One in seven Americans get their drinking water from private wells. While Federal and state governments set legal limits for contaminants in public water systems, those laws don’t cover private wells. Rather, private well owners are responsible for the safety of their water. No federal or state requirements exist for well owners to test their water. However, private wells must be tested for possible harmful contaminants.
At a minimum, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends bacteria and nitrate testing be performed at least once per year. Nitrates pose a threat to infants and pregnant or nursing mothers, while the presence of bacteria indicates a pathway for disease-causing bacteria to enter the well. You may also want to have your well water tested if you notice any changes in color, taste, odor, hardness, corrosion, sediment, etc. Water can also be tested for naturally occurring contaminants like arsenic, fluoride, and radium. The Minnesota Department of Health recommends testing for coliform bacteria, nitrate, arsenic, lead, and manganese on a scheduled basis.
Nearly all Iowa counties participate in the Grants-to-Counties Well Program to assist families with well water testing. The Grants-to-Counties program can provide free or cost-sharing for water sampling and analysis to qualifying private drinking water systems. To find out if your county participates in the Grants-to-County Well Program or to arrange sampling of your water system, please refer to the list of County Environmental Health Sanitarians supplied by the Iowa DNR and contact the Sanitarian’s office in the county where the well is located. Minnesota also has help for private well owners through grants or loans. The grant programs may also assist with the cost of filling abandoned wells. Old wells pose a safety hazard and a hazard to groundwater contamination. Most state laws require old abandoned wells to be properly filled to eliminate any hazards.
Iowa residents can get more information from the Iowa DNR to learn how to sample and test well water. Minnesota residents can get more information from the Minnesota Department of Health. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an all-states listing of contacts for certified laboratories for water testing.
You don’t know what’s in your water until you test. Get it on your calendar for testing annually or more often, if needed. In the meantime, be aware of potential sources of contamination near your well–livestock, septic tanks, fuel or chemical spills, or anything unusual about your well or the water from it.
- Using Private Wells: A Drinking Water Safety Guide. Environmental Working Group (EWG)
- Private Well Testing. Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
- State Certification Programs Certify Laboratories to Conduct Drinking Water Analysis, 40 CFT142.10(b)13. Environmental Protection Agency
- Water Quality/Well Testing/Well Disinfection. Minnesota Department of Health
- Well Testing, Results, and Options. Minnesota Department of Health
- Grants and Loans for Home Water Treatment and Well Construction, Repair, and Sealing. Minnesota Department of Health