More than 42 million Americans are served by private well water systems. A well system can become unsafe if the water is contaminated by naturally occurring contaminants, such as heavy metals like arsenic, and/or manmade pollutants, such as fertilizers and pesticides. To protect homeowners from dangerous health risks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that homeowners have their water well systems inspected annually, whenever the house changes ownership, or whenever they notice a bad taste or smell to the water or feel sick after drinking it. Well inspections also make sure the system remains in proper working order, prolongs its life and avoids costly repairs. Testing is straightforward, and ensuring safe drinking water is worth the cost. The cost of a well water inspection varies by location, but it is a nominal fee compared with the expense of pumping out a well or treating a water-borne illness.
Wells should be inspected by a licensed or certified water well system professional. Relatively inexpensive do-it-yourself kits are available for $10-$150, but don’t necessarily test for every possible contaminant. A licensed inspector can conduct a comprehensive battery of tests, work with a lab to determine results, and possibly connect the homeowner with a company capable of cleaning the well water.
The Visual Check
Between annual inspections, homeowners should keep an eye on their well, looking for any issues that could possibly contaminate their water, including breaks in the seal on the well cap, chemicals stored near the well, and any kennels or livestock areas near the well. The ground should slope away from the wellhead and plants should be regularly cleared away.
Different cities, counties or states require differents tests. In general, homeowners should expect to have their well water tested for several contaminants, including total coliform bacteria, iron, manganese, pH, all volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with established maximum contaminant levels, nitrates and lead. If total coliform bacteria are detected, a test must also be conducted for fecal coliform or E. coli. Some areas also require testing for arsenic, mercury and 48-hour rapid gross alpha particle activity. All tests should be sent to a state-certified lab for analysis.
The cost of a well water inspection varies by location, but tends to range from $300 to $500. It includes:
Collecting and analyzing water samples
Checking for code compliance
Testing for proper well and pump operation
Advising on correct upkeep and maintenance of the well system