Experts offer spring tune-up tips for drinking water well

Early spring is a great time to test well water and inspect the well.

Now that the snow has melted and people can see their yard better, they need to check their well.

Step 1: Test the well water for bacteria.

Bacteria is the most com­mon impurity found in well wat­er and it is often most obvious during the spring when the ground is saturated and wet with snow melt and flood waters. The melting snow or run­ning water tranSports a lot of material from the surface deep into the soil.

That can cause material from the soil surface to move into a drinking water source. An­other good time to test well water is the day after a heavy rainfall. Testing water at times when contamination is likely will provide the most accurate assessment of how safe the drinking water is. The Ministry of Health suggests testing wells for bacteria three times a year through its free service. Contact the local health unit to get free bacteria water testing bottle.

Step 2: Do a visual inspec­tion of the well and the area around it.. Check the condition of the well at least once a year. Use a strong flashlight and take a good look at every part of the lining, water surface, pipes, and well head. The well needs to be watertight to be secure. The water comes in from the bot­tom, not the top or sides. The water at the base of the well is cleaner. That is the water desir­ed for the house and is the water that needs protection through proper well mainten­ance. When inspecting a well, are looking for:

– Any rodents or debris that may have fallen into the well over the year. If there is any­thing in it – there may be a struc­tural problem with the well that needs to be repaired by a licenced well contractor.

– Cracks, leaks, or evidence that the well is not water-tight. Have a water-tight seal on the well that extends at least 10 feet deep in a dug well and 20 feet in a drilled well. That helps ensure that surface water filters through layers of soil and rock be­fore it can enter the well. Have a licensed well contractor repair any cracks or loose concrete.

Top of the well. All wells should extend at least 16 inches above ground or above the highest known water level in areas subject to flooding. Well tops are not generally water­tight, so they should not be buried or located below ground in frost pits, because that permits direct entry of surface water or spills.

– Install a Vermin proof well cap. Well caps have been im­proved in the last six years. Caps that prevent insects from entering the well are available and should be installed to keep insects from nesting in the well. Insects in the well are a com­mon cause of coliform bacteria.

– Preventing bacteria from entering well water. Treating contaminated well water is one way of ensuring water is safe to drink but it is addressing the symptom, not the problem. For a more long-term solution, the source of bacteria should be identified, and where possible, eliminated. That often means repairing the well.

– Locating the source of con­tamination That process can be quite simple or may involve detailed testing using tracers to map the flow of water on your property.

Consider these factors when determining the most likely source of bacteria entering your well water:

1. How many times has the well tested positive for bac­teria? If it has had many tests that exceeded drinking water standards for bacteria, it is likely that there is a constant source of bacteria entering the well. Bacteria does not live long or travel very far. The well itself is often the problem and should be repaired. If the well is in good shape, then look around the well starting at the well and moving out 50 feet in every direction. The closest source is often the most likely source of bacteria.

2. Assess the slope of your property or local area. Water tends to flow downhill and groundwater tables tend to follow the slope of the land. On some properties, the house may be built up on a local elevation, small hills immediately sur­round­ing a house or barn may reflect disturbances from the construction of the house and may not reflect the slope of your groundwater table.

Need Help? The Well Wise Resource Centre is a non-profit organization providing techni­cal support to well owners. Visit for more information. The Well Aware program is a community based educational program of­fering free home visits to help well owners. Check www.well­ for a local service provider. Many conservation authorities have cost share programs to help well owners.