We often talk to homeowners who want to know how often they should test the quality of their well water. Because there is little to no regulation of well water quality depending on where you live, making sure well water is safe to drink is the responsibility of the homeowner. How often you should test depends on where you live, if there are known sources of contamination nearby or if there have been problems with the well water at your home before.
Water wells in New England can have high rates of arsenic, radon and MtBE contamination. State agencies, like the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, recommend well testing every 3 to 5 years to monitor for these contaminants.
The Environmental Protection Agency suggests testing every year in the spring.
The EPA recommends examining the outside of the well for signs of cracks, leaks or deterioration of the well cap and casing. Next, see if the well pump and other mechanical elements are working as they should. The final step is testing the water. At the minimum, homeowners should test for total coliform bacteria, nitrate, total dissolved solids and pH levels. Here’s why:
Total coliform bacteria – This type of bacteria are microbes found in the digestive systems of warm-blooded animals, as well as in soil, on plants and in surface water. Coliform bacteria aren’t typically the kind that will make you sick, but a high coliform count indicates there are likely other harmful bacteria, parasites and viruses in the water.
pH – Testing for pH level shows homeowners how acidic or basic their water is. When the pH level is out of balance it can change how the water looks and tastes. While this may seem like just a nuisance, pH levels that are too low or too high could indicate corrosive water, which will damage pipes, cause heavy metals like lead to leak out of the pipes into the water, and can eventually make you sick.
Nitrate – This is naturally-occurring contaminant is actually found in many foods, but high levels of nitrate in drinking water can be bad for your health. Nitrate originates from animal and farm waste, flooded or malfunctioning sewers and septic systems, wastewater and even decaying plants. Although nitrate contamination often depends on the geology in your area, all wells should be tested for nitrate.
Other tests can also be performed at this time, especially if there are other suspected contaminants. A volatile organic compound test, for instance, might be warranted if there is known MtBE contamination in your area. Finding out what contaminants could pose a risk to your well water, contact your state well regulatory agency or local board of health. It’s also a good idea to test for other contaminants if you know there are problems with well water in your area, if you have experienced contamination problems in the past, if you’ve repaired the well or if you notice a change in water quality.
The EPA and state agencies recommend using a state-certified laboratory for your home well water testing. Skillings & Sons has a list of certified labs and can advise you on best practices for getting a clean sample. We can also help you interpret those results and discuss your water treatment options.