If you live within a town or city, your water likely comes from a public water system. But 2.6 million Michigan residents rely on private wells for their water, which isn’t regulated and in many cases isn’t regularly tested for safe human consumption. Of particular concern in Upper Michigan is E. coli bacteria in well water.
The best way to protect your health and the health of your family is to know how your well water gets contaminated, and what it’s contaminated with. Let’s start with how water gets contaminated.
There are two ways well water can get polluted: human activity, and natural processes. Common sources of human contaminants include herbicides and pesticides, agricultural runoff, chemicals used in mining operations, septic tanks, underground storage tanks, landfills, road salt, and businesses such as gas stations or dry cleaners.
Meanwhile, naturally occurring contamination comes from snow melt, minerals and heavy metals, bacteria and viruses, and sometimes nitrates and nitrites, although these are more often caused by human activity.
These two categories of pollution may seem separate and distinct, but there’s quite a lot of overlap. For example, E. coli bacteria in wells, usually from septic tanks or agricultural activity, finds its way into the water supply by melting snow or rainstorms. On the flip side, activities like mining can break open rock formations, allowing minerals and heavy metals into the water.
So what does this mean for you?
- E. coli bacteria counts in well water tend to be higher in the spring due to melting snow and warmer temperatures.
- Depending on your location, mining operations and agricultural fields could contribute to water contamination in your well. Keep in mind that underground aquifers can be quite large, so you don’t have to live right next door to these operations for them to impact your water.
- Heavy metals, nitrates, and nitrites negatively impact the growth and development of children. If there are pregnant women or young children in your home, make sure your water doesn’t contain high levels of these substances.
The EPA recommends that private well owners test their water annually to ensure safety and quality. If you replace a part of your well system, notice a change in water taste or color, or conditions near your well have changed (such as construction, flooding, etc.) you should have testing done immediately.
How Does Water Testing Work?
Water testing is usually done right at the tap. This ensures that in addition to the well itself, any contamination from the pipes is also accounted for. A standard test includes testing for total coliform including E-coli bacteria, nitrates, and nitrites. These are the most requested tests, and for good reason. The presence of coliform bacteria in the water supply indicates the water is contaminated and drinking this water may cause illness. Nitrates and nitrites are another concern. They reduce the ability of your blood to carry oxygen, which is especially dangerous for young babies.
Other contaminants such as lead, copper, fluoride, arsenic, etc. are also of concern. If you would like to have a full panel of testing performed, we also offer that option. Although this option is more costly, it’s definitely worth it to ensure your water supply is safe to drink.