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Partner Blog

Information of use to those who serve private well owners.


Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer Wilson's Blog

Resources for Private Well Owners Impacted by Flood

Flooding is the most common natural occurrence that can impact the function and safety of a well. In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the National Ground Water Association issued an important reminder that one must assume that a flooded well has been contaminated by bacteria. Cliff Treyens, NGWA's director of general public outreach, offers these tips to homeowners with flooded wells:

  1. Do not drink the water or wash with it. Use an alternative supply. such as bottled water.
  2. Stay away from the well pump while it’s flooded to avoid electrical shock.
  3. Get a qualified water well contractor or pump installer to clean and turn on the pump, flush the well, disinfect the well, and perform any other necessary maintenance.
  4. Check with the local emergency management agency about any guidance relating to local conditions or specific contamination threats due to area flooding.

This video, also from NGWA, explores the topic further:

You can also refer to Chapter 6 of The Private Well Class. Here's the excerpt on flooding:

"If flood waters overtop your well, assume your well is contaminated. Once the water recedes, you should have your well disinfected and sampled for bacteria before using it again. Remember to disconnect any inline treatment prior to disinfection. You should also inspect your wellhead to be sure no debris got into your well. This is a particular concern if your vent screen is missing. If you think there is debris, have a contractor clean and disinfect your well. If water reaches your well but doesn’t overtop it, it’s still safest to disinfect and sample prior to use.

If you have the luxury of knowing a flood could happen, be prepared. Store a supply of clean water that you can use during and after the flood. Disconnect the power supply to your well to prevent any electrical damage from short circuits. Temporarily plug the vent holes to prevent debris from getting into your well.

There are other options that can help prevent flood contamination, but they are more costly. One is to have a contractor create an extension for your well to raise the pipe. We have seen wellheads in flood-prone areas that extend 10 feet or more above land surface. Another option is to replace your vented cap with a waterproof one for just during the flood event. This may provide added protection, but it’s still always best to have a sample analyzed after the flood to be sure there were no leaks or other avenues into the well that flood waters may have found.

Well pits are a shock hazard, so be sure the entire pit is dry before entering. If your pit is a confined space, then do not go into it because of the risk of dangerous gases. Have a qualified professional inspect and restart your system. If your pump is above ground, like in your basement or over the well, flood waters could short circuit the system and even start the pump. Be sure the power is off in advance of the flood, and have your pump checked and tested by a professional before using it again.

Septic systems can also be damaged or cause contamination issues during floods. Make sure the access points are sealed. Your septic system should have a backflow preventer before the tank to keep sewage from backing up into your home during a flooding event. If your septic has its own pump, be sure to shut off the power."

NEHA Offers Free Accredited Private Well Class for Sanitarians

The Private Well Class, partnering with the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), is excited to announce that NEHA now offers The Private Well Class as a 10-lesson course on their e-Learning website. Each lesson is available for one Continuing Education (CE) Credit from NEHA for any credential program that accepts NEHA CE Credits. The course is completely free, and each lesson can be taken independently.

Over the last 3+ years that The Private Well Class has been available, many environmental health professionals have contacted us about getting CE Credits for taking the class. Because the class was developed for well owners, there was no mechanism developed to provide CE Credits. We are excited to be able to offer this alternative for the many professionals working with well owners.

How to Access the Course

To access the course, you need to register on the NEHA e-Learning website, following the steps below. If you are already registered for the free NEHA courses, you can skip step 1 and proceed to the login screen.

Step 1. Complete this form to create a username and password for NEHA's free courses.

Step 2. Upon login, visit the FREE EPA, CDC, and FDA Sponsored Courses page (if you were not already directed there). Scroll to the bottom and look for the list of sub-categories and click on "Water Quality".

Step 3. Scroll down to the Private Well Course, WQ1601. Click on that title to get to the course material shown below.

Step 4. For each lesson, view and download the lesson, then take the quiz. You have to get 70% to pass.  Please contact us at info@privatewellclass.org if you have any questions about the course.

New NHDES Online Tool Helps Well Owners Understand Their Water Sample Results

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) has developed a new free tool, the Be Well Informed Guide, for interpreting private well water testing results. Although the tool was developed for residents of New Hampshire, it's available to anyone. The tool provides an evaluation of water samples, identifying results that are over the USEPA maximum contaminal level (MCL), and can also recommend possible treatment options based on the sample results provided. The Be Well Informed Guide evaluates the pollutants that are part of the “Standard Analysis,” which is the group of commonly found pollutants is listed in the NHDES Private Well Brochure.

How the Tool Works

With water testing results in hand, all you need to do is go to the site and enter results from a laboratory report. You will then receive an evaluation of well water quality and, if necessary, possible water treatment options.



We entered an arsenic result of 15ppb (the USEPA MCL is 10ppb) in the example below. The tool allows you to use common units, so it’s much less likely a well owner will put in the incorrect units from their lab report.


We didn’t put in any other results, just arsenic, and when we hit “Submit”, got the following screen:



This illustrates that the tool is quite robust. Often the appropriate treatment options for a single contaminant, like arsenic, can depend on the overall chemistry of the water. Here the tool asks for more information to give you the best suggestion. We hit “continue”, and went on to the results shown below.





Based on your results, the tool will tell you if the value you entered meets, exceeds, or is close to the (federal) drinking water limit for public water supplies. Along with a detailed interpretation of your results, the tool will also identify health concerns and offer potential treatment options.

Access the Be Well Informed Guide.

Be sure to read all of the information related to use of the site. Also, please remember that The Private Well Class recommends using tools like this for an initial understanding of your test results. You should always take your results to a qualified health professional, such as your county or state health department, for the best advice.

FAQ: "Shock Chlorination Didn't Work"

Question

I have shock chlorinated my well several times, but my sample results still come back positive for bacteria. What can I do?

Answer

Reoccurring bacteria problems mean there is a source of bacteria somehow connected to your well at the surface. It could be that your well is in a vulnerable geologic setting, meaning the groundwater itself is being contaminated from the surface and getting into your well. The other likelihood is that your well has a breach or was poorly constructed and allows near surface water into your well.  If your well is shallow, then the water coming into your well is from near the surface and more likely to be contaminated if there is a source nearby (usually livestock or septic). If so, this will always be an issue for your well. As an example, in New York there are many areas where a commonly used bedrock aquifer is at or near the surface, and because of this many shallow wells in this aquifer setting are vulnerable to surface contamination. Another vulnerable geologic setting is in karst areas, where you find caves, caverns, and sinkholes, all of which are conduits for surface contamination.

If you have a dug or bored well, they are made to allow water to seep into the well bore from the surrounding area over most of the depth of the well. They are typically more susceptible to surface contamination because of where water is getting into the well. If you have a deeper well, with casing to a considerable depth, it could also be that the well wasn’t properly constructed, maybe it wasn’t grouted properly so water can run down along the outside of the casing, or there are holes in the casing allowing water into the well from near the surface.

There are really only two solutions to this issue, properly construct a well into an aquifer that is not influenced by the surface (so in the NY example, it would have to be a different, deeper aquifer if one exists), or add continuous treatment to treat for the bacteria. The most common treatment is either a continuous chlorination or ultraviolet disinfection. If you are considering either of these alternatives, contact your health department for advice. Both have maintenance needs and you should understand the responsibilities of adding treatment.