Ensuring Your New Water Well is Safe

Success! You’ve hit water and your well is complete… almost. As with any project, it’s important to see through the finishing touches and guarantee safety to those who will use the well.

Before drilling, determine a safe well location with stable ground, low risk of contamination and convenient access. Check out this intro to water well drilling for more on preparation and training.

Site selection and safely operating a drill is one thing. When it comes to well safety, there are two other key aspects to consider. The water quality and physical safety of the well are important to confirm before marking a project as complete.

Water Safety

The World Health Organization considers water to be “safe” if it contains no disease-causing organisms or harmful chemicals. It’s important to properly seal a well to avoid possible contamination, which could affect all people and animals who use the well.

Groundwater is usually safe to drink without any treatment, because soil naturally filters out disease-causing organisms and chemicals as the water flows through it. But that’s not always the case, and if a well isn’t sealed properly, surface water can leak in, bringing with it potential contaminants.

A sanitary seal is the key component that stands between surface water and well water. Shallow groundwater might also be contaminated, so sealing the upper section of the borehole will protect the well. Without this seal, water can easily flow through the disturbed soil between the borehole wall and the well casing. The sanitary seal should extend down to the first impermeable sediment layer to be effective. This is the standard that most government agencies follow to protect the drinking water quality.

Before the seal is installed, it’s important to fill the space between the casing and the open hole. Larger establishments and professional drillers with large drilling rigs likely use a grout pump. The pump is lowered into the ground and grout is pumped on top of the gravel pack.

For smaller operations, and those in the missionary field, a grout pump is probably not a logical option. In these cases, fill the hole with bentonite chips or neat cement. The neat cement mixture can also be used to create a berm around the top of the borehole, which protects against surface water collecting around the top of the well.

Be sure to wait at least 24 hours before installing the pump to ensure the sanitary seal is completely set.

Well Site Safety

For hand pump setups, a pump pad provides a strong, safe base for people to stand while pumping water. A poorly constructed pump pad can result in a broken pump, contaminated groundwater, and an unhealthy environment.

The pump pad should cover at least 3 feet (1 meter) around the pump base, be raised above the ground and made with strong, reinforced concrete. It should be placed so that rain runoff doesn’t collect around the pad.  Make sure the pump pad is fenced so that animals can’t gather close to it.

Protecting the drill site and installing a pump pad isn’t always the responsibility of the driller. Some organizations choose to hire a mason, but it’s important to be familiar with well site safety.

Well Water Testing

In some situations, you may not be the one utilizing the well you’ve just drilled, and therefore won’t be the one responsible for testing its quality. But if it is, in cases like a private water well, it’s important to continue testing the quality of water.

According to the Groundwater Foundation, it’s important to test private well water at least once per year. It should be tested at the tap and at the source to determine the quality of your water and the system. Your local Health and Human Services Department will be able to refer you to a certified laboratory in your area.

Some common water tests include basic water potability, coliform bacteria, nitrate, ions, sulfates, fluoride, and total dissolved units. Testing your water for its intended use – drinking water, livestock watering or chemical spraying – can help you make informed decisions about your water and best utilize it.

By following some basic guidelines, you can rest assured that the hard work of drilling a water well has resulted in clean, safe drinking water.

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