can be just as safe as municipal water – as long as you have your system regularly tested and maintained.
A well water system consists of a pipe staked deep into the ground to penetrate an aquifer, which is a water source that exists within the layers of soil and rock beneath your yard. The depth of the well will depend on the conditions of where you live, but they can extend as deep as hundreds of feet or more. A pump is then used to push the water up from its underground source to a pressure tank, which stores the water inside your home until it’s ready for use.
The two main differences between a well water system and a municipal water system are the sources of water and the processes used to filter it. Municipal water is typically drawn from groundwater or other sources on the surface, such as rivers and lakes. Once the water is collected, it’s then sent to a treatment plant to be purified before being distributed to homes and businesses. In contrast, well water is naturally filtered by the surrounding rock layers and can be made safer with a well water filtration system.
While municipal water is more common in the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 13 million homes rely on well water, including many homes in the Portland area. Well water is commonly used in rural areas where city water systems may not be an option.
Here, we’ll take a deeper dive into potential risks of using well water and how you can keep your well water safe to drink.
Keeping Well Water Drinkable
Many people assume that well water is purer and cleaner than water from municipal systems because it’s coming from a natural source that hasn’t been treated with chemicals. This is a misconception, as the water can come into contact with many surfaces before it ends up in your aquifer and can carry contaminants that can pose risks to your health.
Unlike municipal water systems, well water systems are often the sole responsibility of the homeowner, meaning no one is treating your water or monitoring its cleanliness. That’s why it’s crucial to conduct annual well water testing to ensure it’s free from harmful pollutants and safe to drink.
Well Water Contaminants
Contaminants can enter well water as a result of natural causes or problems with your well water system. Most contamination occurs when there are defects in the part of your well that lives above ground, but contamination can also occur due to chemicals or other contaminants seeping into the ground. Well water can also contain contaminants when the well isn’t properly sanitized during installation.
A few hazards to watch out for include:
- Dirt and rodent contamination: If the casing on your well becomes cracked or damaged, debris carrying harmful microorganisms can enter the system from above ground and make you sick. Additionally, insects, rodents and other small animals could enter and become trapped, potentially leading them to decompose inside your well.
- E. coli: E. coli is a harmful bacterium that’s present in the feces of infected humans and animals. This waste can result from sewage problems, untreated water (such as that from nearby septic leach fields) or water runoff from local agricultural sites. This is also why it’s important to drill a new well away from your sewage system in case of leaks or overflows.
- Iron, calcium and magnesium: While minerals are generally safe (and beneficial!) to have in your water, too much of these minerals in particular can cause the water to taste bad. It can also lead to problems with your plumbing due to mineral buildups, such as calcium deposits, which can cause blockages and corrosion.
- Sulfuric acid: When sulfuric gas dissolves into water, it can easily become sulfuric acid. This acid can severely irritate the skin and affect long-term health.
- Heavy metals: Toxic metals such as lead and arsenic can be present in the groundwater around your well due to corrosion of nearby pipes or industrial plants.
- Nitrates: Fertilizers, animal waste and sewage can all carry nitrates that could wash into a cracked well. Nitrates can affect your body’s ability to carry oxygen in your blood.
Thankfully, well water testing can determine whether any of these contaminants are present to ensure your well water is safe to drink. Testing for coliform bacteria, nitrates and arsenic in particular are required during real estate transactions, but buyers should also have well water tested for its pH balance, sodium, metals, hardness and dissolved solids.
Keeping Your Well Properly Maintained
While well water systems can carry risks if they aren’t continually monitored, they do come with a variety of benefits. Well water is cheaper than water from municipal water systems, allowing you to avoid a monthly water bill. It can also taste better and provide your body with important minerals.
Having a private well means you aren’t dependent on a public water supply, which means you won’t feel the sting of widespread issues like sewage problems or service disruptions. Well water systems are typically dependent on electricity, however, so power outages will likely impact your water access.
The trade-off is that you’ll need to keep your well properly maintained and inspected. The state of your water can change over time, and it may not be evident in the way your water tastes, looks or smells. The easiest way to keep your well water clean and drinkable is by conducting yearly testing. This testing should only be done by certified professionals to ensure its accuracy and thoroughness.
Alpha Environmental offers well water testing to safeguard our communities from the potential impacts of contaminated drinking water. We also offer water flow testing for homeowners with well water systems to make sure your water supply is ample enough to meet your needs. Contact us today for a free estimate!