Department of Health & Human Services

Posted on: June 2, 2014

DHHS helps ensure water well safety

Consuming enough water each day is important for a person’s health. To meet their fluid needs, most Americans will turn on the faucet and tap into the public water system or grab some bottled water off the shelf. More than 15 million U.S. households, however, rely on private wells for their drinking water.

Federal regulations that protect public drinking water systems don’t apply to privately owned wells. As a result, owners of private wells are responsible for ensuring the groundwater they are using is safe from contaminants.

“Water that is free of bacteria, viruses and harmful chemicals, that is palatable, visually appealing and in adequate supply, is a key component of public health,” said Carolyn Hawkins, a supervising environmental health specialist with the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Division of Environmental Health (DEH). “We encourage those who draw their water from wells to learn about and to maintain their water systems.”

As part of this process, DEH takes applications and issues permits for the construction and repair of water wells. From May 2012 to May 2013, DEH received 79 applications for water wells. In the past year, that number rose to 172 applications.

“Last year, we saw a more than 100 percent increase in applications for water wells,” said DEH Director Melissa Martel. “Some are constructed to replace existing wells that are no longer producing adequate volumes of drinking water, some support new housing construction and some support agriculture. We are seeing a lot of new wells in our rural communities.”

DEH staff members also do an initial inspection at the proposed well site to make sure there are no problems. While wells are drilled by licensed well drillers, DEH employees are on hand to observe placement of a sanitary seal, which keeps surface water from running down the well and contaminating the deeper waters that people are pulling up to drink, Hawkins said.

In addition, DEH staff members provide guidance in sample collection and analysis, assist in interpretation of sampling results and collect samples for bacterial analysis for a $146 fee. Those samples can be tested at DHHS’ Public Health Laboratory for a $30 fee.

For more information about wells, contact DEH at 445-6215. Another good source of information, said Hawkins, is the Private Well Class, offered for free online at www.privatewellclass.org. The course is made possible through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the Rural Community Assistance Program.

Once registered for the Private Well Class, people are provided with 10 lessons by email along with options for additional webinar sessions. This course provides the basics of well construction and maintenance, common contamination sources, laboratory testing information and what to do in an emergency.

“This site provides information to ensure a safe water supply and to extend the life of your well,” Hawkins said.

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