65% of Well Water Owners in the US DO NOT Test Their Water

Posted on December 10, 2013

Well Water on FarmAbout 33% of tests from private wells show coliform or bacterial contamination


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The other day a colleague sent me a Google alert because the headline read “Nearly 1 in 12 Homes Have Unsafe Drinking Water”.  This is the sort of thing that excites me (yeah….I know).  But it’s kind of a requirement working in market research for a company that markets safe water solutions and here was a possibility of real data!!!

And my mind started to churn the numbers immediately….1 in 12 that’s about 8%.   So this won’t be about any emerging nation like Mexico.  You know the “don’t drink the water” warnings you get when you go on vacation there…the locals take note too.  Mexico is the biggest bottled water consumers on a per capita basis in the world.

Well surprise, the article in question was triggered by the latest data release of the American Housing Survey. But wait.  At least 15% of American households get their water from a private well and as I hear (in qualitative research groups) and read time and time again, most never or rarely check their well water for contaminants. This, despite pretty much every recommendation I have seen for any state I have investigated, suggests that things like bacteria and nitrates – at a minimum - should be checked at least once a year.  You see, private well owners are responsible for their own water supply and complacency runs rampant.  Yet this is a situation where what you don’t know CAN hurt you.


Well Water not Wishing Well Classic Illustrated Covers from


In 2012, families in Wake Forest, NC found out that they had been drinking well water containing cancer-causing agents for years.  The outcome…finally…is a new law passed in June of this year that requires Public Health officials to develop rules for testing of private wells in that state.  The challenge… water that looks good and tastes good can be harmful.  For sure, a case of the runs is nothing compared to developing a disease like cancer.  But why take the chance?  If nothing else, routinely testing for bacteria would keep water quality and safety top of mind.  It’s not a wishing well…it’s a drinking well.  Why be left wishing you had tested?  Does it really take the government to pass a law for well owners to take ownership?!

So into the data I go and lo and behold there was a question asked about well water safety.  Oddly, the definition of a “safe” well was one that had been disinfected since the occupant owned the home.  Heavens,  that could be decades.  And a whopping 65% of households said NO.  This would seem to be consistent with the fact that about 33% of tests from private wells across the US show total coliforms or bacterial contamination.  And one of the first recommended courses of action would be to disinfect the well.  But if that was me, I wouldn’t be stopping there.  I would be testing regularly and I would consider a water treatment system – like UV – that could give me peace of mind between tests.  After all, shouldn’t the measure of a safe well be one that has recently been tested?

As for the 8%...turns out those were folks who felt that their primary water supply could not be used for cooking and drinking.  And you know what, over 90% of them were getting their water from a private or public water system.  There are some small drinking water systems in the US…perhaps some are already starting to struggle with meeting the increasingly demanding requirements of the EPA.  And the larger municipal systems have their challenges too.  But mostly in the aged and dilapidated state of the water infrastructure (think pipes) that delivers water to millions of US homes.  Sure they can clean and scrub the water and do an excellent job of it but they can’t completely control what happens once it leaves the treatment facility.  SIGH….maybe we should all take more ownership for our drinking water.


VIQUA's Diane Arnott, Guest Blogger VIQUA's Diane Arnott, Guest Blogger

 Guest Post by VIQUA's, Market Research Specialist, Dianne Arnott,  With a background in CPG and the healthcare industry as a brand manager, Diane has over a decade of experience leveraging consumer insight to drive business.   She is passionate about voice of customer.  Outside the office she can frequently be found on the golf course where she also endeavours to avoid water hazards.