Did you know that more than 43 million Americans rely on private well water as their primary source of drinking water? Did you also know that you’re responsible for testing your own drinking water?
With that said, it’s up to you to make sure your well is clean and bacteria-free for many years to come! In this guide, we are going to talk about how testing well water can prevent potential hazards for families all over the country.
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How Does Bacteria Get Into Well Water?
When it comes to private wells, there are three main sources of contamination that can potentially lead to bacteria buildup.
Surface water is all the rain and snow that falls across the land. This eventually finds its way into rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds which can eventually find their way into your well.
Another potential source of contamination in private wells is if your well isn’t properly sealed or is cracked, causing coliform to leach into your well’s aquifer.
Sewage /Septic Systems
If your private well is built too close to a sewage/septic system, it can potentially release bacteria into your private well. This is known as “backflow” and can happen if the private well isn’t sealed properly or if the ground around the private well gets washed away.
Nitrate and Nitrite buildup
These chemicals naturally occur in soil and groundwater and can be found in private wells. However, some private well owners choose to add fertilizer or manure into their private well water – which can lead to bacteria buildup. This is why it’s important to get your private well tested regularly!
Testing for nitrates should only need to be done if you have a poorly constructed well or shallow well that isn’t well kept for. Nitrites should be tested if you feel there has been contamination from Nitrogen fertilizers or failed septic system.
How Often Should I Test My Water for Bacteria?
You should have your private well tested for coliform bacteria every year. If you add fertilizer to your lawn and garden — you should have a bacteria test every 6-12 months.
When it comes to nitrate, having your private well tested every 12 months is recommended.
Testing your private well for bacteria should always be done by a private laboratory or certified water testing lab. This is because these private labs have the necessary equipment to properly test water quality.
*Bonus: Avoid fertilizer and manure if you can, so bacteria doesn’t have a chance to grow. If you do use these products, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
It’s also highly recommended to test your well water if you notice any of these symptoms:
- If anyone falls ill with diarrhea, stomach cramps, or nausea after drinking well water
- You notice a strong smell of rotten eggs from your private well
- A previous test showed coliform bacteria in your private well and you haven’t fixed the problem yet
- There’s been a change in your private well’s water quality (for example, if your private well water is cloudy or yellowish)
- Live near industrial parks or factories
Which Bacteria Should I Test For?
Private wells are tested on these three criteria :
1. Total coliforms
Typically, total coliforms are tested for in private wells. This test will find total coliform bacteria including some E. coli and fecal coliforms.
Total coliform is the standard test used to see if your water is healthy or not because it can indicate other problems such as contamination from sewage, agricultural run-off.
2. E. Coli
E. coli is typically tested for in total coliform bacteria screening to see if total coliform bacteria is present in your private well water. If total coliform isn’t found, E. coli or fecal coliform could be the problem. E. coli is a type of total coliform bacteria that can be found in human or animal waste
3. Fecal Coliforms
Fecal coliform is total coliform bacteria found in feces.
What problems can it cause? Fecal coliforms are indicators of sewage pollution, which may indicate a larger contamination problem. If total coliform isn’t present but fecal coliform is — this means there’s an issue with your well system or the wells around you.
Fecal coliforms can get into your private well through surface water, total coliform bacteria buildup, sewage, septic systems and fertilizer or manure.
Is it dangerous?
Yes. If fecal coliform is found in a total coliform screening — then total coliform bacteria are also present. This means your well is likely vulnerable to total coliform bacteria and other harmful germs and pathogens.
At a minimum, a total coliform test should be done every year!
How to Test Well Water for Bacteria
Testing your well water quality is a crucial step in water treatment. A water test will let you know if your water is safe to drink and how it can be improved. Furthermore, we’ll discuss water testing methods for bacteria as well as how to take a water sample from a well.
There are dozens of DIY water test kits for bacteria available online, but they don’t give accurate results and I wouldn’t trust myself to accurately do this test and would rather leave it up to a microbiologist in a certified laboratory to do so. Sure, you can easily test for contaminants such as heavy metals, Chlorine, and ph.
However, your best option and for peace of mind for bacterial contamination is to have your water tested professionally through a certified water lab and it’s not as expensive as it sounds.
Most water quality testing laboratories run on average $150 to $300 and are simple to have done and often include: total coliform bacteria, fecal coliform bacteria nitrate and chloride, pH and hardness in the test.
We recommend SimpleLab due to the fact they make everything simple as pie or have a look at our top recommended water testing kits.
What Types Of Filtration Systems Remove Bacteria
There are three primary water filtration systems on the market ranging from Reverse Osmosis systems, Chemical injection, and UV purifers to choose from.
Are Reverse Osmosis filtration systems effective in removing bacteria? Reverse osmosis (RO) is a water treatment process that uses special membranes to remove up to 99.9% of contaminants, like viruses, total dissolved solids (TDS), chemicals, heavy metals, and other impurities.
Some RO systems are designed for use on an entire municipal water supply, while others are designed for a single home or business, and there are even systems that do double duty as whole-house filters and reverse osmosis systems.
Reverse Osmosis is an effective way to remove bacteria from your well water however it doesn’t remove sediment, so you need a pre-filter to trap the larger contaminants.
They also remove chlorine which is a common chemical used to fight bacteria in water supplies. Reverse osmosis will effectively clean your well water but it does come with some downsides such as initial cost ($2,000+) and replacement filters that
Chemical Injection Systems
Chemical injection systems are designed to treat the water before it enters your home and work by setting up a chemical reaction that helps to prevent bacteria growth, such as chlorine-based treatments. Chemical treatment is very effective in treating well water with bacterial problems and has an added benefit of killing any microbes or algae that may grow in your well. However, they also remove the valuable minerals that your body needs and they also don’t remove sediment so a pre-filter is needed to trap large contaminants.
Ultraviolet (UV) purifiers work by passing the water through a chamber filled with ultraviolet bulbs, which kill bacteria on contact. UV purifying can provide quick results for well water treatment, but it can also be expensive to install and maintain. UV purifiers may not remove sediment so you’ll need to use a pre-filter, but this is another option if you have well water with bacterial contamination problems.
Have a look at these filtration systems for wells.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do you do if you have bacteria in your well water?
The first thing you should do is stop drinking or cooking with the water. Either boil your water or buy some bottled water until you can have your water professionally tested and remedied.
Bacteria can cause serious gastrointestinal problems and even death if consumed in large quantities. It’s best not to use this type of well water until it has been tested and disinfected.
How much does it cost to disinfect a well?
This varies widely depending on the depth of your well, the type of water system you have, and which services your test results indicate are needed. On average, the cost is roughly $500 to $800.
How long does it take to disinfect a well?
This also varies depending on the size of your well, but disinfection generally takes one to two days. So plan accordingly and have plenty of fresh drinking water around!
Testing your well water quality is important for safety reasons because it will tell you if the water your drinking and cooking with, is safe for you and your family.