Groundwater exists in the pore spaces between soil or rock particles. When all the pore spaces are filled up and the soils and rocks are saturated, an aquifer is formed. It can be drawn out of the ground and used for drinking water by wells.
Groundwater contamination occurs when any man-made products such as gasoline, oil, road salts, and chemicals get into the groundwater and cause it to become unsafe and unfit for human use. Some of the major sources of these products are storage tanks, septic systems, hazardous waste sites, landfills, and the widespread use of road salts and chemicals. An important fact to remember is that water is part of a cycle, and that any chemical released into the air also has the potential to get into the groundwater.
WHAT IS A WELL?
A well is a hole drilled into an aquifer to draw or monitor water. A pipe and a pump are used to pull water out of the ground, and a screen filters out unwanted particles that could clog the pipe. Wells come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the type of material the well is drilled into and how much water is being pumped out. Well permits are available at the Environmental Health Office for new construction or replacement systems.
HOW DO I OBTAIN A WELL PERMIT?
There are some easy steps to acquiring a well for your property:
- Obtain an application and pay a fee for services.
- Arrange for a sanitarian to do a site visit.
- Sanitarian conducts an office "Pre-view"
- Site visit is conducted
- The permit is typically issued on site in well repair cases where the well permit is needed to replace an existing well. If a new well is needed; for a vacant parcel, the permit is issued from the office.
- Once the permit is issued, a well driller may then be contacted and the well can be drilled.
WELL DRILLER AND WELL OWNER RESPONSIBILITIES
After the well is drilled, the well contractor and the homeowner have some responsibilities.
Well Driller Responsibilities:
- Chlorinate (Sanitize) the well
- Advise the well owner of the sampling requirements
- Fill out and submit a water well record (well log) to the well owner, the local health department, and maintain a copy for his/her records.
- Construct the well system in accordance with state and local requirements.
Well Owner Responsibilities:
- Contact the health department and arrange for a final inspection of the water well and pressure tank
- Collect and submit a water sample to be tested for Coliform bacteria and partial chemical analysis (includes nitrate, nitrite, sulfate, hardness, fluoride, sodium, chloride, and iron) Water sample bottles are available at the health department.
Water sample bottles are available at the health department.
PLUGGING AN ABANDONED WELL
It is not uncommon for wells to quit functioning or fail to produce water after a certain period of time, and a replacement well needs to be constructed. If this happens the old well needs to be properly abandoned (plugged). Plugging of an abandoned well must be done in accordance with state and local requirements and performed ONLY by a licensed well driller. After the well is plugged, an abandoned well record is provided to the well owner and sent to the health department for review.
TESTING YOUR WATER
There are two main things to look for when testing water: the presence or absence of coliform bacteria, and the level of nitrate in the water.
Coliform bacteria are commonly found in soils, on vegetation, and in surface water, as well as in the intestines of mammals. Bacteria washed into the ground by rainfall or snowmelt are usually filtered out as water seeps through the soil. Properly constructed water wells do not typically harbor coliform bacteria and coliform bacteria do not occur naturally in Michigan aquifers. However, they can be introduced into a well during construction and can remain if the water system is not thoroughly disinfected.
A safe (non-detected) coliform bacteria sample is required for approval of any new wells drilled. However,
- sampling is recommended if: A sudden change occurs in your water’s taste, appearance, or odor.
- The water turns cloudy after a rainfall or the top of the well was flooded.
- You suspect your well has been contaminated by a septic or other potential source of contamination that is within 50 feet of a well.
- Family members are experiencing unexplained flu-like symptoms.
PROPER SAMPLING PROCEDURES
For a "Homeowners Guide to Water Sampling" brochure click here.
ELEVATED NITRATE LEVELS IN GROUNDWATER
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established a maximum contaminant level for nitrate (as nitrogen) at 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or 10 parts per million (ppm). If a well is generating nitrates above 10 mg/L, it is recommended that an alternate source of drinking water be developed, where possible, and bottled water be used for preparing infant formula. Private water supply owners with excessive nitrate should contact the Environmental Health offices for further consultation on reducing nitrate levels.
Although there are treatment devices, which can remove nitrate from drinking water, this equipment requires frequent, careful maintenance and sampling to operate effectively. Improperly installed, operated or maintained equipment can result in nitrate passing through the treatment process. If a satisfactory level of nitrates cannot be obtained from a new well and the use of a nitrate removal system is to be used, one with National Sanitation Foundation or equivalent certification should be selected. Boiling water will not remove nitrate and can concentrate it.
If nitrate contamination is known to the area, or a sample indicates nitrate levels approaching 10 mg/L, a minimum of annual sampling is recommended.
If you have further questions regarding water sampling, please contact the health department.
WHAT IS A PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY?
A public water supply is any water supply system serving drinking water to establishments other than a single-family residence.
IS YOUR WELL A TYPE II?
A Type II water supply is a non-community, or non-residential, public water supply system that provides its own water from a well to 25 or more persons at least 60 days of the year or has 15 or more connections for drinking water purposes. Examples of Type II’s are motels, factories, schools, restaurants, campgrounds, township parks, and businesses that have their own wells and serve 25 or more people (including employees) per day.
ARE YOU A TRANSIENT OR NON-TRANSIENT SUPPLY?
A Non-transient water supply is one that serves the same 25 or more persons on a regular basis (at least 4 hours a day, 4 days a week) for 6 months or more per year. Examples are schools, daycare centers, factories, offices, and other work sites.
A Transient water supply serves 25 or more different persons per day at least 60 days of the year and includes parks, campgrounds, churches, marinas, and motels/restaurants/medical offices with less than 25 employees.
Two substances for which monitoring standards have been set pose an immediate threat to health whenever the maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) are exceeded and are required of all Type II supplies, both transient and non-transient.. They are Coliform Bacteria and Nitrate.
For more information on non-community water supplies visit the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) website.
Sampling requirements can be confusing at times. The Barry-Eaton District Health Department has, in the past, tried to ease the confusion by creating a sampling calendar for every active Type II in the district. It is a one-time reminder for the year that is sent out in the beginning the year to remind facilities of their minimum annual sampling requirements.
SANITARY SURVEYS AS AN EVALUATION TOOL
Sanitary surveys are conducted once every five years by the Barry-Eaton District Health Department. The purpose of the survey is:
- To determine if your water supply system currently meets applicable state drinking water standards.
- To determine if your water supply system meets the minimum construction and operational standards specified in Act 399 and to require corrections where necessary.
- To establish the water quality monitoring frequencies necessary to achieve compliance with Act 399.
Well Disinfection Manual
Safe Drinking Water Act