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Partner Blog

Information of use to those who serve private well owners.

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."

Minnesota’s Well and Water System Disinfection Fact Sheet

Written by Steve Wilson, Groundwater Hydrologist at the Illinois State Water Survey

When I first started working on the Private Well Class materials, we made the decision to use existing, publicly available resources from the web for images because we had no budget for creating original figures and diagrams. It required us to search the web, and quickly we discovered that there was a lot of redundancy and “reinventing of the wheel” for many of the guides and fact sheets available to well owners.  It was the right decision because so many people before us, extension, health departments, and universities, had created vast libraries of materials available for well owners. For instance, I literally looked at dozens of documents on well disinfection. Initially this was annoying, but in the end was a good thing, it allowed me to pick what I felt were the best materials to provide through our class.

The Minnesota Department of Health is a very well managed and funded state agency that provides a number of exceptional materials freely available to well owners. Their well disinfection fact sheet is no exception.  It was the one I settled on. I felt it was thorough, well written, and covered all of the important information a well owner would need to know when disinfecting their well. 

But a year or so ago, their fact sheet changed.  It went from 10 pages down to 6, and though still well written, they removed a number of details that made it clear and more comprehensive.  I was a little disappointed.  None-the-less, because we work hard to give credit to the groups that develop the wonderful materials we have available to us, we linked to the new version and suggested it to well owners.  Then, as fate would have it, I was at a meeting where a colleague brought up the manual.  He mentioned that he felt the old version was a better document.  I used that as validation, and because I had retained a copy of the previous version, I decided to go back to offering the previous version as a resource on our website.

I wanted to write something about this fact sheet because I think it is the approach everyone should be using when a well owner asks them about disinfecting their well. It includes step by step instructions, explains why taking these steps are necessary, and has pictures to clearly show you what things look like.  

We welcome your feedback, and if you have any resources that are specific to a topic that you believe are exceptional, please share them with us at info@privatewellclass.org.


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.