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What Is Well Water: Everything You Need to Know

Well water is groundwater that flows underneath the surface of the earth, in formations called aquifers. Well water is an essential aspect of rural life, as not every house has access to piping and municipal water. Many houses in the United States and beyond are required to create their own source of water. Well water is the result of that need.
Well water is very common, but also poses a lot of problems such as white film on the dishes, foul smell, orange and grey stains. Contaminants, big or small, can affect the quality of the water. Well water can have sediments, bacteria, or harmful sulfates in it. This is why a sediment filter is an essential installation for well water. This keeps the well water clean and safe to drink.

What Is Well Water?

well water descriptionWell water is water that is deep in the ground, also known as groundwater. Well water is stored in a layer beneath the earth and is released into springs. Private water well is a hole drilled into that layer, reaching beneath and pumping the water up.
Well water is fresh for water consumption, as it is free of above-ground contaminants such as leaves. It does have underground water issues that often affect its quality. Sediment buildup may add to the hardness of the water, for example.

How Many Houses Use Well Water in the USA?

More than 15% of the people in the United States rely on well water as their main water source. This means that an average of 43 million people in 15 million households does not take their water from municipal sources. Most of the wells are in the eastern area of the United States: the Carolinas, Florida, Maryland, New Hampshire, etc.
Well water is not regulated by the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which means the population is drinking hard water. At the higher end, 79% of Russia uses groundwater for domestic use. Indonesia relies the most on well water, with 93% of the water coming from wells.

How to Improve the Quality of Well Water?

There are several ways in which the quality of the well water may be improved. The main steps include the things below:

  1. Complete Water Analysis: To improve the quality of well water, one must conduct a complete water analysis first. This will determine precisely what the contaminant is. By sending the water to a specialized lab, they will determine if the water contains any high amounts of harmful microorganisms.
  2. Water Filtration System: A water filter is a device that can, among other things, remove any contaminants from the water. There are various water filtration systems available, all of which will remove a variety of contaminant types and improve the quality of the well water. To learn more about water filters, read the “what is a water filter?” guide.
  3. Regular Maintenance: For well water to remain clear, one needs to conduct regular maintenance. Well water filtration systems can always malfunction and change the taste of the water. Thus, regular maintenance will reduce the risks of contamination.

What Are the Features of Well Water?

Well water is water that has not been treated in any manner. Every well will have water with the following features.

  1. Sediment Buildup: Unlike pipe water, groundwater erodes beneath the ground, dissolving the rocks that it is passing over. This can result in sediment buildup, as the minerals fail to dissolve completely.
  2. Mineral Taste: Groundwater is often referred to as mineral water, as the well water dissolves the water from the aquifer. If the well is old, the mineral taste will also be stronger. Smaller mineral amounts can give the well water a pleasant taste. Higher amounts can make the taste unpleasant, as well as a health risk.
  3. Different Color: Unlike pipe water, well water may have a different color. For example, in some areas, it may have a high concentration of iron. This can cause the water to adopt an orange hue, making it have a metallic taste.
  4. Germs: Pipe water is treated with chlorine and a variety of chemicals to increase the quality. Well water is in its purest form. The water is filtered by the soil layers, which is why groundwater may not necessarily need a filter. The exception is when the well is close to a lake or a stream. In that circumstance, the well water may not have time to filter itself out.
  5. Different Odor and Taste: Well water, contaminated or not, has a different odor compared to pipe water. This is a direct result of the minerals in the water, as well as any potential contaminants. Depending on the number of contaminants, the quality of the water may be positively or negatively affected.

What Is the Source of the Well Water?

Well water comes directly from the ground, from an aquifer. A well driller will create a hole within the aquifer, which is a type of permeable rock that contains water. Well water is groundwater that has not been treated before, so the quality of the water may be affected.
As the water flows within the aquifer, it erodes on the surface. This may cause minerals and sediments to mix inside the water. Some sediments are bigger and visible (minerals), whereas others are microscopic and do silent damage (mold and bacteria).
Unlike rivers or lakes, groundwater flows directly underneath the earth. When groundwater comes to the surface, it does so through a spring. When the well water comes through the well, it will use a pumping system to drive the water up. This system can be either mechanical or electrical.

Is Well Water Hard?

Yes, well water is hard often due to the sediments. The reason is that water is a very powerful solvent. It can dissolve organic matter, which includes the minerals residing in the rock and the soil. Minerals such as calcium are also present in the soil, and this is what will make the water hard.
The hardness of water is a high accumulation of mineral content in the water, caused by sediments. The hardness of water has multiple reasons. The first reason is a high amount of calcium carbonate, which results in the water erodes into the aquifer. Magnesium is another reason for the hardness of water, also eroded from the surface.
There are a few exceptions to this. Regions with naturally smaller amounts of these minerals have “softer” water. To reduce the hardness of the water in a region, the installation of a water softener is recommended. Homes that are not connected to municipal water are more likely to need it.

Why Does Well Water Smell?

Well water smells due to a variety of reasons, including:

  1. Sulfur and Sulfide: Well water smells because it contains sulfur bacteria and sulfide. These agents may give a smell similar to “rotten eggs,” depending on the amount. The gas may occur in wells anywhere, and it is a natural process.
  2. Iron Bacteria: Sulfur bacteria may also help other bacteria grow, like iron bacteria. This can also lead to an iron smell or taste.
  3. Hydrogen Sulfide: Hydrogen sulfide occurs as a result of decay. It can also be a chemical reaction between the soil and the rocks. To resolve this problem, you need to hire a professional well contractor. They will disinfect with a chlorine solution. You may also install a water filter.

If it does not smell at all, the bacteria inside the well is properly balanced. In rare circumstances, the smell may also be a result of pollution.

Is Well Water Contaminated?

Well water is not always contaminated. When it is, it is contaminated by two potential sources: human activities and naturally occurring activities. The most common cause for well water contamination is leakage of waste from underground septic tanks.
Water contamination in the well can also be a result of excessive animal or human waste contaminating the ground. The contaminants will be driven further into the ground by rain or other natural events, eventually making their way into the well.

Other contaminants of well water include:

  • Heavy metals
  • Fluoride
  • Organic chemicals
  • Radionuclides

If the water is contaminated, a solution is to ask a well professional to assess the situation and determine the contaminant. They will likely install a water filter. This should help remove the bacteria and impurities that contaminated the water.

What Are the Reasons for Contamination in Well Water?

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), there are several reasons why well water might be contaminated:

  1. Radon: Radon is very common in well water, but it is also very difficult to detect. It’s odorless and tasteless, so it is hard to determine if the water is contaminated by just taking a sip. Small amounts of radon are not harmful, but larger amounts may cause a variety of side effects.
  2. Nitrates: Nitrates in small amounts are not very dangerous. They are even present in food. Still, when nitrates are present in high levels in the well water, it can become very dangerous for the body. It can make one feel nauseous and sick.
  3. Arsenic: Arsenic is common when it comes to well water contamination. Arsenic is not always noticeable, which is why the well water needs to be tested regularly.
  4. Microbial Contamination: Certain microbes are harmless in well water, and can even help improve the quality. Other microbes can be quite dangerous, in which case a water filtration system is required. Common microbial contaminants include giardia, crypto, and e.coli.
  5. Sulfates: Sulfates are a very common cause of well water infestation. A high amount of sulfate can change the taste and odor of the water, as well as cause diarrhea, gastrointestinal comfort, and other digestive issues.
  6. Other Contaminants: Certain specific contaminants might commonly appear in the well water. These contaminants include lead, hepatitis A, copper, salmonella, rotavirus, and norovirus.

contaminants in drinking water wells

How Frequently Should Well Water Be Tested?

Most contaminants settle in the well over winter and this is why the well water must be tested every spring. There are several certified laboratories in the United States where well water can be tested.
The location of the well may also change the frequency of the testing. If the well is near a nuclear plant, then it may be exposed to radioactive contaminants. In that case, it needs testing at least twice or thrice a year. Wells near rivers or forests may also need frequent testing (twice a year).

How to Check Well Water before Buying a House?

Home inspectors rarely provide well water testing. The previous owner is also not responsible for this. New owners are the ones responsible. To check the well water, a sample needs to be collected. Quick strip tests can provide results immediately. Lab tests take more time but are often more detailed. If there is a potential for water contamination, the lab test may provide additional information.

The steps for testing well water before buying a house involve the following:

  1. Take a sample of water
  2. Find a laboratory in your area
  3. State what the test should be for
  4. Send and mail the sample

A fast kit revolves around adding a testing strip in the water. These strips will read the pH scale of the water. When they change color, they will reveal whether the water is contaminated or not.

What Are the Sediment Filters for Well Water?

A sediment filter is a tool that traps and removes large particles from the well water. This includes rust, dust, dirt, and sand. Commonly, they are referred to as pre-filters, as they prepare the water to go into the carbon filter.

Sediment filters have the following attributes:

  1. Entity Size: Depending on the size of the sediments, sediment filters may also have different sizes. A 50-micron filter works well with regular sediments. Very fine sediments require 1-5 microns.
  2. Speed: Sediment water filters have adjustable speeds. The speed is chosen based on how much water the house needs. If more water is used at the same time, the filter requires a higher speed.
  3. Materials: Sediment water filters use ultra-strong materials to resist erosion. They are mostly made from materials such as brass, glass fiber, polypropylene, cellulose, polyester, cotton, ceramic, cord, or wound string. They use carbon filters as well, to keep the bacteria from ending up in the well.

If the main source of water for the household comes from a water well, then a well water filtration system is essential. City water is often already treated, but well water needs more attention. So, to increase the quality of the water, have a professional install a well sediment water filter.

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