About 15% of the U.S. population draws their drinking water from private wells. These private wells aren’t regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and as such it is the responsibility of homeowners to protect and maintain their water supplies. And a large part of this maintenance involves water treatment.
Groundwater always contains some dissolved minerals and naturally-occurring microorganisms. Most microbes found in water are harmless, and, in fact, many are beneficial. But some are pathogenic. These pathogens can enter the water supply from septic tank overflow, floods, or contaminated runoff from pastures, feedlots, and woodlands.
There are many different treatment options for well water. While none can protect you from contaminants completely, these treatments can remove specific contaminants, improve the taste of your drinking water, and help safeguard your family if someone has a compromised immune system.
General Treatment Systems
The two general types of treatment systems are point-of-use (POU) and point-of-entry (POE).
Point-of-use systems treat water in batches before they deliver it to a tap in the house; they include water pitchers, faucet filters, and reverse osmosis systems.
Point-of-entry systems, also called whole-house systems, are usually installed near the water meter or pressurized storage tank and treat the majority of the water entering the house. They include water softeners, UV microbiological systems, or whole-house filters to manage chlorine, particulates, taste, and odor.
Filtration systems are devices that use a physical barrier, or a chemical or biological process to remove impurities. These systems can treat bacteria, viruses, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium.
A water softener is a device that reduces the hardness of water. This is accomplished by using sodium or potassium ions to replace magnesium and calcium ions, which are the minerals that cause water hardness.
Water softeners collect water-hardening minerals in a conditioning tank and then periodically flush these away. These devices last for many years, but require occasional maintenance such as being filled with salt.
This is a chemical or physical process which deactivates or kills pathogenic microorganisms. Chemical disinfectants include chlorine, chlorine dioxide, and ozone; examples of physical disinfectants include UV light, electronic radiation, and heat.
Sodium hypochlorite (or chlorine bleach) and calcium hypochlorite (which is chlorinated swimming pool disinfectant), are the most commonly used disinfectants.
Distillation systems boil impure water, which produces steam; the steam is then collected and condensed and the solid contaminants remain. This method removes heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, as well as hardening agents such as calcium and phosphorous.
Distillation processes, however, don’t remove chlorine, chlorine byproducts, or Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs).
*Photo Credit: Dirklaudio on Flickr