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Well Water Basics: Source, History & Common Contaminants

Scott Winfield
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by Scott Winfield

Wells are a natural reserve that serve as the primary source of water in most homes. They require knowledge on how to preserve and keep the system producing clean, drinkable water.

What is Well Water?

Well water is natural water that comes from underground. The water is accessed and distributed via a well system.

What is Well Water
What is Well Water?

The water in a well is accessed by way of drilling or diving. Drilling breaks into different layers of land, including soft gravel and soil to access groundwater.

A pump and other plumbing components are then used to draw water from underground up to the surface.

The History of Wells

Water wells date back thousands of years and were first made by hand. Builders would dig into the earth, then line the new well with stones.

The oldest existing well is located in Israel. It is estimated this well was created between 7500-and 8100.

However, India, China, and Europe also hand-dug wells using stones and logs.

The stones were used to create stairs inside the well. People also used logs to line wells, and the stairs helped them access groundwater.

Wells first appeared in regions where farming was prevalent. However, by the turn of the 18th century, machine drilling was developed, making it easier and faster to dig wells.

The drills were made of wood, and later, machines would be developed and powered by steam. Next, the 19th century would bring the creation of the roller drill bit, which paved way for the advancement of drilling technology by the 20th century to what we know today.

The Different Types of Water Wells

There are three types of water wells:

Drilled Wells

Drilled wells are created by a rotary drilling machine. They are the deepest type of well, measuring thousands of feet in depth.

They also don’t have a low risk of becoming polluted because of their casing and level of depth.

Dug Wells

Dug wells are made from holes dug in the ground with a backhoe or shovel. They are upheld with a tile, stone, or brick lining.

This well usually measured 30 or 50 feet depth with a big diameter.

Driven Wells

Driven wells are made by pipes pushed into the dirt. Therefore, they are very shallow. Because of this, these wells can get polluted very quickly.

This type of well traces water from aquifers and is typically between 30 and 50 ft deep.

The Advantages & Disadvantages of Well Water

There are several benefits and some disadvantages of well water. A sound system can be an excellent supplement if you live in an area where city water is not accessible.

It’s also ideal if you prefer to have your water system. Even though it’s great to have as you don’t have to worry about your water supply, serious disadvantages come with the territory.

Advantages

  • Wells last between 30 and 50 years
  • Well systems are cost-effective
  • They are the best way to get water in dry areas and regions
  • Water supply will never be a concern

Disadvantages

  • You have to worry about scale buildup
  • The water could have a bad taste
  • It can require a lot of maintenance
  • You risk the consumption of various bacteria and microorganisms 

Having a well water system means you have a much greater chance of coming into contact with contaminated water. In addition, constantly having minerals running through your system means being negatively impacted on a potentially constant basis.

Well water runs through the home, and if it contains lots of harmful minerals, it will quickly cause hard buildup. In addition, well water systems can cause hard water, which can latch onto several areas and objects within your home.

This could turn into a costly issue because hard water can cause damage to pipes and objects like appliances, etc. In addition, it’s very challenging to remove buildup from hard water, and it cannot be easy to keep it away.

Despite this, well systems can provide longevity and save you money in the long run so long as you have the right filtration system for the well.

What Does a Well Look Like?

Water wells are constructed underground with only a tiny portion of it exposed. This particular part is an opening consisting of a top or lid for access to the water.

However, beneath are the rest of the parts of the system. For example, an illustration of a well water system shows a very tall system that runs vertically and consists of several parts.

Each of these parts serves a particular purpose. For example, they keep the well from collapsing and also assist in protecting wiring & other components while keeping germs out. 

How Wells are Made

There are several components to a well that helps it to work. The part exposed above ground is only a tiny part of the entire construct.

Underground are several parts that allow the well system to function.

Casing

The casing helps the water from the aquifer go through a pump in the casing. The best thing about cases in wells today is that casings are made from PVC, preventing rust.

Pump

The pump is vital since it helps keep water pumping and circulating through the well’s system.

Pumps are made from polyethylene piping that helps move the water in and throughout a home.

Additional components

Wells also has several other parts that help to keep it functioning correctly. These parts act as protection and help with filtration.

Pressure grout is applied to the well wall and used to help block out to keep out foreign substances that could taint the water.

At the very bottom of the casing are sand and stainless steel screens. This helps give added filtration in the casing for groundwater that enters.

Where Does Well Water Come From?

Well water comes straight from underground. It is untreated, meaning it is not yet filtered or rid of harmful minerals and bacteria. 

This isn’t to say that groundwater isn’t drinkable, but it does need to go through an extensive cleansing process to ensure it is.

In general, well water is just rainwater that has made its way underground, so there are boundless amounts of harmful particles that need to be chemically destroyed.

The Most Common Well Water Contaminants 

Private well water isn’t monitored like public water. Therefore, well owners must treat their water.

Otherwise, you run the risk of contaminants polluting the water. Unfortunately, several pollutants can taint well water.

According to the EPA, six common contaminants can pollute well water. Organic chemicals, fluoride, heavy metals, microbiological, radionuclides, and nitrates.

Radionuclides

Radionuclides
Radionuclides

Radionuclides are natural and are present in numerous places( our DNA, the sun, food, etc.)

Radionuclides become dangerous when waste particles from nuclear power plants seep into the ground and contaminate groundwater. If exposure is brief or for long periods, it can lead to cancer.

Fluoride

FluorideFluoride
Fluoride

Fluoride is a natural element known to help the teeth and can be found in food, dental products, and certain industrial operations. Generally, fluoride is safe to use but only when the levels aren’t high.

If levels are very high, it can lead to damaging consequences. According to the EPA, the safe level for consumption is 4.0mg/L for drinking water. 

Depending on the region you live in, fluoride levels in water can become excessive. High fluoride levels can cause skeletal Fluorosis.

Skeletal Fluorosis is a bone disease that damages bones and teeth. The teeth will become affected first and characterized by stains and pitted.

In moderate cases, it affects the bones by causing pain and stiff joints. If the disease is severe, it can cause calcification in the ligaments and impairs muscles.

Nitrates

Nitrates
Nitrates

Nitrates are compounds found in fertilizers, industrial activities, animal & human waste, and sewage. Consuming nitrates can lead to severe illness.

If the water contains excessive levels of nitrate, you can develop methemoglobinemia. This condition is also known as baby blue disease, and it slows down the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen.

There is an MCL, or maximum contaminant level of nitrate that can be present in well water, which is 10mg/L. These levels aren’t harmful if present; however, anything above this is deemed unsafe. 

Those at most risk for developing methemoglobinemia from high nitrate levels are the elderly, pregnant women, and developing babies—who also have weak immune systems and battle chronic blood, heart, or lung conditions. 

Heavy Metals

Heavy Metals
Heavy Metals

Heavy metals in excess can cause damage to the intestines, kidneys, and the liver. Exposure occurs when plumbing lines corrode or if the home’s well systems are outdated.

These metals include chromium, copper, arsenic, lead, and more.

Is it Okay to Drink Water From Wells?

You can drink water from a well as long as it’s safe and healthy. Take precautions before consuming it to make sure it’s safe.

Well, water needs to consistently be treated and tested to avoid potential contaminants and pollutants. If it’s of good quality, you can use it for daily living such as bathing, drinking, cooking, etc.

However, contaminants aren’t the only issues to look out for with well water. Minerals can also pose a severe problem if they are present excessively.

High levels of minerals can affect how well water looks, tastes, and smells. Iron, for instance, can cause rust to develop on dishes, laundry, and inside the house when it is highly concentrated in well water.

Another mineral that can affect well water is hydrogen sulfide or sulfur. You will know it’s present due to a rotten egg odor in the water.  

Sulfur luckily doesn’t cause detrimental health problems, but it can cause diarrhea and dehydration.

The Side Effects of Well Water

Several other health problems can come about due to drinking well water that is not adequately treated and maintained.

Heavy Metals

Heavy Metals
Heavy Metals

If highly concentrated levels of heavy metals are present in well water, this can cause cancer, anemia, kidney damage, and damage to the liver and intestines.

These illnesses would be a result of chronic toxicity.  

Coliform Bacteria

Coliform Bacteria
Coliform Bacteria

Coliform bacteria isn’t one single bacteria but multiple kinds of bacteria grouped. They can be found in various places, including plants, surface water, and soil.

Coliform bacteria can make their way into well water after it rains and it’s washed into the groundwater system. While these microorganisms don’t cause severe health issues, coliform can contain the bacteria E. coli.

E. coli causes problems within the gastrointestinal tract.

Arsenic

Arsenic in Water
Arsenic

Arsenic is a carcinogen which means it can cause cancer. It’s hazardous and can lead to terrible health problems.

There are acceptable levels of arsenic that can exist in well water. However, if they are at dangerously high levels, you will know it.

You will experience dizziness, fast heart rate, weight loss, cancer, damage to blood vessels, diarrhea, and more.

It’s important to note that the safe level of arsenic in well water is ten micrograms per liter.

How to Maintain a Well

It’s vital to take care of your well water if you’re an owner of one. In addition, preventative steps help to avoid any health or other problems.

Maintaining well water is not something you can do relaxingly. Being proactive and consistent with keeping it clean is imperative.

It’s also essential that you don’t take the self-service route. Get professionals to do the servicing instead.

Cleaning a well with special treatments and servicing them can be intricate. You always run the risk of accidentally introducing new bacteria or organisms into the water if you do it yourself.

It’s also vital to get your well water tested for cleanliness but before that, you need to have the well system checked. Unfortunately, it’s common for owners to check the water without ensuring the well system is clean first.

Checking your well system involves coliform, anaerobic bacteria, and other tests to check debris accumulation levels. The main signs that you need your system checked are strange smells or tastes or if you’re experiencing below-level water flow.

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Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
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