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Partner Blog

Information of use to those who serve private well owners.

FAQ: "What is a Well Log?"

Question

Where can I obtain my well log and what information does it contain?

Answer

Depending on your location, your state or county health department, Department of Natural Resources, or some other similar agency may house well logs that you can access or request a log from. If you know who drilled your well, it might be a good first step to contact them and ask for your log. They should be able to provide a copy to you. If not, search online for ‘“your state” well construction code’ and the relevant state agency should come up. Call them, and find out what agency houses well logs, if any, and that will get you on your way.

You will need to know the legal description of the well location, and additional information that will be helpful include the drilling company that installed the well, the depth, the date drilled, and the original owner, if not you. In some states, only the owner can request the log, but in others it is public information. ;There are a number of states, including Illinois, that have websites with interactive maps that allow you to zoom into your location and see what logs are available, as well as other information in some cases, like water quality information.

The problem many well owners find is that there log is not on file with these agencies. The laws have changed over time, but 40+ years ago, most states did not require a driller to get a permit or file a log, so if you have an older well, the drilling company might be your only hope. In these cases, if there is information that you really need, like pump or well depth, it might be that you need a contractor to come out and determine this for you.

As far as what is on a well log, this also varies by state and jurisdiction. Below is a well log from Illinois, and this is what we can say about this well based solely on the log. This is a 318 ft deep well, constructed with 314 ft of PVC and a 4’ stainless steel screen at the bottom. The water bearing unit is course gray sand from 307-318 feet below land surface. Sim’s Drilling Company drilled the well for Tom Parrett, the land owner. It shows the legal description of the location as well as the location in decimal degrees. The static water level is 140 ft below land surface, meaning there is about 180 feet of water in the well. They installed a 18 gpm submersible pump at 200 ft, meaning there is about 60 feet of water over the pump. It’s for domestic (home) use, the well was completed on 8-3-06, and the pump was installed on 9-6-06. They grouted the annulus from 5 feet below land surface to 148 feet below land surface as well.


If you are able to retrieve your well log, hopefully it has at least this information. It really does differ by jurisdiction.

Bernalillo County’s Private Well Program, A Surging Success

What started off as a few workshops and PowerPoint slides has evolved into full-fledged private well program for Bernalillo County, New Mexico. Sara Chudnoff, the county hydrogeologist, launched her current private well outreach program in 2013 with a few workshop presentations for local well owners. Now, she helps monitor water levels in over 200 wells and will host the second annual Bernalillo County Water Fair.

The New Mexico Environmental Department’s Groundwater Quality Bureau and the New Mexico Department of Health have received grants from two federal agencies, U.S. EPA and CDC, to fund water fairs throughout the state of New Mexico . This funding supports the water testing component of Bernalillo County’s program. Chudnoff recognizes that this collaboration is foundation to the program’s success. She says: “As a county we are the catalyst that brings it all together, but without the willingness of our partner agencies we would not be able to accomplish this work.”

The success of the Bernalillo County program is a model that any County Health Department or County Cooperative Extension can follow. The first step is obtaining appropriate resources and information – Sara, for example, began teaching her initial workshops with materials provided by the Private Well Class. This year’s Water Fair will feature a free 2-hour short course for well owners.

In addition to offering a workshop-style learning environment, Bernalillo County’s annual Water Fair offers a unique outreach opportunity for resident well owners. Hosted in conjunction with other state, federal, and local agencies, the Water Fair features an expo with information on a variety of issues faced by well owners from well permitting to understanding hydrogeology. The two day event will also offer free water testing to Bernalillo County residents not connected to a public water supply.

In publicizing an event such as this one, listing the agencies that will be present and what services that are being offered (such as free testing) is also effective at drawing in the targeted audience. The county’s brochure ensures that attendees know how to participate by including specific instructions on how to correctly collect a water sample from their home, where to take it during the event, and what additional well information should be included.

Counties interested in starting their own program and want assistance in getting off the ground can contact Sara, who is willing to talk with others and offer valuable insight. She emphasizes that workshops and classes aren’t always enough; the key is developing partnerships with other state and local stakeholders. “There are many great resources in our state and very knowledgeable experts we work with to strengthen county programs and our outreach efforts,” Chudnoff says.




For information and tips on how to get your program off the ground, contact Sara at schudnoff@bernco.gov or (505) 224-1614 and visit bernco.gov/berncowaterfair or more information.

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.

FAQ: "Do Septic Additives Work?"

Question

Should I use any additives in my septic system?

Answer

The short answer is no. A septic system works best on its own as long as it is maintained and the wastewater going through it is from normal household use. There is a huge market for additives claiming to make it function better or prolonging the life of the system, but research and experts agree, that its best to leave it alone, the bacteria we add naturally work best and don't need any help.

We interviewed a number of well and septic experts, and looked for actual research to support or refute claims of the benefits of additives. We found nothing definitive about the benefits of additives, but a number of things about the potential harm additives can cause, especially some chemical additives.

Two good resources on the subject are from the Purdue Cooperative Extension and the National Environmental Services Center (NESC), both of which are discussed below.  We also talked with 2 private well experts who manage state programs that work directly with well owners. Both said they, and other experts they have discussed this with, agree that there is no evidence to support that additives provide any benefit. They added that there is evidence that some chemical additives can damage the natural bacteria populations in a septic tank or allow solids to get into a septic field. Lastly, we contacted the USEPA, and their response followed suit, “Proper care and maintenance every 3-5 years (pumping the tank to remove solids) is recommended. All additives do is give the homeowner a false sense of security that their system will be fine if they add it.”

When we first answered this question as part of a septic webinar we conducted in the summer of 2015, we received a bunch of emails from homeowners who swear by their additives and some claimed to only pump their tank every 10 or 20 years. One stated that they had never had to pump their septic tank. We were given websites that provided “evidence” of a particular products success, even videos showing how they work. The problem with all of these testimonials are that the conditions of the testing are not the natural conditions in a tank. There was evidence to support these products under actual conditions in a septic system. These folks are likely in for a surprise at some point when their septic system fails and they either have septic effluent pooling in their backyard, or worse, backing up into their home. Also consider that in some cases the money spent on additives over a 3-5 year period would have likely paid for pumping and inspecting their tank.

Additional Resources

Purdue Extension - This handout does a great job of giving an overview of what the functions of a septic system are and how additives might affect it. It describes the types of additives that are out there, and how their use might impact a septic tank. They recommend good “habits” for how to improve performance of a septic system, by reducing the chemicals used every day that might harm the bacteria in a septic system, and best practices for reducing the amount of flow going through a system.  Improving daily habits can go a long way at preserving the proper function of a septic system.

NESC’s Small Flows Clearinghouse and Magazine - The National Environmental Services Center at West Virginia University has a national technical assistance hotline. The article at the link above was developed from calls they received from homeowners asking about additives for their septic systems. They describe some of the findings from several research studies on additives, but the question we are interested in, “Do I need to use additives…” is the last section on the 2nd page. My favorite statement, “Contrary to popular belief, yeast, dead chickens, possums, or raw hamburger do not need to be added to the septic tank”, pretty much sums up the folklore and home remedies that have made their way into this conversation.

Note: Hideyuki Terashima at the Illinois State Water Survey did all of the legwork to find and put together the resources used here on this topic. We originally used this information as part of a webinar on septic system issues in May 2015. As part of that webinar, we had a licensed septic installer and inspector participate in answering well owner questions.

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.