According to the US Geological Survey, about 15% of the entire population in the United States relies on domestic well water systems to fulfil their drinking water requirements. While states may regulate well construction activities, residential wells are privately owned, so the responsibility of well management rests with their owners.
That said, households must ensure a continuously safe and drinkable water supply. It’s crucial to implement appropriate well maintenance practices to avoid health issues. The first and most important step in domestic well ownership is to hire a reputable company to install the system. Such companies can also be relied upon to assist you with inspection, maintenance, and restoration activities.
But, as owners, how can you ensure you’re doing the right thing in maintaining your water source? Find out more in this blog.
Understanding your water well system
Before proceeding with the maintenance basics, it’s important to know your domestic well’s main sections and understand how they work.
A water well is created by drilling a hole into the ground and installing a casing running through an aquifer—the primary water source—and toward the surface. Often made of steel or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the casing serves to transport water and keep the fluid safe from contaminants aided by a sealant.
A pump collects the fluid from the source and passes it to the pipe and onto the surface. The system will also have a well cap that covers the casing’s top section, which extends above the ground.
Depending on your system’s design, the supply can be transported to your home using one or several pipelines, a pressure tank, and the taps in various home sections, like the kitchen and bathroom.
Several factors are considered in domestic well installation, like the site’s water source depth and quality. A survey must be conducted before any digging activities occur, especially in states requiring permits. Simply put, it’s best to have professionals assist you in this task.
The basics of residential well maintenance
A household well is subject to wear and tear as with other plumbing fixtures. With time, you’ll likely experience lower water yield, deteriorating water quality, and other performance issues.
Several factors impact the performance of a domestic well system. For instance, the fluid passing through the casing and pipes contains minerals, including magnesium, iron, and calcium. Such is called hard water and thus needs a reliable water filtration system to reduce build-up and stains caused by these compounds in the water lines and your heating system.
Once installed, you need to take heed of the following points:
- Know the essential parts of your well system by asking your well installation professionals and reading the owner’s manual.
- Keep your well and the surrounding area always clean.
- Don’t dispose of chemical containers in your yard, like engine oil, car batteries, insecticides, and fertilizers, as these could seep underground and contaminate the source.
- Ensure the cap is secure, intact, and free of debris. Handle it with care to prevent pests and contamination.
- Remove the vegetation around the well as the roots can damage the casing and pipes.
- Don’t place the well in a low-lying area to prevent flooding and potential contamination that could cause gastrointestinal infections.
- Have your water checked if you notice any changes in the smell, color, and appearance. Discontinue consumption pending safety confirmation.
- Always ask for and keep a written report for every type of work done, including inspections, restorations, and water sample testing results.
With fair use and maintenance, domestic wells could last for around 20 years. If your system has existed for longer, consider drilling a new well. Exclusively hire contractors accredited by the National Ground Water Association, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendation.
So, what are the specific maintenance guidelines that owners must follow? Here are the indications that your well is due for maintenance activities:
Yearly inspections ensure that the well functions at its peak performance. This essential activity also allows licensed service professionals to spot potential problems and resolve these immediately, avoiding costly repairs. Expect the well specialist to perform the following actions:
- Physical inspection of the parts, including the pipes, pumps, caps, and others
- Checking the system for physical damage
- Ensuring that the well remains compliant with the local codes
- A flow test to determine the performance and water levels, as well as the functions of other pieces of equipment
- Water sampling ensures your supply is devoid of hazardous chemicals and illness-causing contaminants like bacteria. The specialist can also request different tests depending on the other pollutants collected or the appearance of the fluid samples.
The specialist will provide a report indicating the findings and recommendations, especially in cases wherein potential safety and health risks are identified. The test results will also be attached to the report documents. As mentioned above, owners must keep these documents for proper reference and action.
Sending water samples to the laboratory is often part of the inspection. As such, it must be done annually to ensure the supply remains safe and potable. State-recognized testing labs can test the water for E. coli and coliform bacteria. Your water tests must be performed in the following frequencies:
- Annually: Have your samples checked for coliform, E.coli bacteria, and nitrates. Consider testing for the presence of arsenic if your water system is located at high altitudes.
- Every three to five years: The inspector may recommend tests for pH levels, total dissolved solids, and other potential contaminants. Also, have your fluids evaluated for more dangerous compounds such as synthetic organic chemicals (SOCs) derived from polymers and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) such as benzenes, formaldehyde, and toluene in paints, disinfectants, and wood preservatives. As an aside, the USGS survey mentioned above found that 60% of domestic wells had these compounds at levels that weren’t considered unsafe for human consumption.
Lead is another potentially harmful chemical that can seep into the ground and find its way to your well. The chemical is often used as water additives in primary industries. Additionally, some plumbing systems may contain lead. It’s a cause for concern as prolonged exposure may result in kidney and brain damage, even death.
Note that you don’t have to wait for these timeframes to have your water tested. Your inspector should recommend these procedures based on their annual assessments and if new agricultural
projects and industrial activities are introduced in the area.
Well cleaning and disinfection
Domestic wells can harbour bacteria because they inherently contain oxygen. It may encourage these organisms’ growth, especially those that require oxygen to proliferate. Such bacteria are called aerobic bacteria. Slime develops and can be hard to remove when this happens, as oxidation can aggravate the situation.
Conversely, oxidation enables the formation of the compound at the bottom, where it can reduce the oxygen supply. This environment can eventually breed anaerobic bacteria which can survive without oxygen and are abundant in the aquifer or main water source. Additionally, coliform bacteria may form from the well’s surroundings in the soil, vegetation, and animals’ faecal matter.
Well cleaning may be done through the following activities to eliminate these potentially hazardous organisms.
This entails using chemicals and acids to flush out the debris. While homeowners may prefer to clean their wells with chlorine, experts recommend hiring professionals with the right materials and equipment to do the job. Besides, household bleach, which contains chlorine, may not be as effective as the ones that specialists use. This cleaning agent may not be suitable for eliminating bacteria, slime, and other contaminants.
Mechanical cleansing must be performed alongside chemical cleaning for a more effective process. A specialist will decide which specific strategies to employ. Generally, mechanical cleaning involves using tools such as pressurized water or air, scrapers and brushes, and sonic waves to loosen and remove physical debris.
Following these two procedures, thorough disinfection must be done to make water safe for drinking. Professional well cleaners have access to the proper disinfection materials intended for cleaning wells.
Disinfection may also be done immediately post-construction and before the household members are given the greenlight to consume water. Sterilization must also be performed after every restoration activity or for visible system parts issues, including the cap.
Note that not all well cleaning and disinfection processes may be possible, depending on the age and design of the system. In some instances, the specialist may recommend installing a liner or constructing a new well as preferable options.
Water restoration refers to all activities to rehabilitate or bring the system back to its old glory. Numerous factors may cause the system’s erratic performance, including slow liquid flow and low water production rates. Besides improper installation, over pumping and drought can cause such problems, including mineral accumulation, changes in the aquifer, sand pumping, too much corrosion, and pump deficiencies.
In such cases, well technicians will check the maintenance records, test the pump functions, and utilize video inspection tools to determine the root cause. If problems are detected, the specialist will discuss cost-effective options.
For water pressure issues not caused by pump damage, a pressure valve may be installed to improve pressure levels. However, it can’t perform beyond the pump’s capacity. Some specialists may advise owners to replace their pumps with a more powerful one or one with variable speed. This device automatically adjusts the flow rate, depending on the household’s consumption.
Companies like EPP Well Solutions also offer low yield well systems which help increase water storage and water pressure without over pumping your well.
Proper well maintenance is vital for household members who want continuous access to high- quality, safe drinking water. When left unchecked, residential wells may be prone to contamination, leading to health and safety concerns.
With this guide, owners shall have understood the different components involved, including cleaning, inspections, testing, and restoration. While owners can perform some of the basic maintenance works discussed above, water systems specialists must be hired to address serious problems or when changes in taste, odour, and appearance are observed.