By A. K. (Sandy) Amy —
You’ve had your well water tested, and have received a report from your water testing service provider or laboratory. The report shows that one or more of the parameters tested for does not meet the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines. What do you do now?
There are as many answers as there are possible problems with well water. These could range from something as simple as installing an inexpensive filter system, to having to drill a new well. In some cases, where a serious health hazard exists, the use of bottled water for drinking and cooking is the easiest and least costly solution. There are also many different kinds of water treatment devices now on the market that effectively remove various contaminants. Prices for them (including installation) can run from a few hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars. Due to space limitations, only some of the more common problems and their possible solutions will be discussed here.
Bacterial contamination: If your well has been shown to contain Coliform or E. Coli bacteria (or many other possible bacterial cultures), often the simplest resolution is to chlorine treat or “shock” the well. This is a process where chlorine (usually in the form of household bleach) is added to the well and piping system, allowed sufficient time to kill resident bacteria, and then flushed out, allowing uncontaminated water to refill the well. After a 48-hour wait period once the procedure is complete, the water should be retested. Two consecutive “safe” tests, performed on samples obtained over a period of one to three weeks, will probably indicate that the treatment has been effective. If the “shock” treatment solves the problem, repeat bacteriological testing in three to four months. If the above steps do not alleviate the problem, it is recommended that the source of the ongoing contamination be determined and corrected, possibly with professional help. If remediation is not possible, a permanent alternative solution, such as a new well or a drinking water disinfection device, should be considered. Disinfection devices could include systems such as distillation, ultraviolet light, chlorination, ozonation, and ceramic candle filtration.
Heavy metals, pesticides, and Nitrates: Reverse osmosis systems will remove heavy metals and Nitrates, and are often used in conjunction with activated carbon filtration. However, these should not be used with microbiologically unsafe waters or water of unknown microbiological quality. Distillation systems remove heavy metals and nitrates. Ozonation systems remove organic compounds, including pesticides. These last two systems are often used in conjunction with activated carbon filtration.
Hardness, colour, odour and taste: These aesthetic parameters of well water can come from many sources. Hardness is usually a result of excess mineralization, especially calcium. This is usually remedied by installation of a water softener. Iron and manganese can also be removed with a softener, provided the water is not too hard. However, people on sodium-restricted diets should consult their physician before drinking artificially softened water. Iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg smell) can also be removed by chlorination-filtration, greensand-filtration, aeration-filtration, and distillation systems.
There are many local businesses that can help you with the selection and installation of the water treatment system that is right for you. Consideration must be taken as to the kind of contamination, the severity of the situation, the intended use of the water, and the amount of water being consumed. In order to select the best treatment method, a full testing of the suite of chemicals, minerals, and bacteria should be conducted prior to the purchase of a device.
A. K. (Sandy) Amy has over 40 years of laboratory experience in analytical chemistry and trace analysis. As the proprietor of Safe Well Water Consulting, he provides well water quality, well performance testing, and water treatment consulting services to private well owners in the South Cariboo region.