A cut-away drawing of water below the surface
Ground water receives natural filtration as it passes through rock particles before entering the underground aquifers that supply water to deep (100-400-foot) wells. Image courtesy of University of Georgia Extension.

Heather N. Kolich, ANR Agent, UGA Extension Forsyth County

If you’re among the 1.7 million Georgians who rely on a private well for drinking water, inspecting your well and testing the water each year are as important as putting fresh batteries in your smoke detector. I’ve covered the importance of testing well water before (https://site.extension.uga.edu/forsyth/2022/12/heavy-rain-flooding-among-reasons-to-test-well-water/), so today, we’ll look into well care and maintenance.

Well water in Georgia is generally very safe for drinking, cooking, and household use. Certain conditions, however, can cause contamination of the water well. These include weather events, location of the well, how the well was constructed, age of the well, damage to the well or wellhead, exposure to chemicals, and backflow of water from the point of use back into the well.

A drawing of how a well is built through the layers of ground, water table, clay, to the gravel aquifer.
Deep wells that draw water from underground aquifers are less prone to contamination than shallow wells that fill from water near the surface. Image courtesy of Clemson University Extension.

Heavy rainfall and flooding can carry surface pollutants and pathogens into wells. Wells that are situated on low ground are more likely to become contaminated with pollutants and bacteria from being overtopped with standing rainwater, stormwater runoff, and rising flood waters than higher placed wells are. Ideally, the well site should be situated uphill from runoff that may contain pesticides, fertilizers, or other contaminants. In addition, the well should have the following distance buffer from specific sources of contamination, both below and above ground:

  • 10 feet from sewer lines
  • 50 feet from septic tank
  • 100 feet from
    • Septic system leach field
    • Animal kennels or animal housing enclosures
    • Pesticide and fertilizer storage and mixing areas
  • 150 feet from
    • Cesspool or seepage pit
    • Waste lagoon
    • Animal burial pit
  • 500 feet from petroleum tanks

Drilled wells are deeper (100-400 feet) and less prone to contamination than bored wells, which tend to be shallow (10-30 feet deep). The deeper wells draw from the aquifer, which provides natural filtration for water, whereas shallow wells rely on surface water. Older wells (more than 20 years) are also at higher risk of contamination.

Start the well inspection by checking the well head. The well casing, a plastic or steel pipe that runs the depth of the well, should extend 1-2 feet above ground level. The area around the casing should be protected by 4-inch-thick concrete curbing that extends out 2-feet in all directions and slopes away from the well casing. Cracks in the curbing – or a lack of curbing – increase the risk of well contamination. Next, inspect the well cap to be sure it is sealed with a tight-fitting, tamper-resistant, and vermin-proof, sanitary well cap. Airflow vents in the cap should be screened and facing downward. Inspect other above ground components for leaks, rust, and loose or worn wiring. Finally, remove weeds, shrubs, and trees within 10 feet of the well. Plant roots can cause problems with the well casing. If you see issues, contact a well service professional.

Backflow is when water drains back into the plumbing that brings water from the well. Devices such as a double check valve backflow preventer and atmospheric vacuum breaker installed between the well and irrigation system or outside faucets will help prevent backflow.

The UGA publication “Improving the Condition of Your Drinking Water Well” (https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1152-03&title=improving-the-condition-of-your-drinking-water-well ) has more information about well maintenance and a well condition assessment and scoring guide. See UGA Household Water Quality Publications (https://aesl.ces.uga.edu/publications/watercirc/) for more publications on water testing, quality, and improvement.

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