It’s easy to assume that when you turn on the tap, the water that comes out is clean, healthy and safe to drink. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Even in cities with an army of engineers and technicians to treat and monitor drinking water, outbreaks occasionally happen. As a private well owner, it’s up to you to get rid of any microorganisms in your water that could make you or your family ill.
Here are five things to keep in mind before you turn on that tap:
- Even if it looks, tastes and smells just fine, there can be dangerous microorganisms lurking.
The first thing to know is that you can’t see, smell or taste some of the most dangerous contaminants — microorganisms like E. coli O157:H7, Giardia and Cryptosporidium. These aren’t bugs you want to mess around with. Swallowing a dose of these can give you a bout of gastrointestinal illness that lasts a week or more. In some cases, you can end up with permanent kidney damage. For the very young, the very old or the most vulnerable, these microorganisms may even be fatal.
The bottom line is that clear water doesn’t necessarily mean safe water.
- You can’t control all the things that may contaminate your water.
When you rely on well water, it’s important to protect it from sources of contamination. That means looking after your septic tank properly. If you have livestock, make sure you practice good manure management. If there are any unused wells on your property, cap them securely and check them regularly.
However, even if you do everything right on your own land, you can’t control what contaminants might be seeping in from your neighbor’s leaking septic tank, manure runoff from the pig farm down the road or spring runoff that’s entering the abandoned well two lines over.
It’s a basic fact that water flows underground, just like it flows above ground, so what happens in another part of the aquifer can ultimately affect the water coming out your tap.
- Your water quality can change.
Getting the all clear on your water test is great news. (You do test your water at least once a year, don’t you?) But those test results are like a single still from a feature-length movie. They don’t guarantee that your water will be bacteria-free next month, next season or next year. Likewise, if your test revealed bacteria in your water, shocking your well only gets rid of those bacteria right now. If your well was contaminated once, it can easily get contaminated again.
When your water suddenly looks funny or smells funny, you’ll obviously want to get your water checked. Odors or tastes don’t always mean your water is unhealthy. However, they’re a sign that something has changed, and those changes could include an influx of disease-causing bugs.
- Tap-mounted filters, under-sink filters and jug filters don’t remove microorganisms.
Carbon filters may improve the taste of your water and get rid of odors, but they aren’t designed to deal with harmful microorganisms. So by all means, use them if the result is better-tasting water. Just make sure you also have an effective system in place to disinfect the water you drink.
- Most reverse osmosis systems don’t remove microorganisms.
Similarly, most RO systems are not designed to remove microorganisms. If you’re relying on reverse osmosis to keep your family safe, double-check the manufacturer’s specifications. Unless you deliberately chose an RO system that disinfects your water, chances are good it won’t protect you from harmful bugs.