Well Water: Problems and Solutions


If you are one of the 13 million households in the United States that relies on a private well for drinking water, you’re on your own when it comes to ensuring your water’s safety.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that protect public drinking water systems don’t apply to privately owned wells, and the EPA does not recommend criteria or standards for individual wells.

The EPA offers information about well testing, guidance on the treatment or removal of contaminants, and additional educational resources to help private well owners.

It's critical for well owners to conduct timely water tests, assess your issues and choose the proper treatment solutions.


Well Water Testing is Crucial

While you may prefer the taste of private well water – no chlorine taste or odor! - the only way to be sure it is not contaminated is to test it.

Outbreaks of waterborne disease in the U.S. are mostly associated with private or communal water wells. Contamination comes from many sources including naturally occurring chemicals and minerals (eg. arsenic, sulfur), and land use practices (eg. pesticides, animal waste).

Common bacterial contaminants include E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, and Campylobacter jejuni. Common viral contaminants include norovirus, sapovirus, rotavirus, enteroviruses, and hepatitis A and E. Parasites include Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, and microsporidia.

Pesticides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the most commonly occurring pollutant chemicals in the U.S., and may be identifiable in more than a third of all U.S. wells, although this is mostly at levels below U.S. water standards. Some chemicals are commonly present in water wells at levels that are not toxic, but which can cause other problems.

Testing for well water issues such as hardness assess the severity of the issues in order to effectively address them. The National Ground Water Association recommends that private well owners have their wells checked and tested by a certified and/or licensed contractor every year to ensure water safety.

Why is Water Quality Testing Important?

Some segments of the population are more vulnerable to pollutants. If the following are in your household it may warrant more frequent testing:

• Young Children
• Elderly Adults
• Pregnant or Nursing Women

You should test your private well immediately if:

• There are known problems with well water in your area
• Nearby problems or conditions near your well have changed significantly (i.e. flooding, land disturbances, and new construction or industrial activity, nearby waste disposal sites)
• You replace or repair any part of your well system
• You notice a change in your water quality (i.e. color, taste, odor)

Note: getting a well “checked” is not the same as comprehensive water testing

The mortgage requirements of many banks specify that certain water tests be conducted, but this testing is to ensure that the home’s systems aren’t faulty, not to protect the residents’ health. A basic screening doesn’t give information about levels of lead, arsenic, chromium 6, mercury, or VOCs unless testing specifically for them.

Some states have certain testing requirements, but the scope varies from state to state, and most don’t require comprehensive testing.

You should not assume that the tests that were done as part of the home buying process were comprehensive.

Who Should Test Your Well

State and local health or environmental departments often test for nitrates, total coliforms, fecal coliform, VOCs, and pH . Health or environmental departments, or county governments should have a list of the state-certified (licensed) laboratories in your area that test for a variety of substances. You can also purchase well water tests online.

Well Water Tests and Solutions

If your well water tests positive for contaminants, Tier1 offers a wide range of effective solutions.

Common issues and treatments include:

Hard Water: High levels of dissolved minerals, like magnesium or calcium, symptoms include scale buildup and dry skin and hair.
- Treatment: Install a water softener or salt free water conditioning system.

Tier1 Water Softeners

Read more about hard water

Sulfur: A “rotten egg” smell coming from your water indicates the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas.
- Treatment: Aeration, ozone, hydrogen peroxide, and chlorine (best followed by filtration) are effective against dissolved hydrogen sulfide or gas. A reverse osmosis system, nanofiltration system, or a negative ion-exchanger also can be effective in reducing sulfates. Filtration is necessary in combating sulfur formation as a mineral or in biofilms.

Read more about sulfur in your water

Iron and Manganese: A “rusty” or metallic taste in water is a result of iron, and sometimes manganese, in ground water.
- Treatment: For iron levels under 3 parts per million (ppm), a three filter iron reduction filter system or a water softener may help. For iron levels up to 4 parts per million, consider the Hardness, Iron and Manganese water softener. For levels over 4 ppm, consider the Whole Home Iron, Manganese and Hydrogen Sulfide Air Induction Oxidization (AIO) Filter System.

Read more about iron in your water

Turbidity and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS): TDS is the concentration of all dissolved minerals in water.
- Treatment: Adding a sediment pre-filter to your water filtration system will reduce turbidity. UV protection may be necessary if the source of turbidity is microbial. Water softeners with a reverse osmosis system are effective in lowering the TDS to satisfactory levels.

Reverse Osmosis System

Fecal Bacteria: Animal or human waste contains fecal bacteria such as E. coli, and can infiltrate well water.
- Treatment: Chlorine shocking the well kills existing bacteria. A point of entry water filtration system with UV protection prevents bacteria from reproducing, significantly lowering your risk of infection.

UV Disinfection

Read more about Microorganisms

Nitrogen: The most common forms in groundwater are ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite.
- Treatment: Reverse osmosis systems with water softeners to remove nitrates and nitrites, and oxidation to remove small amounts of ammonia.

Reverse Osmosis System

Read More about Contaminants