If you live in a rural area, you more than likely have an existing well that supplies your household with water. As the homeowner, it is your responsibility to maintain your well and keep it properly sealed to prevent groundwater contamination. Water wells are a serious business and many are not aware of how to properly maintain them or what options are available to them to keep them running. This article hopes to provide information on existing wells and make homeowner’s, like you, be more “well aware”.
Upgrade your well, or construct a new one?
If there are significant problems with your existing well, one option is to drill a new well. A new well may be the best way to go if your existing well is:
- poorly located, close to permanent sources of contamination, or at risk from flooding
- producing insufficient quantity for the intended use
- substandard and cannot be upgraded for technical or regulatory reasons (e.g., a brick-lined dug well)
Prior to the mid-80s, well pits were commonly used to protect water line connections from freezing. Due to age and deterioration, some wells located in pits no longer provide potable water because the pit can fill with surface water and debris. This debris and surface water can be drawn into the water supply, leading to contamination. An MOE-licensed contractor, like Hunter Plumbing & Heating, can do a thorough assessment of your well to help you determine whether your well can be upgraded. Upgrading may involve extending the well pipe to the required height above grade and filling in the pit.
Chemicals and fuels
Any chemical or fuel spills that infiltrate the ground can contaminate your drinking water source. Check that gasoline, pesticides, and other chemicals are stored in proper containers designed to help prevent spills or leakage. Don’t store these materials anywhere near your well(s). Refuel lawnmowers and other machinery a safe distance from the well. (One litre of gasoline can contaminate up to 1 million litres of groundwater.) Refuel over hard surfaces to help prevent infiltration of spills. Change the oil in your vehicle on a sealed surface such as pavement or concrete, away from the well. Clean up spills with an absorbent material (clean sand or kitty litter) and remove to a Household Hazardous Waste depository. Keep a bucket nearby for quick access when spills occur.
Underground storage tanks are used to store home heating fuel and large fuel supplies for equipment. These tanks, pipes and fittings may leak, especially if they are over 15 years old or lack corrosion protection. Underground storage tanks are a special concern if the water table is shallow or if the tank is close to your well (or surface water). If possible, replace underground tanks with above-ground storage that has proper spill/leak containment.
Malfunctioning septic systems are a leading cause of private well contamination. Ensure that your system conforms to the Ontario Building Code and is a safe distance away from your well. Keep chemicals other than human waste out of the system. Pump out your septic tank every two to three years and keep your system in good running order.
Inspecting your well
Ontario’s Wells Regulation requires that you maintain your well to keep out surface run-off and foreign materials.
It is recommended that you conduct an inspection of your well at least once a year, as outlined below, at the same time as you check for potential contaminants.
If you have problems with your well water, or concerns about your well, have your well inspected by an MOE licensed well contractor, such as Hunter Plumbing & Heating. Contact us today to learn more!
Things to consider:
As part of your maintenance routine, keep your well head clear of brush, debris, and other obstructions.
Check the well cap for signs of cracking or damage, and have it fixed or replaced immediately if there is a problem. The well cap should be firmly attached to the casing. The vent should face the ground and be properly screened to keep out insects. Only air should enter. Clean the air vent regularly to remove debris and moisture.
Look for problems with the sealant used to fill the annular space between the drilled hole and the well casing. A depression in the ground around the edge of the casing can indicate that the sealant has shrunk, collapsed, or cracked. If you can move the casing around by pushing it, that’s a bad sign. Cracking and gaps allow run-off and surface water to move down the outside of the well casing and contaminate your drinking water. A faulty annular seal should be repaired.
Well casing – condition
Look for any external signs of damage, cracking, or dislocation on your well casing, e.g., due to vehicle damage. If your well has been damaged, removing the cap is not recommended. Visibility is limited and you could cause contamination or further damage, especially if you have a submersible pump. At this point, it may be time to call in the licensed well contractor, such as Hunter Plumbing & Heating.
If you have a structurally sound well – drilled, dug or bored – you can remove the lid with care. Be mindful of electrical wiring and debris falling into the well. Inspect the inside the casing using a strong flashlight. Look for holes, evidence of animal infestations, or stains from casing joints that may indicate water leaking into the well.
Under certain circumstances, contaminated water can flow backwards through your plumbing into your well. Backflow prevention devices are available from your MOE-licensed well contractor.
Remove the lid of your well pit and look for water, debris, vermin, etc. at the bottom of the pit. (Remove the cement outer cover, not the well cap inside the pit). Do not enter the pit or breathe the gases which may fill the pit and take extra care to ensure children do not gain access to the well pit. The pit should be clean and dry. If water or other material has entered the pit, your well water is at high risk of contamination. Consider upgrading or constructing a new well.
Hiring a Contractor
Ontario Ground Water Association and/or your Ontario Ministry of the Environment district office if you have any questions or concerns about the qualifications or work procedures of contractors. Hunter Plumbing, Heating & Excavating Inc. is a licensed MOE well contractor and specializes in well and septic system work. With over 50 years of experience and knowledge, their team of professionals can certainly help homeowners maintain their well and keep it running. Contact us today for your well inspection and quote!