Unlike municipal water, private wells aren’t regulated. It’s up to you to test your water and install equipment that removes dangerous chemicals and pathogens. There isn’t a universal well water treatment system, because each well is different. Even if you know what’s in your neighbor’s water, differences in local geology can leave different contaminates in your well.
If you want water that’s safe, tastes good and won’t harm your plumbing and appliances, you need a system tailored to your well. Here’s what you need to know about what can contaminate your well, how to interpret the results of your water test, and how to choose equipment to make your water safe to drink.
The main reason to treat your well water is to remove chemicals and pathogens that will make you ill, either immediately or after years of consumption. Levels of some contaminates, like microorganisms, can change over time. Others, like heavy metals, are usually steady, unless there are major changes to your local environment. Flooding can let runoff enter your well, while local construction may release new minerals into the water. Here are the primary contaminates you need to look out for.
These contaminants won’t hurt you, but they can cause plumbing problems and make your water unpleasant to drink or use.
Check your state’s environmental protection or Department of Natural Resources website for testing information. You always want to have your water tested by a state certified laboratory. You can also talk to your local filter equipment dealer. They should have tests available, and they’ll know what you need to test for in your area.
To set up an effective water treatment system for your well, you will need a battery of tests to get an idea of what’s in your water. While there are several tests you can do yourself using home test kits, it’s much easier to collect a sample and send it to a lab. Some tests require multiple steps and take several hours, increasing the chance for error. Once your water treatment system is operating, you’ll still need to test a few things to be sure your treatment system is working:
Along with these scheduled tests, you should test your water after flooding, changes to the land, or changes in your water treatment equipment. It’s also a good idea to test your water if you notice changes to its taste or smell.
The first test you get for your well will cover multiple pollutants and issues, including minerals, pathogens and pH. Some tests use direct measurements, while others are indicators of related problems. Test results are usually stated in milligrams per liter (mg/L) or micrograms per liter (μg/L.)
Coliform bacteria and E. coli: Not all coliform bacteria are dangerous, but if they’re present, your water is a prime breeding ground for dangerous pathogens. Some labs also test for E. coli. Only some forms of this bacteria are dangerous, but its presence indicates your water is the perfect breeding dangerous pathogens. The presence of either bacteria in any amount is considered unsafe. It’s generally recommended to get your water retested immediately after a positive result to be sure the first sample wasn’t contaminated.
More specific tests are available to isolate less common issues. Along with tests listed above, there are also tests for VOCs, iron, chemical oxygen demand, petroleum products and pesticides. If you live in an area with radioactive minerals, you may need to test for radon or radioactivity.
Most water treatment devices are effective at treating multiple problems. Since hard water is a common problem, most companies center their systems around water softeners. From there, you can choose to add equipment like UV filters and oxidizers to deal with specific issues. Your equipment dealer can help you choose the right equipment based on your water test.
Before you buy equipment, you need to check the condition of your well. Leaks from damage or an ill-fitting cap can let contaminates get into your water supply. The top of the well casing should be at least a foot above the ground to avoid contamination from runoff. If it doesn’t, you need to have it extended.
Here are the most common types of treatment equipment, and what they can do for your well water.