How to Protect Well Water from Contamination

well water contamination

Private water wells are prized commodities. They are sources of free water for communities, residential properties or agricultural needs all around the world.

They can occur naturally and bubble outward from beneath the surface. But the majority of wells are dug down to the groundwater source.

We all have an old-fashioned image of wells with a bricked cylinder, tiny roof, and bucket attached to a crank for manual extraction. Some of those do still exist, and are not very efficient for large quantities of water use.

With better water pump technology and equipment, the well water can be directly pumped into households, barns or irrigation systems. To understand more about wells, groundwater aquifers need to be explained.

What Are Groundwater Aquifers?

All groundwater originates in aquifers. An aquifer is an enclosed underground cavity that can be filled with water.

As above ground water seeps into the soil surface it becomes saturated. That saturated ground can only hold a finite amount of water until it percolates downward. As it fills with more and more water, it becomes stabilized into something called a water table.

The water table enters equilibrium within the below-ground pressure and atmospheric pressure. It keeps the water in balance, almost like the flat surface of a tabletop.

Water accumulates and rises in the aquifer and is typically contained by porous rock, clay and bedrock.  Within the natural construction of aquifers, water can filter through the geological layers. This process can purify the water over time.

The hydrology of the area maintains the water content within the aquifer.  When water moves within the water cycle, any precipitation or runoff into surface water could end up in the ground. The only method of water removal from the aquifer is from water extraction through pumps or wells.

Well Water Contamination Risks

Pesticides, heavy metals, microplastics, miscellaneous wastes, chemicals, inorganics or sewage are general categories that can travel in air, soil or water.

Pollution comes from many sources.

If a pollutant completely identified by a direct source, it is point source pollution.

Alternatively, if an impurity cannot be traced to a certain location, it is nonpoint source pollution.

Any and all water pollution can leach into groundwater, aquifers and well water. Some pollutants can have noticeable smells, tastes and colors visible in the water, while others are undetectable except by laboratory testing.

Another risk to groundwater can be microorganisms, parasites or bacteria. Although many can be filtered out during aquifer recharge within the geological strata, some can linger within an aquifer. These cause health risks to animals and livestock and are not easily treated without knowing the culprit.

A secondary risk for well water extraction is land subsidence. When too much water is removed from an aquifer without adequate refill, the underground carven can shift, become displaced and capsize. This leads to sinkholes. The danger of sinkholes is severe and not predictable.

How to Prevent Well Water Contamination

When a well is discovered and considered usable, there are many things a landowner can do to ensure better water quality for future use.

Consider an aerial photograph of your land and 10 miles of surrounding land. Getting a lay of the land will help you narrow down concerns for potential environmental issues.  Are there large farms nearby, power plants, industrial areas or urban centers close to your residence?

Getting an understanding of land use or land use type really help you understand many risks previously mentioned.

Consider geological mapping of your aquifer. An aquifer size, depth and shape can be estimated through LIDAR and Remote Sensing techniques.

This can inform the land owner about who else is potentially sharing the aquifer and which other land uses are surrounding your land. Some technology can even help with estimating the amount of water contained.

Update the pumping mechanism. Most well pumps now have screens for extra protection against silt, sand and larger debris. Regular maintenance can help alleviate the pump’s exertion while operating under clogged conditions.

Conduct regular water quality tests. Either hire reliable testing companies that complete water quality tests or purchase do-it yourself water test kits as an inexpensive method of identifying potential issues with your well water.

Water test kits for well water should measure for heavy metals, pesticides, bacteria, and organic/inorganic pollutants.  If a testing center cannot complete a specific category, find another location.

For most private wells, they are not maintained under any federal water protection standards. They may be interested in obtaining water quality data if you offer and would let you know the results.

Install filtration devices on all sinks and plumbing that come into contact with humans, animals and livestock. These devices offer a secondary protection against many chemicals that may be in well water.

Drinking water contamination is a serious matter.  It is recommended that contaminated drinking water be discontinued from potable use until deemed safe.

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About the Author:

Natalie Abram
Natalie is new to freelancing, but has worked as an aquatic content editor for the past 7 years. She teaches biology online at multiple schools. Her background and Master’s education is in Biology, Aquatic Ecology and Education.


  1. Taylor Bishop July 13, 2017 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    I never considered to get a geological mapping of the aquifer to see who else is sharing it. It’s possible doing this will help you understand the layout of the land and how the system is working. Definitely seems like a good first step to prevent contamination.

  2. Derek Dewitt January 28, 2019 at 2:17 pm - Reply

    I want to dig a well this spring. I like your point about using Remote Sensing techniques to size your aquifer. I’ll be sure to do this so I know it can handle the volume of water.

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