Why You Must Switch Well Water Testing from Winter to Summer

Out of the 43 million people who rely on private water wells to supply their homes, some experts estimate that only 10% to 20% test their water quality often enough. That means that as many as 34 million homeowners are not monitoring their well water often enough or maybe at all. Annual well water testing is vital to detect contamination from bacteria, fungi, industrial chemicals, nitrates, heavy metals or hundreds of other potentially toxic substances. 

Recent research at the University of New Hampshire has determined another important factor in maintaining a healthy well: When you test your well water. 

These researchers discovered that many well owners across the country were testing their wells in the winter. But harmful bacteria that can invade wells are at their lowest levels in the cold months and then spike during the hottest months. 

How the Researchers Did Their Well Water Contamination Study

The researchers sampled 50,000 North Carolina wells all year round from 2013 to 2018. North Carolina is #3 in the country for the number of hogs raised in the state and there are huge lagoons that collect waste products from these farms. These lagoons foster bacteria that can and do make their way into nearby wells. 

In the summers, the bacterial levels in wells located near these lagoons would spike. As temperatures exceeded 90 degrees F, bacterial levels were at the highest peaks. Conversely, in February and March, bacterial levels in the wells were at their lowest points. 

Many factors other than air temperature were considered and ruled out because they did not correlate with the highs and lows in well water contamination. 

The Right Timing for Annual Well Water Testing

The conclusions drawn by the researchers were that winter well water testing might provide an owner with a false confidence that their well water was of good quality. If there are any potential sources of contamination by bacterial, fungal or other microorganisms, then it’s best to pick the peak of summer heat to draw a sample and send it to a lab. 

Private Well Quality Is Totally Up to the Owner

Nationally, there are few regulations relating to the use of private water wells. The Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate private wells, only public water systems. The EPA recommends annual water tests for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids and pH level but these are not required. 

Many wells never get tested unless the property changes hands and the lender requires a test. Even then, the testing may be minimal, looking only for bacteria and perhaps E. coli, nitrates, iron and lead. 

There are literally hundreds of substances you don’t want in your water. But they may be there anyway because of the way groundwater travels. Industrial spills or dumps miles away from your home can bring carcinogenic chemicals to the well in your backyard. You’ll never know unless you do your own tests. 

Groundwater and Well Conditions Are Constantly Changing

Just as the bacterial levels in those North Carolina wells fluctuated, so can the levels of all kinds of contamination in your backyard well. Here are just some of the factors that can cause the purity of your well water to change: 

  • One of the seals closing off your well deteriorates and insects or small animals can now enter and introduce bacteria, fungi and microorganisms into your well
  • The casing of your well deteriorates, allowing pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers from agricultural activities, golf courses or parks to seep into your water
  • A severe storm or flood sends bacteria-laden water onto your property, contaminating your well water
  • A manufacturer or industrial activity experiences a serious spill of chemicals that soak into the ground and finally reach the aquifer
  • A gas storage tank in a gas station a mile away develops a leak
  • A septic tank on the property next door ruptures or leaks
  • A military base or firefighter training facility is built upstream from your property and they start training their personnel to use firefighting foam
  • Roads in your area are de-iced and the snow runoff contaminates your well with salt or chemicals
  • An oil or gas line that passes a few miles from your home begins to leak

There are hundreds of these possible events that can impact the quality of water coming from your well. Only an annual routine of thorough testing can enable you to detect changes in your water quality. And, as the New Hampshire researchers determined, the best time to perform these studies is during the hottest weather of the year.

ETR Laboratories can help you with comprehensive water tests or specific water tests that check for one contaminant you suspect may be causing your problems. Check out our water tests to find the right analysis for your well.