Tracking Private Well Water
Who is responsible for monitoring privately-owned domestic water wells?
In Louisiana, the individual well owner is responsible for testing their private well. DHH enforces regulations such as the Safe Drinking Water Act for public water systems, and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ), Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and U.S. EPA conduct monitoring of aquifer systems and wells for pesticides and other potential contaminants.
Private wells in Louisiana are not currently required by any agency or law to be regularly tested to federal or state health standards. Individual well owners must take the necessary steps to ensure their well water is safe.
How often should I inspect and test my well?
Annual well inspection and testing for biological and chemical contaminants is the best way to monitor your well water for any problems.
It is also important to have your well inspected and water tested:
- any time you notice a change in your water quality, especially if you notice a strange color, odor, or taste;
- pregnant woman, infants or young children, elderly, or people with chronic disease or conditions that impair their immune system reside in the home;
- if there have been unexplained illnesses in the household, such as recurring gastrointestinal problems or skin irritation;
- if there has been a chemical or hazardous incident or spill near your home or well;
- following a hurricane, flood or major rainfall that may have contaminated the well;
- if contaminants have been found in a neighbor’s water or reported to the local community (contact your parish sanitarian for reported or known problems in your area);
- if you live in an area that is prone to a specific type of water contamination, OR
- if you live near areas of extensive land development, construction (including highway expansion or repair), agriculture, animal operations, mining, oil or gas drilling, industrial or waste operations, or abandoned waste sites or wells.
Well Inspection and Maintenance—was my well properly constructed? Is it functioning
The construction of water wells in Louisiana is addressed by the regulations of LAC 56:I Chapter 3. In addition, the state sanitary code outlines how private water wells in Louisiana should be constructed to ensure water quality while maintaining the integrity of the underground water supply.
Safe distances must be maintained between wells and possible contamination sources, with proper grading to ensure flood waters drain away from the well (Title 51 Public Health Sanitary Code, Part XII. Water Supplies, §327 Ground Water Supplies). Protective features, such as impenetrable well casings installed to the correct depth, and watertight well covers over venting, prevent well water contamination by surface waters or other debris. However, underground contamination sources will only be detectable with annual water sampling.
Routine inspection and maintenance of your well by a licensed contractor is the best way to ensure important features are in use, intact and functioning properly. You can locate a Louisiana licensed contractor in your local area through the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors; in the yellow pages under “Environmental Services;” or by contacting a local water well drilling company. Other contacts include the National Ground Water Association NGWA wellowner.org
website and your local LSU AgCenter or cooperative extension office.
Be sure to manage the activities near the water source. This includes keeping all chemicals, gasoline, paint, pesticides, and solvents away from the well-head, and preventing backflow or cross-connections when using hoses with household, gardening, agricultural or automotive chemicals.
Well disinfection following a flood
Major rainfall events and hurricanes are common in Louisiana and they can impact the health and safety of your private water well. Storm damage and flooding often introduce pollution into the water system by overtopping well-heads and compromising containment systems. After a storm or flood, it is important to have your well and pump cleaned and inspected. The EPA, CDC and others have developed standard protocols for emergency disinfection of private water wells following a storm. As a resourceful Louisiana well owner you may be inclined to “do-it-yourself,” but to ensure health and safety it is best to have a professional, licensed contractor disinfect and test the well.
How do I test my water?
Water well owners can contact their parish sanitarian, usually located at the parish health unit, to get the latest information on private water well testing. He or she will advise you of any contaminants that are known problems in your area. Working closely with parish sanitarians and engineers through the Safe Drinking Water Program, state-certified labs may be available to perform some bacteriological or chemical tests on your private water well for a fee. A listing of state-certified labs is available at www.dhh.la.gov
. Using the search feature, type in “Laboratory Certification” to get a listing. In other cases, parish sanitarians may refer well owners to local or national testing laboratories.
Which contaminants should I test for?
Beyond routine well inspections and standard system tests, preliminary tests for biological and chemical contaminants are recommended each year for private water wells in Louisiana.
Recommended Tests: Total/Fecal Coliform Bacteria
Coliform bacteria sampling will indicate if surface waters, and possibly poorly-managed septic systems or debris, are contaminating your well. Bacteria, except in rare cases, are not naturally present at the depths where private water wells extract groundwater, but are naturally filtered out as they are drawn down through the silts and sands above the water table. Coliform bacteria are a generic indicator of the types of bacteria that originate in soil, vegetation or the intestinal tract of animals and people. Although coliform bacteria are not usually harmful, high levels in your well water may indicate the presence of other disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites. For example, certain E. coli bacteria, as well as cryptosporidium (protozoan parasites) can be very dangerous — even fatal — if they intrude into your well from outside sources. If preliminary bacterial sampling results return high coliform counts, well owners should take additional steps to determine the source of the problem and ensure the water supply is free from biological contamination.
Recommended Tests: Nitrates/Nitrites and Metals
Most private wells are located in rural areas, so a test for nitrate is important as an additional indicator of surface water or other wastewater intrusion into your well. This nutrient originates mainly in agricultural areas where there is fertilizer use, livestock or poultry but can also be introduced by poorly-managed septic tanks. Excessive levels of nitrate/nitrite in drinking water can be a serious health risk for newborns under 6 months of age. Positive sample results may warrant further testing for pesticides as well. General tests for metals, including arsenic, lead, and cadmium are also recommended. Heavy metals, such as arsenic, have been detected in private wells in some Louisiana alluvial aquifer systems.
Other tests for consideration:
There are numerous additional primary water contaminants that are routinely tested in public water systems due to their set health limits. These should be among those considered for additional testing in private wells.There are also numerous secondary water contaminants which well owners may encounter. These tend to be more noticeable (by color, taste or smell) and a nuisance, but in typical concentrations are not currently known to cause health risks. Please refer to the private well brochure
included at the beginning of this topic for more detailed information.