Private Wells Should be Tested Regularly

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

Some 100,000 or so Rhode Islanders — about 10 percent of the population — get their drinking water from private wells, but, unlike public water supplies that are regularly tested, private well owners are responsible for assuring that their water is safe to use.

To help educate private well owners on proper well maintenance and potential contamination risks the state Department of Health (DOH) and the University of Rhode Island Water Quality Program routinely hold free workshops.

While groundwater and well water quality is very good in Rhode Island, according to Alyson McCann, coordinator of the URI Water Quality Program, she encourages private owners to have their wells tested regularly.

“Testing gives private well owners a record of their water quality over time,” McCann said. “It allows you to see any changes over time. Rhode Island groundwater quality is high, but it’s like going to the doctor for your annual checkup. He runs various tests based on your age. He can then notice trends.”

The DOH recommends annual testing, which looks for six parameters, specific tests every three to five years and another one every five to 10 years. These different tests look for various contaminants. The recommended annual test costs about $90, and a test for everything costs about $300, according to McCann.

If, for example, your well is near a known source of groundwater contamination, it should be tested for chemicals that may be present at elevated levels. In particular, the DOH recommends testing for beryllium in areas where the bedrock is close to the surface and for arsenic in areas where there are, or have been, orchards, since that element has been used in pesticides.

“If you’ve never had your well tested or haven’t in a number of years, you should test for everything,” McCann said. “Then you can implement a schedule for testing.”

She also said a well should be tested if it has been flooded, or if you notice a change in color or smell. “A well is susceptible to the surrounding land uses,” McCann said. “Is your well near your septic system? Is it close to the road? Lawn fertilizers impact wells.”