Well Water Contamination – It’s a Beast of a Problem

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Posted on July 19, 2017

People on the outskirts of cities, in small communities, and in rural areas often depend on wells for their drinking water. If a well is located, constructed, and maintained correctly, it can be a source of good drinking water for decades. However, unlike water supplies in most large cities, there are often no regulations pertaining to the quality of private water wells. Sometimes the only requirement for testing is in the event of a real estate transaction, for insurance purposes, or for other administrative reasons. Beyond this and unless there is unexplained illness, the majority of well owners never even think to test their well for contaminants that could be present in every glass of water. Microbiological contaminants in well water, such as E.coli, Giardia, or Cryptosporidium, are invisible to the naked eye. Clear water does not always mean safe water.

These microbes are all fecal pathogens, meaning they originate from animal or human waste. Contamination of groundwater can occur when heavy rainfall, spring runoff, or flooding events overwhelm even well-constructed, newer wells, and introduce agricultural run-off into the aquifer below.  Or, the source of the contamination can be underground.

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are now the norm. In case you’re not familiar with the term, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) defines CAFOs as “a production process that concentrates large numbers of animals in relatively small and confined places and that substitutes structures and equipment (for feeding, temperature controls, and manure management) for land and labor.”

The most significant public health issue surrounding CAFOs is the amount of manure produced by these operations. Manure from CAFOs can contain a number of potential contaminants, including nitrates and pathogens, disease-causing microorganisms. As the growth of CAFOs continues, and as they are more frequently located in geographic clusters, the potential risk to local drinking water sources also increases. And while the EPA does monitor and regulate these operations, that doesn’t mean groundwater contamination doesn’t occur. Accidental contamination can and does happen. In fact, in 2000, according an EPA study, 29 states called out animal feeding operations as sources of water quality impairment.

Potential routes for contamination include:

  • Runoff from land application of manure
  • Leaching from manure that has been improperly spread on land
  • Leaks or breaks in storage or containment units
  • Holding lagoons overflow as a result of rain

All of these situations can lead to contamination of groundwater sources and of private drinking water wells. But the most troubling part is that this contamination can go unnoticed until people start getting sick. You won’t see, smell, or taste these harmful contaminants in your water. And while public health agencies repeatedly reinforce the need to test well water at least once a year for nitrates and bacteria,  the reality is that the majority of wells are not tested that often, if at all.

Septic systems
The majority of homes using a private water supply will also be relying on a private wastewater (septic) system. According to the EPA, improperly used or maintained septic systems can be a significant source of ground water contamination that can lead to waterborne disease outbreaks and other adverse health effects.

Protect your water. Protect your health.
If you want to know that your water is free from harmful microbes 24/7, consider installing continuous disinfection. An ultraviolet (UV) water disinfection system can protect your family’s water without the addition of chemicals like chlorine. For added confidence, look for a system that has been NSF certified, which can sometimes be a requirement in certain states. Consulting a water treatment professional in your area is a great way to get the right system for your particular water conditions.


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