Well Water Testing - Private Drinking Water Systems - KYH2O Drinking Water Treatment Advice

Well Water Testing - Private Drinking Water Systems - KYH2O Drinking Water Treatment Advice
Private drinking water wells are not regulated or routinely monitored by any authority. It is up to the owner to test and maintain these drinking water systems. Different areas in which the well is placed and how it is installed affect the quality of the drinking water system present. Know Your H2O provides expert guidance regarding the minimum testing requirements for owners and maintainers of these systems.

Well water, or individual private water wells, supply drinking water to over 43 million people or about 15 % of the United States Population (Source: USGS).  Private drinking water wells, well water, or private water systems are sources that are normally not regulated or routinely monitored. This means that no formal water monitoring or testing programs, by the owner or any third-party regulatory agency or local government are required by most local or state laws. In many states, these private drinking water systems and private well water systems require very little permitting or initial water testing or assessments. In most cases the work on private well water systems may be conducted by the homeowner who is typically an unlicensed person or contractor, or a licensed contractor that has not been properly trained in well maintenance needs.  

Private water systems and individual private water wells are the most common type of water system in the United States. To be honest, it is up to the owner of a private water systems to make sure the source, i.e., groundwater,  has been properly located, the water well, spring house, cistern, or drilled well has been properly constructed, well water or drinking water adequately tested, and the drinking water has been properly treated to meet primary and secondary drinking water standards. After the private well owner has met this obligation, this person is also responsible for the long-term monitoring and maintenance of the system which should include at least an annual assessment and an annual retesting of the raw water and treated drinking water quality. With respect to drinking water treatment for private water systems, water wells, and private drinking water wells, it is not a requirement in many states to hire a licensed professional to size, install, maintain and monitor the performance of the drinking water treatment systems, but we do recommend using a water treatment professional.

The most common water quality issues with private drinking water wells, well water, groundwater and private water systems are typically associated with where the source is located and how the water well or other source was constructed, historic and current  land-use, and the local geology. The first steps to determining the potential problem with a water well, private well water, or groundwater source is to get a Neighborhood Hazard Report and to get the well water tested by an informational or certified water testing laboratory, and the system should be inspected by a licensed professional. This is the only way to help ensure a healthy and safe drinking water source for your home and family that relies on well water, drilled well, private water system, or spring.

Water Well/ Groundwater/ Spring / Source Construction

We have updated our education guide to provide more information on water well construction and we have added a new drinking water diagnostic tool to help select the best drinking water sampling and testing kit for your well water, drilled well, spring, irrigation system, or private water system. It has been our experience that most problems with drinking water using an on-site private well, drilled wells, or spring is related to a number of factors with the two of the most important factors being proper water well system placement and proper water well or spring house construction. From our experience, the most common contaminants associated with using groundwater or spring water are Total Coliform Bacteria, E. coli., Nuisance Bacteria, high hardness, Corrosive Water, Iron, Manganese, turbidity, and occasionally arsenic, surface water indicators (worms, algae, diatoms, Giardia, Cryptosporidium) and occasionally radiological and organic contaminants. One of the biggest weaknesses for a private drilled well or water well is the lack of a security sanitary well cap, lack of a Well Seal, and placement of the well of the water well in an area that is not inundated, flooded, ponds, or adversely influenced by surface water. Typically, the first attempt at dealing with a well construction problem or a bacterial detection in the well water is to shock disinfect the well. When shock disinfecting a water well, we recommend the well owner use an NSF approved product called Well Safe and use the protocol outlined in our booklet or on this webportal (“How to Shock Disinfect a Well”). If there is no drilling log for the borehole, it may be necessary to camera survey the well.

The third factor that affects individual private wells, water wells, spring water, or drilled wells is based on the local groundwater quality and historic land-use for the regional and recharge zone and the aquifer that connected to the water well. In our article “Location, Location, the Water”, we point out that the location of the drinking water source and surrounding current and historic land-use can adversely influence and affect drinking water quality, which is one reason we recommend the Neighborhood Hazard Report. If the well is located in a rural forest area that is serviced by septic systems, the local groundwater is vulnerable to adverse impacts from human activities. If the source is located within an agricultural area, the groundwater is vulnerable to nutrient and salt contamination (nitrate, chloride, total dissolved solids), biosolids (pathogens/ organics / forever chemicals), plus exposure to herbicides and pesticides. For a private water source in an industrial / commercial area the source may be more susceptible to contamination from volatile organic carbons, forever chemicals, and other man-made contaminants.

If a poorly constructed water well, drilled well, or spring that permits surface water, such as a stream, river, pond, lake, wetland, or shallow groundwater to short-circuit the normally long-period of time it takes to recharge the deeper local or regional groundwater aquifer. In some cases, a poorly sited or constructed well is vulnerable to contaminant events that are episodic, such as major recharge events, snow melts, or excavation/blasting. For episodic events, this is more typically associated with nuisance issues that may result in violating a Secondary Drinking Water Standard or events where the well water appears dirty, contains sediment, damages household appliances and plumbing to situations where the user is exposed to a Bacterial contaminant that could make them sick. Long-term exposure to these types of incidents can cause the premature failure of the pump/motor and decrease the efficiency of water related appliances. Issues with improper well placement and construction have been associated with many examples of private well owners having significant water quality and health related problems with their drinking water, see Blog Post on Worms in Well Water and exposure to Waterborne Pathogens.


The local geology including the current geological siting and the historic geological conditions play a role or influence on the groundwater quality and the yield of your drilled well, private water well, or spring. If you are located in an area with high levels of indoor airborne radon or the local bedrock includes igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary rock derived from igneous/metamorphic rock containing naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).  A very good screening test for natural background or man-made radiation would be to check the well water for gross alpha and beta particles. For rather old limestone/ dolomite formations that formed downgradient of weathering igneous/metamorphic rock, it is possible that your groundwater source may have elevated levels of radionuclides, such as uranium, thorium, radium, radon, strontium, and potassium. In other cases, a well water may be vulnerable to man made radiological exposure, such as other man-made radiology compounds would include cesium.

If you are in younger limestone rich areas, you may have elevated levels of carbonates, bicarbonates, sulfates, calcium, hardness, magnesium, mineral scale formation, and a high pH and total dissolved solids, which would require a different approach to well water or drinking water testing. For areas with shale deposits and natural gas development, you may experience sulfur odors, sulfate, high metal content (iron, manganese, and arsenic), corrosive or acidic water, methane, volatile and semi-volatile organic contaminants, and forever chemicals. For areas with sedimentary bedrock high in silica, you may experience corrosive water, low pH, and localized corrosion. These are some of the reasons, a one size fits all testing approach can be applied to drinking water health and safety.

Our Recommendations:

1. At MINIMUM - KYH2O recommends all homeowners obtain a Lite Well Water Information Test on a Yearly basis. Test test we recommend for yearly testing is:

WaterCheck(™) Lite for Well or Private Spring Water Test Kit

With this yearly test - you will place your order, receive a mail-order pack with instructions, and you mail back your water samples to the laboratory for testing and results. During the purchase you may add a professional consultation with our water professionals who will also be able to provide additional testing and/or treatment possibilities. You may find with a first yearly test, that additional testing is required and that yearly testing may be necessary at a higher level due to location or environmental factors that exist regularly or seasonally in your area.

2. If you are concerned about general water quality and have concerns related to bacteria, discolored water, corrosion, or common aesthetic problems that create staining, precipitates and coatings, or cause the water to have a salty taste. Or - if one of these problems has been present in a past yearly test, we recommend a slightly higher level of testing: 

For those who live to the East of the Mississippi River -

This Basic Well Water Test with Total Coliform / E. Coli is recommended.


For those West of the Mississippi River: 

This Basic Well Water Test with Total Coliform / E. Coli is recommended.

3. If you are concerned about the above, plus you are also concerned about petroleum-based products or have a problem where the water creates an oil film and or chemical taste or odor an even more comprehensive testing is recommended: 

Standard Well Water or Drinking Water Testing - For those West of the Mississippi River.


Standard Well Water Test with Total Coliform / E.Coli - for those East of the Mississippi River.


4. If you are concerned about the above, plus industrial chemicals like PCBs and herbicides and pesticides, then Deluxe testing is recommended:

Deluxe Well Water or Drinking Water Testing for those West of the Mississippi River.


Deluxe Well Water Testing for those East of the Mississippi River.

5. If you are concerned about the above, plus forever chemicals and radiological contamination of the water.

Ultra Well Water Testing Kit with Bacteria is recommended for all well owners.

For those who are in “hydrofracking” / shale gas development areas:

Special considerations are needed if you are in a region undergoing shale (Conventional or unconventional) gas development. We are recommending you consider the following certified (Level 4) testing packages:

Testing Package # 1 This package is recommended as a screening for post-gas development or screening for wells that are not along a major roadway or areas that have not been leased. Chloride, sodium, bromide, barium, pH, total dissolved solids, conductivity, surfactants (MBAS), iron, manganese, aluminum, strontium, and methane/ ethane/propane. This package may be adequate for pipeline concerns, but we would recommend adding VOC’s testing if the testing is being done because of a proposed natural gas drilling pad or compression station.

Testing Package # 2 This is the pre-drilling package recommended by the PADEP in November 2010, but the Keystone Clean Water Team added a number of additional parameters of more recent concern.  Includes everything in Package #1- plus total hardness, magnesium, calcium, zinc, alkalinity, arsenic, nitrate, total suspended solids, sulfate, oil & grease, 21-VOCs/MTBE, and radon in water.

Testing Package # 3  This package includes everything in both Package #1 and Package #2 - plus potassium, sulfide, selenium, lithium, ammonia, acidity, nickel, gross alpha/Beta, lead, glycols, phenols, pfoa/pfos, and uranium.

The Know Your H2O team is constantly striving to provide the BEST levels of testing for the specific needs existing in a situation or area. Our shop website provides tools that allow you to search by any specific parameter desired for testing and will provide both the tests available as well as recommendations for which test is best based on your location. 

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