Do Nearby Septic Systems Leak Waste Into Your Water Well?

Private water wells have the potential to deliver pure water to homes all across America. More than 23 million American homes are supplied with these wells that bring water up from far underground. More than one-quarter of Americans drink this water every day. Bedrock and soil filter out most contaminants before groundwater water reaches the well which is why so much well water has a sweet, fresh taste.

A leaking septic system near your personal water well can ruin this fresh, healthy supply of water. A problematic septic system doesn’t even have to be on the same property as the well. It can be on a nearby property which means that maintaining the quality of one’s well water requires knowing what’s going on in the whole vicinity.

What Can Go Wrong with a Septic System?

If a septic system is properly located, well-built and in good repair, contamination shouldn’t happen. But failures occur. Septic systems can break down, leaks happen. It’s necessary for both the owner of the septic system and any nearby wells to be vigilant in monitoring their structures.

Here are some of the problems that can start the contamination:

  • The septic tank can become damaged and start leaking sewage. This can happen from age, root intrusion, heavy vehicles driving over it, changes in the water table and other causes.
  • The drainfield can become overloaded, damaged or saturated so that it no longer effectively treats the wastewater. The contaminants in this wastewater can then leak into groundwater.
  • Omitted maintenance can result in clogging and backups in the septic system which can cause the system to fail.
  • The wrong chemicals may make their way into the septic system, such as cleaners, solvents or pesticides. These substances can harm the bacteria in the septic system that are supposed to break down the waste, meaning that untreated sewage can make its way into the drainfield.
  • Erosion, settlement, freezing temperatures and earthquakes all put stress on the septic system and the soil around it. These stresses can crack or damage the system.
  • The septic system may be so old that it doesn’t meet current standards so the waste is not properly treated.

When these problems occur, groundwater nearby can become contaminated with bacteria, viruses, nitrates, detergents, oils, and chemicals in the effluent (liquid wastewater). These contaminants may be able to make their way into nearby private wells.

Other Changes Mean Wastewater May Travel Farther Than Usual

Why could a septic system contaminate a nearby well today when it hasn’t contaminated it before? Environments are always changing. Here are some of the changing influences that could mean that a septic system that hasn’t been a problem could become one:

  • Heavy rainfall or flooding can saturate soil, reducing its ability to effectively treat wastewater seeping through the soil.
  • Water table fluctuations can cause effluent to travel faster than usual through soil so that it is not effectively treated before it reaches a nearby well.
  • Infrastructure changes such as new roads or buildings, deforestation, or changes in agricultural activities can disrupt the usual patterns of water drainage.
  • Natural disasters like earthquakes, landslides or wildfires may alter the characteristics of soil and the flow patterns of underground water.

Even if a nearby septic system is properly maintained, these factors could mean that a well that was fresh, clean and contaminated in January could be polluted by that same septic system in September.

Maintaining a Pure Supply of Water Requires Regular Testing

Testing a private water well on a regular schedule is vital to ensure that nearby septic systems are not contaminating your water supply. Those nearby systems have the potential to leak nitrates, bacteria and other pathogens, pharmaceuticals, solvents, cleaning products, sulfates and many other substances into your private water well. With the results of an accurate professional water test in hand, you can show your neighbors who have septic systems why they should have their systems inspected. It’s hard to argue with these objective results.

ETR Labs has all the water tests you need to detect septic system contamination of your well. Check out our Premium Water Test and get the answers you need about your water quality.