There are more than 17,000 water wells in Newfoundland and Labrador, as identified and catalogued by the Department of Environment and Conservation. Their database covers wells drilled between 1950 and 2005. There are no doubt wells in use today that were drilled by families many years before that and more drilled in the years since. If you own a private well, it is your responsibility to ensure the quality of your drinking water. Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador, in partnership with Green Communities Canada, published a detailed booklet on how to protect, inspect and disinfect your well water. Here are some key points from that brochure to keep in mind for proper maintenance of your well.
What to look for
You should do a routine inspection of the well site and surrounding area several times a year, and especially after spring run-off or extended periods of heavy rain. Be aware of farming or industrial activities near your well site or uphill from it that may impact your water supply.
Inspect the well cap, annular seal and well casing. Fix or replace anything that is damaged to make sure surface contaminants don’t have a route into your well.
Ensure your well is fitted with a backflow prevention device, to protect it from contaminated plumbing liquid in the case of a backup.
Getting your water tested
It is recommended that your well water be tested for bacteria (a) three times a year – even if your water looks, smells and tastes fine; (b) after any major plumbing or construction work on your property or nearby; (c) after long periods of non-use; (d) if you notice significant changes in your water quality; and (e) if you or your family members experience health issues that you suspect are caused by your water supply.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, well owners can access free lab testing for bacteria through their local Government Services Centre. Similar lab services are available across Canada; check with your province’s department of environment for well water testing in your area.
Basically, you get a kit from the government, collect a water sample and submit it for testing. The lab will look for total coliform (a high count indicates a water quality problem) and E.coli bacteria.
In addition to regular bacteria testing, it is recommended that you test your well for harmful metals, minerals and chemicals every two years. This test should be done sooner if you (a) smell chemicals or gasoline in your water or through the pipes; (b) see a thin film of oil in your water; (c) know of pesticide use within 30 metres of your well; (d) think your car or oil tank is leaking; (e) or you suspect any other chemical leak near your well. Chemical tests are done at private labs for a fee. These labs operate across the country; contact your provincial environment department for information.
How to disinfect your water supply
If your test results indicate a bacterial problem with your water supply, disinfection is done by “shocking” your well. Shocking involves adding bleach to the well and cleaning all filters. It is a temporary solution to a one-time bacterial contamination – it will not solve an ongoing bacteria or pollution problem – so it is not recommended to repeat this procedure often. It is also a chemical balancing act that requires knowledge and skill. Well owners should consult with a local Government Services Centre or a professional well-drilling company before attempting this procedure. After the water has been disinfected, do not drink the water until at least three tests, each taken one week apart, come back bacteria-free.