Apr 26, 2018

Combating Contamination

WQP Associate Editor asked Aaron Martin, director of communications for NGWA, about groundwater contamination for well owners during flood events

Discussion on protecting well water quality from flood waters

As winter turns to spring, the inevitable combination of snowmelt and rain events brings with it the risk of groundwater contamination for well owners. On March 6 and 7, 2018, the National Groundwater Assn. (NGWA) hosted its annual Groundwater Fly-In and Water Resources Congressional Summit, followed by National Groundwater Awareness Week, March 11 to 17. WQP Associate Editor Lauren Estes asked Aaron Martin, director of communications for NGWA, about groundwater issues associated with flooding and the Groundwater Fly-In.

Lauren Estes: What dangers can floods pose to groundwater and drinking water quality?

Aaron Martin: Aside from the direct damage to infrastructure and the limiting of access to well systems, one of the challenges the groundwater industry faces is dealing with the after effects of wells and watersheds that have been flooded. Unfortunately, one of the headaches not considered during a flooding event is the impact on groundwater and, ultimately, drinking water. Floodwater collects numerous contaminants from roads, farms, factories and storage buildings, including sewage and chemicals. For those people that draw their water from private wells, encroaching floodwaters can contaminate the source with bacteria or parasites without the owner’s knowledge. Even when floodwaters subside, contaminants can still leach into groundwater through wells and by other natural methods.

Estes: What steps should private well owners take to ensure safe water quality after a flood?

Martin: Bacterial contamination is common following a flood, so disinfection and wellhead repair is important to ensure safe drinking water. NGWA recommends taking the following steps before and after flooding to protect your wells: Do not drink the water or wash with it, instead, use an alternative supply such as bottled water; stay away from the well pump while it is flooded to avoid electrical shock; get a qualified water well contractor or pump installer to clean, flush, disinfect and perform maintenance on the well if necessary; and check with the local emergency management agency about any guidance relating to local conditions or specific contamination threats due to area flooding. Additional resources for well owners in flood situations can be found on NGWA’s water well information site at www.wellowner.org/water-quality/flood.

Estes: How can contaminated floodwaters enter a well?

Martin: Two of the most common ways that bacteria can get into wells are through a defective well cap or through improperly abandoned wells. A proper well cap should be bolted or locked, so that it cannot be easily removed and fitted with a rubber seal to prevent vermin from infiltrating the well where the cap is joined to the well casing, as well as watertight and in good condition.

Some abandoned wells are obvious while others are not. Survey your property for pipes sticking out of the ground, small buildings that may have been a well house, depressions in the ground, concrete vaults or pits, and out-of-use windmills. If an abandoned well is discovered, a water well system professional should always plug an abandoned well using proper techniques, equipment and materials.

Estes: Why is well maintenance important?

Martin: Routine maintenance and inspection of water wells can help protect water quality, ensure your well is operating properly, prolong the useful life of the well system and protect your investment. Most important of all is the protection of your health, as water quality issues can have adverse health impacts without any detectable indicators.

Estes: What key issues were discussed at the Fly-In?

Martin: NGWA’s Groundwater Fly-In and Water Resources Congressional Summit is an important event for our members and for the groundwater industry. Under joint sponsorship with the Irrigation Assn. and the Water Quality Assn., the event is organized to increase the water industry’s profile on Capitol Hill regarding the availability, quality and safety of our nation’s water resources.

This year’s event helped ensure members of Congress are aware of the important role groundwater plays in providing drinking water, supporting agriculture and fueling various sectors of the economy. The four major themes of this year’s Groundwater Fly-In our members discussed with Congress included investing in water infrastructure, the farm bill and the rural economy, geoscience and the workforce, and groundwater as natural infrastructure.

About the author

Aaron Martin is director of communications for the National Groundwater Assn. Martin can be reached at [email protected].

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