Private well owners should protect their drinking water supply by performing routine maintenance checks on their water system and correcting any structural defects.
Water quality tests are an integral part of routine maintenance and should be performed at least annually. Water quality tests should include testing for the following:
- Fecal coliform bacteria
- Iron and hardness
- pH level
- Total coliform bacteria
If other contaminants are suspected, tests should be performed to determine their presence and level.
Total coliform bacteria presence in water indicates that the water may be contaminated with organisms that can cause disease. Fecal coliform bacteria (or Ecoli) are a group (subset) of total coliform bacteria. Fecal coliform testing is always done when a sample is determined to have total coliform bacteria. The presence of fecal coliform bacteria indicates a pathway exists from waste (fecal) sources such as animal feedlots, pastures, septic tank leakage, etc, into the water source.
Iron and hardness primarily affect the aesthetic, rather than the health-related quality of water. Iron concentrations above 0.3 milligrams per liter and iron bacteria can cause staining of plumbing fixtures and laundry.
Water "hardness" usually refers to the amount of any substance (particularly calcium and magnesium) that keeps soap from lathering. Extremely hard water can cause buildup inside of pipes. As these deposits build up, they gradually reduce the flow of water. Extremely soft water can cause metals such as copper to leach from your home’s interior plumbing into your water.
Nitrogen is an element that occurs naturally in the environment and is essential to living matter. All sources of nitrogen are sources of nitrate.
Infants under six months of age that receive formula or juice mixed with drinking water that contains elevated amounts of nitrate can develop the life-threatening disease known as "blue-baby" syndrome or methemoglobinemia. This disease occurs when the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is reduced.
Nitrate concentrations exceeding the health advisory level of 10 mg/L are generally an indication of contamination from major nitrogen sources such as a sewage disposal system, animal manure, or nitrogen fertilizers. Nitrate contamination is more likely to occur in shallow wells and in wells that are poorly located.
pH is a numerical measure of acidity or hydrogen ion activity used to express acidity or alkalinity. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, the pH of drinking water should be between 6.5 and 8.5.
Total coliform bacteria are a group of naturally occurring bacteria that are present in all surface water and groundwater under the influence of surface water. As surface water percolates through the soil, a natural filtration process takes place that normally removes coliform bacteria unless a pathway exists which bypasses this filtration process.
The presence of total coliform bacteria in a drinking water supply indicates that surface water or groundwater under the influence of surface water is entering the supply. This pathway presents a potential health hazard because harmful contaminants could enter the drinking water through these sources. Water that is bacterially unsafe should not be used for human consumption unless properly disinfected.