Why is it that with some things, like a car, we recognize the value of maintenance? Oil changes might be a minor inconvenience and a bit of an expense, but we get them done (sometimes only with the help of a reminder popping up on the dashboard – but we get it done). Perhaps it’s the magnitude of the initial investment, or the concern for our safety, or simply not wanting to do without the vehicle in the event of an actual breakdown. By that reasoning, then, maintaining a private drinking water supply should get the same attention. The cost of drilling a well can be significant. A safe water supply should be a priority. And going without water is not something anyone wants to face.
But with your well, it’s located deep underground and easily taken for granted – out of sight, out of mind. Provided the water continues to flow and appears clean, all seems okay. But unfortunately, contaminants like bacteria and nitrates can infiltrate your well and go undetected by taste, color, or odor. For this reason, routine well water testing should be the first maintenance item on your list.
Most authorities recommend testing for bacteria and nitrates at least once a year. The spring thaw, which can definitely impact water quality, is a good time to target. The National Groundwater Foundation also recommends an annual well check-up. This should include a flow test, water level check, an assessment of the pump motor as well as a visual inspection of the well head and surrounding area. For more details, visit www.wellowner.org. In between, it’s a good practice to:
• Inspect the well cap or cover from time to time just to make sure it is still firmly attached and in good repair.
• Make sure hazardous chemicals are stored far from the well.
• Check that livestock operations are not encroaching on the established safety perimeter – usually within 50 feet of your well. Animals are of particular concern because of the possibility of manure contaminating groundwater supplies.
Similarly, your septic system is a possible source of fecal contamination. When installed and operated properly, septic systems aren’t a problem. But some attention is still required. Sadly, many homeowners just don’t know what to do with their septic system or when to do it. As a result, the system can fail. It’s estimated that upwards to 20% of septic systems in the USA malfunction each year, risking groundwater contamination and possible waterborne disease. The EPA recommends that septic tanks be inspected by a professional annually and that pumping should happen every two to five years. The frequency will depend on the number of people in your household, your water conservation practices, and the types of solids entering the system. In between inspections and pumpings, some casual observations of the outdoor site may indicate that professional intervention is required.
• Can you smell sewage?
• Do you see sewage?
• Are there patches of vegetation that are especially lush?
Water Treatment System Maintenance
Lastly, don’t forget your water treatment system. If you’re using an ultraviolet (UV) system to protect from bacterial contamination, then you will want to change out the lamp annually. The quartz sleeve should also be cleaned at this time, though you may be doing more often depending on the chemistry of the source water and the pre-treatment in place. Some UV systems come equipped with a digital display to remind you of when service is due – just like that handy light on the car dashboard.
If you are using a chemical treatment like chlorination, then you’ll want to clean the pump thoroughly twice a year and inspect for any sign of corrosion. This is, of course, in addition to the usual time spent adding chlorine.
Any other filters used in conjunction with either type of disinfection system should also be changed periodically.
So really, most of these tasks are recommended to do just once a year. That’s not too bad, is it? Not when these actions taken together protect your family’s health and wellbeing, as well as your pocketbook.