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Private well water

Safe drinking water is often taken for granted but when our confidence waivers, fear about unsafe drinking water becomes the center of our attention.

Thankfully, most private wells in North Carolina provide safe, clean drinking water.

Unlike tap water sourced from a public utility, well water is not regulated by the Safe Water Drinking Act, which allows the EPA to set national standards for good drinking water. It’s important for people who have a private well to test water regularly.

Recommended schedule for testing by the NC Department of health and human services:

Every Year – Test for total fecal and coliform bacteria.

Every Two Years – Test for heavy metals, nitrates, nitrites, lead, copper and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Every Five Years – Test for pesticides. If you know of a particular pesticide that is applied in your area, test yearly.

All private wells are tested when they are installed, but routine testing is important because changes in the surrounding environment, even miles away can alter what’s in the ground water. Ground water contaminants come from natural sources and processes, such as eroding mineral deposits and groundwater flow changes, as well as human and animal sources including construction and agricultural activity.

Bacteria in the water

There are a few factors that may influence the drinkability of well water.

First, the EPA has set recommendations for where a well should be placed.

Wells should always be:

  1. 50 feet away from septic tanks, livestock yards, silos septic, and leach fields

  2. 100 feet away from petroleum tanks, liquid-tight manure storage, and pesticide and fertilizer storage

  3. 250 feet away from manure stacks

Other factors to watch for include how long ago the well was installed and if the well is maintained regularly. Even in properly spaced wells there can still be bacteria present. Bacteria in the water can be a serious health hazard. The best way to ensure your well water doesn’t contain dangerous levels of bacteria is to test it regularly.

While not a health risk, keeping track of the “hardness” of well water is also a notable step in well maintenance. When calcium and magnesium in the ground interact with well water, it causes “hard water.” This leads to the formation of mineral buildup and deposits on the pipes.

Some of the best times to test well water include springtime, after heavy rainfall, following plumbing work, and changes in the taste or smell of water.

Sulfur can cause water to have an awful rotten-egg smell, iron can cause rust on appliances and stain clothing, and hard water that’s full of sediment leaves spots on dishes and shower walls.

The most popular ways to treat well water include:

Filtration systems: There are filtration systems designed specifically for wells. These systems run the water through a series of steps that catch sediment; soften the water; reduce iron; remove sulfur smell; and reduce the levels of chlorine, bacteria growth, herbicides, and pesticides. After moving through the contaminant-specific filters, a UV filter can help sterilize against bacteria and viruses.

Water softeners: Treating your water with sodium or potassium will replace the calcium and magnesium. This is helpful for pipes and for removing those spots on dishes and shower walls.

Disinfection: Certain chemicals, including chloramines and chlorine, are used to rid the water of bacteria. In the process. These chemicals are use to sterilize a system and not meant for long term use.

Testing the water is relatively straightforward:

Contact your county health department or call us at NC Property Inspections and we will visit your home to collect a water sample and send it to a lab. The results are usually ready in a few days depending on the type of testing and the lab workload.

If you want to lower any analyte levels in your water, please see the following document from the State of NC: For more information about any of the analytes, the State of NC offers the following (See bottom of page):

If you want to lower contaminant levels in your water, please see the following document from the State of NC:

For more information about well water safety, visit:

NC Division of Public Health, Department of Health and Human Services


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