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Check Your Ground Water | Summer 2006 Out Here Magazine

Your water wells should get an annual maintenance check and water quality test.

Wells should be tested annually

By Noble Sprayberry

Photography courtesy of the National Ground Water Association

Private wells serve about 12 million households, but guaranteed quality drinking water isn't as simple as turning on a faucet. Owning a well demands responsibility and attention to maintenance.

Well owners often don't take the time to acquire a basic knowledge of their water well, says Cliff Treyens, director of public awareness for the National Ground Water Association.

"Most people would not wait until their car broke down to lift up the hood and have someone inspect the engine," he says. "For people who own water wells, that's precisely what happens. As long as the well is working, they won't call a contractor to inspect the well."

Possible risks to wells include contamination of the source as well as potential problems with the mechanical systems, Treyens says.

For example, grout used to create a sanitary seal between the well casing and the hole can crack and expose the well to contaminants, Treyens says. Spilled oil can seep into the aquifer — the earth formation that holds water — or heavy use of herbicides or insecticides on land above a well can enter the water supply, he says.

Wells require an annual maintenance check and water quality test, Treyens says. While the price of inspections may vary across the country, costs usually range from $150 to $250, he estimates.

Each test should examine the entire scope of a well's operation, recommends the ground water association, which has 15,000 members consisting of ground water scientists, engineers, and well contractors.

A flow test determines the system's output as well as the water level before and during pumping. The test also evaluates the performance of the pump motor, the pressure tank, and general water quality.

An inspection should confirm the well equipment is sanitary and meets local code requirements.

A water test should check for a range of bacteria and contaminants, including coliform bacteria and nitrates. Other typical tests might check for iron, manganese, water hardness, and sulfides. Water that appears oily or cloudy might require additional tests.

The well owner, after completion of all tests, should receive a concise written report explaining test results and recommendations.

While an annual test remains essential, well owners can take other steps to maintain water quality, the association suggests:

  • Store hazardous chemicals such as paint, fertilizer, pesticides, and motor oil away from your well. Keep kennels or livestock operations as least 50 feet from the well.
  • Check the well cover periodically to make sure it's properly attached and in good condition.
  • Safely store well records, including the construction report and results of maintenance tests.
  • Don't always wait for an annual inspection to determine well quality. Test the water whenever there is a change in taste, odor, or appearance.

"Preventative maintenance will help save you time, money, and aggravation down the road," Treyens says, "if you detect a problem early."

Noble Sprayberry is a freelance writer in Dallas.