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Well Water Quality

Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” Water is essential for the survival of all that exists on earth. If water is essential for survival and necessary to stay healthy, then that water should not be harmful to people’s health.

Public water systems have mandated chlorination and filtering processes that keep the water clean for the community. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implements these processes as well as enforces the annual testing of contaminants in public water systems. This information is public knowledge and accessible to anyone. But what about when you use a private well? How do you know the water is safe?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 9 Americans gets their drinking water from a private well. Of this number of private wells, about 1 in 5 had contaminants at levels that could affect health. 20% of the wells tested were not safe and could be harmful. The University of Georgia’s Extension program states that of the 10.5 million Georgians, 1.7 million use a private well. That is a large portion of the Georgia population using water that could be harmful to their health. Knowing this, how do we improve the quality of well water to ensure healthy and happy Georgians?

Since there are no federal or state regulations that monitor or regulate private well water quality, it is the responsibility of the resident to ensure the safety of their water. There are many resources available through local health departments and local UGA Extension offices on how to ensure safe well water. It is also important to note that you need to have a licensed well driller install the well to comply with regulations. The Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has a complete list of licensed well drillers for the area you live in.

It is mandatory that a private well is tested for contaminants during the initial installation process or when an old well is being brought back to service.   The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) encourages homeowners to get is highly well water tested annually for bacteria and every three years for chemical analysis. It is important to remember that the water may not smell or look different but can still be contaminated. Contaminated water can taste fine and smell fine but still be harmful.  Getting the water tested every year helps to know what substances are common in the groundwater of the local area. Since private wells use groundwater as their water source, and common substances found in the groundwater will vary depending on where you live.

Knowing what kind of test is best for your well can be overwhelming (so puny). Where you live can have a great impact on specific things that you should test your water for. Geography plays a significant role in the contaminants that could be in the groundwater source. UGA’s Extension office has a breakdown of this on their website by geographic region. For example, North and Central Georgia has a coal mining presence. Testing for metals, water pH, and corrosion are essential.

The age of your home can also have an impact on what you need to test for. For example, a home built before 1987 with lead or copper pipes needs to test annually for lead and copper contamination.

If a dump, junkyard, or landfill is close by, you will want to make sure your water is tested for volatile organic compounds. Other factors to include are if a dry cleaner is nearby, a gas drilling operation, or a gas station. Your local environmentalist will need to test the water for certain chemicals if you live near one of these operations.

It is important to note that groundwater is under the direct influence of surface water and is susceptible to contamination from activities on the surface as well. However, everyone should test their water annually for bacteria, color and murkiness, and water chemistry. All Georgians will also want to check for iron and manganese since these are minerals found in Georgia’s famous red clay. The red clay may make the water taste strange, have color splashes appear in sinks and bathtubs, as well as clog and reduce water pressure. Arsenic is another common natural element in Georgia that should be tested for. It is found more prominently in rural communities. Out of Georgia’s 159 counties, 120 are considered rural.

If you ever suspect any contamination, get the water tested. The UGA Extension office has a list on their website of things that you may notice in your water that seems different or strange and what substances can be causing the change.

The proximity of your septic tank to your well can play a role in reducing and eliminating contamination. The septic tank, septic tank absorption field, and any animal or fowl enclosures, such as a chicken coop, must be a certain distance away from the private well. Theses distances are mandated by the Department of Natural Resource Division’s (NDR) Water Wells Standards Act. Your septic should be no closer than 50 feet to the well, the absorption field should be no closer than 100 feet, and the animal enclosure should be no closer than 100 feet from the well. You also cannot have a seepage pit any closer than 150 feet from the well.

There are three types of wells: drilled, bored, and driven. A drilled well is the safest because it is smaller in diameter and taps into the aquifer below the bedrock. There are also ways to keep wellhead protection to help reduce contamination. You should not put fertilizer or gasoline near a well. Also, use a sanitary seal or cover on the top to prevent pollutants from entering the well.

There are many resources provided by the local health department and UGA extension for private wells and water testing. Both entities can do your annual water testing, and the extension office can do the three-year chemical analysis. There is also a water quality test you can purchase online to send a sample to a lab. The Non-Public Well Program (NPW) has many resources on wells from installation, maintenance, sampling recommendations, and abandonment.  The CDC also has many educational resources on water quality.

Water is the source of life, and we must ensure it is safe and healthy for all Georgians. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “When the well is dry, then we will know the worth of water.”

by Morgan Cook