Extension and Ag Research News


Spring is Time to Protect Rural Drinking Water Quality

An NDSU Extension water quality associate offers tips on evaluating wells for contamination from spring runoff.

Now is the time to evaluate your well for potential contamination associated with drainage water from melting snow and spring rains, suggests a North Dakota State University Extension Service water quality associate.

""Rising temperatures and normal spring rain bring about the potential for contamination of private water wells,"" says Roxanne Johnson. ""As snow melts, it picks up contaminants, which may enter your groundwater and become a risk to your drinking water system."

Appraise the well's condition by answering the following questions:

  • Is your well shallow? Surface contaminants are most likely to reach a shallow well (less than 50 feet deep).
  • Do you have a driven or dug well? Drilled wells are usually the least susceptible to contamination and usually the safest.
  • Was your well constructed more than 50 years ago? The natural deterioration of your well or its downhill location may increase the potential for contamination.
  • Do you have a depression around your well casing? If so, it may create a sink for contaminants accumulated in surface water to either leak down along the well casing or penetrate through cracks in the casing.
  • Does the well casing extend less than 12 inches above the ground level? North Dakota Century Code (Chapter 33-18-01-06) requires a 12-inch height for the well casing or cap to ensure that surface water cannot run into the well through the top.
  • Is your wellhead in a pit? During periods with excessive surface water or when the groundwater level raises above normal levels, chances of contamination are higher. Modify the casing to reach the 12-inch height requirement and fill in low-ying areas surrounding the casing.
  • Can you see any cracks or holes in the well casing? Following a visual inspection, listen for water running when the pump is not operating. Running water may indicate a crack in the well casing.
  • Do you have abandoned wells on your farmstead that have not been plugged properly? These are a direct pathway for contaminants to enter the groundwater. NDSU Extension Service publication AE-996 has guidelines to plug abandoned wells in North Dakota. This information also is available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/h2oqual/watgrnd/ae996w.htm.

If you have answered yes to any of these questions, Johnson suggests you make the appropriate repairs, followed by water quality tests through a certified laboratory. A listing of certified labs and their charges can be found at http://www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/abeng/waterquality.htm. Recommended tests include bacteria, TDS (total dissolved solids), pH and nitrates on an annual basis and a complete water chemistry analysis every five years. Contact the laboratory for sample containers and instructions.

For more information about protecting your well from contamination, contact Johnson in the NDSU Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department at (701) 231-8926 or mailto:roxanne.m.johnson@ndsu.edu.

Agriculture Communication

Source:Roxanne Johnson, (701) 231-8926, roxanne.m.johnson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, (701) 231-5391, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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