A: Well water is naturally filtered of harmful bacteria and organisms as it soaks down thru the soil to a sub-surface aquifer. This means under normal conditions you do not need to add chlorine to the water to make it safe to drink, so any health risks associated with chlorine in the water are avoided. Because groundwater sources are generally protected by many feet of soil the water is safe to drink right from the aquifer. Municipal systems which draw surface water from lakes and rivers need to treat their water with filtration, UV light, and chemicals to kill harmful bacteria and pathogens that are present in surface water. There have been documented instances where failures at water treatment plants have caused sickness and death of consumers of public water supplies. A private well, like a treatment plant, must be properly constructed and maintained to be kept safe. The difference in risk is that in private water well system the burden is to keep the equipment sanitary so the naturally clean groundwater is not contaminated. In a public surface water based water system unsafe water is being treated to ensure that it is sanitary. The greater burden for safety is on any water system using non-potable water as a source. Another area of concern that is being researched is traces of pharmaceutical drugs in drinking water. In general, there have been fewer issues with pharmaceuticals leeching into groundwater from septic systems than there are being found in municipal supplies that are recycling waste water to make potable water. Pharmaceutical drugs in water are a developing issue that we all need to be aware of.
Q: Is there any cost savings with a well vs. city water or other options?
A: Yes, there can be significant savings. The initial cost of a water well for a residence ranges between $3,500 & $10,000 depending on the depth of the well and size of the pumping system. Once the water system is installed, other than a minimal cost for electricity to operate the pump, it is not uncommon for well owners to go 10 to 20 years without any major repairs being needed to their water system, some go as long as 30 years. The benefit of not having monthly water bills, especially if U.G. sprinkling is being utilized, will pay back over time. For applications with geo-thermal open loop, large scale irrigation, or commercial use, a well is generally the only cost affordable option to supply water. Water treatment equipment is an additional cost associated with well water which must also be factored in to a cost analysis. Most rural water districts are supplied with well water so water treatment equipment will probably be required even though you have a public water supply. Generally, water supplied from lakes and rivers in larger public systems does not need water treatment for iron or hardness. Filtration equipment to remove chlorine may be required in any public supply.
Q: What about bacteria in water?
A: We recommend that you get your water tested for E-Coli and Coliform bacteria if you have not had your water tested. Coliform bacteria are not necessarily in and of themselves a health risk but they are used as indicators of contamination in a water system. There are many different kinds of bacteria found in the soil and groundwater, which for the most part are not harmful to humans. Bacteria are actually useful in cleaning water of debris on its way down through the earth and even can clean water in the aquifer. Coliform bacteria is not a species of bacteria, it is a group of bacteria made up of many different species that conform to certain growth requirements for testing. Positive results for coliform do not necessarily mean that fecal bacteria are present in a well. Think of coliform bacteria as our "target to hit." When coliform bacteria are absent it ensures us that we have clean, safe water well. E-Coli on the other hand are related to fecal bacteria and needs to be cleaned from a water system immediately if they are present. We are almost always able to clean a well so that Coliform bacteria are not present. The cure may be as simple as flushing a well by pumping a large amount of water overnight, chlorinating a well and plumbing system, or with stubborn bacteria, scrubbing a well and pumping out all the debris and then chlorinating the system. A positive test for bacteria is not a cause for panic. It means the well needs to be sanitized and within a couple of days should be back in working order providing safe, clean water.