Well Water Questions and Answers

Q I’ve used water from our well for years and never had a problem. Why should I have it tested, for what, do I have to hire someone to do it, and how much will it cost me.


A It’s wise to have your well tested annually. The “Basic Indicators” of water quality are: coliform bacteria, physical properties (pH, color and turbidity), nutrients (nitrates and nitrites), metals (iron, manganese, lead and arsenic), sodium, and hardness. Bacteria can give you diarrhea, a low pH allows metals to easily leach into your water, nutrients give an indication of contamination from fertilizer or pesticides, iron and manganese cause staining, sodium is not good for your blood pressure, hardness causes scaling of pipes, and lead and arsenic are self explanatory. 


The State of Connecticut Department of Public Health recommends testing for the Basic Indicators annually for five years and if there is no change, every five years after that I strongly recommend getting a bacteria test and a physical properties test (pH, color, turbidity) annually


All these tests are provided by the laboratory of your local health department, the Greenwich Department of Health Laboratory. Simply come to the lab, pick up the correct bottles, and take the samples according to our instructions (you must use our bottles for valid results). Test results will be available within a week. The price of all the Basic Indicators tests runs about $350. The prices of these tests individually range from $30 to $45. It’s a worthwhile investment.


Q Who checks out the test, what kind of problems might be found and what must I do about it. What might that cost me?


A If high levels of a contaminant are found, one calls a well company for the installation of a water filter. Various types of filters work for different contaminants. For example, chlorination or ultraviolet light disinfection is used to treat bacteria contamination, greensand filters for iron/manganese; water softeners for sodium; reverse osmosis for nutrients; and activated charcoal for pesticides, and also for funny smells and tastes. Home filtration systems are advertised on the Home Depot website for up to $500. One would have to add the cost of installation by a plumber. 


Q If 100 wells in town are tested, what percentage of them might have problems?


A We have found that 25 to 33 percent of the wells we test have bacteria contamination, and about fifteen to twenty percent are contaminated with iron and/or manganese. Most of the wells in Greenwich have hard water, but not to an extreme level. Wells have been found in town with high sodium levels, and also with lead and arsenic. We are not aware of a pesticides contamination problem in town. 


Q Does the Town monitor my well, is testing required, and what is the best time of the year to do it. 


A The Town only performs the initial testing for a new well as part of the permit process. Beyond that, additional testing is not required, so you are free to test your well or not, and to purify your water or not. Summer is a good time to test for bacteria, particularly after the heavy rainfall typical of early summer. 


Q I don’t know a well from a hole in the ground. Can you describe in layman’s terms how they work? What do I have to do besides testing in terms of maintenance? 


A You’re on the right track- a well is, in fact, a hole in the ground, deliberately put there to obtain water. A typical well is 6 to 9 inches in diameter and is drilled down into the bedrock 200 to 700 feet. As it is drilled, a steel casing is set into the bedrock. When the driller hits a source of water, a submersible pump is installed, and you’re in business. Wells are drilled by professional well companies, which also provide maintenance services. A list of Connecticut certified well drillers is available from our laboratory. 


Q How deep are most wells in Greenwich? Older wells? New wells? 


A Forgive me for pointing out that this is a deep subject. Most wells are between 200 and 500 feet deep. Some newer wells have been drilled to over 1000 feet deep. 


Q If I sell my house, do I need to prove my well water is safe? If I buy another house, how do I know the water is ok and should I try to get on Town water if it’s possible? Is Town water cheaper?


A Usually a home inspection includes a well test for bacteria, and some banks require this test in order to qualify for a mortgage loan. The only time well testing is required is as part of the permit process when a new well is drilled. This must be done through the Department of Health, and they will then approve the well for use. Well water is free. 


Q If a neighbor blasts rock or drills a well, will that affect my well. 


A Possibly. I’d test it. 


Q I’ve heard the expression, “shock the well.” What does it mean? A Wells frequently become contaminated with low levels of coliform bacteria after heavy rainstorms. It doesn’t matter how low the level is, any coliform bacteria renders the water unacceptable for drinking. What is done in this situation is to treat the well with bleach, letting it sit in the well for a period of time and then draining the well and letting it full up again. This can be done by the homeowner, but most people call a professional well company to do it. This is called “shocking” the well. Q Should town water ever be tested? 

A “Town water” is an expression often used to refer to the water that comes though the pipes of the Aquarion water company’s distribution system. This is a private utility, not a government agency. They practice excellent quality control over their product, but the Department of Health Laboratory monitors it monthly as well. There is normally no need to test your water if it comes from this source. 


Q Some people who have well water use a Brita ? Does this clean the water or take out minerals? Do I still need to have water tested if I use a Brita? 


A “Brita” and “Pur” are two major brands of “point of-use” filtration systems that either attach to the kitchen faucet or are contained in a pitcher to filter drinking water. They use activated charcoal to purify the water, and are effective in removing pesticides and chemicals that impart off-tastes to the water. Some people who are on the Aquarion distribution system use these filters to remove chlorine from the water. They work well, but you need to remember to change the filter on schedule.


Q If you have anyone pregnant, small children or nursing mothers why is it most important to test the water if you have well water? 


A Drinking water wells can easily become contaminated with bacteria, causing gastrointestinal problems; excessive nitrates and nitrites can cause methemoglobinemia in infants under one year old, including the unborn; and lead is a toxic metal that can cause anemia and hinder mental and physical development in children. Lead can leach into drinking water from old plumbing fittings if the pH of the water is low. The Greenwich Department of Health Lab can test for that.

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