Series: Well Install
Having drilled the well, installed the pump and wired it up temporarily, we now have running water on site.
But before we can use the well to fill the tank on our RV, we need to have the water tested to make sure it's safe to drink. Water testing will also tell us what, if any, filtration and purification is required for our water source.
In this article...
While drilling the well, water is pumped into the shaft to evacuate the loose material as it's ground down by the drill. Nonetheless, when you first start using a new well it's common to find lots of sediment in the water. This sediment can not only be abrasive on the pump and other components, but can also collect in plumbing systems - in our case, the RV.
This is one reason why it's typically recommended not to put the well pump too near the bottom of the well shaft. The guidance is usually no lower than about 5ft from the bottom, but we were playing it extra safe - our pump was about 50ft from the bottom since we had plenty of flow and static head at 110ft down in our 160ft deep well shaft so there was no point going lower.
Our well driller had advised that before we use the water, we run it for an hour or so per day, for about a week. Running the pump will flush out any sediment-rich water, and the rest between runs will allow any new sediment to settle out.
So that's what we did. The first day I ran the pump for a little over an hour, and while it felt wasteful running a generator to pump 8 gallons per minute of fresh water out and onto the ground to drain away at a time when our region of Vermont was in moderate drought, I understood it was a necessary step.
At the end I filled a white plastic bucket with water and it seemed perfectly clear. I allowed it to sit until the next day to see if any sediment settled out.
The next day it was still clear, but I ran the pump for another hour anyway. Again, at the end, the water ran perfectly clear in a plastic bucket.
Given this, I emailed our well driller and asked if it was really necessary to continue this process for another 5 days or, since the water seemed crystal clear at least to my untrained eye, we could shortcut the process. He said as long as the water seemed clear, we could move on to testing. We were desperately keen to move forward so this was great news!
Shocking the well
Shocking a well is a way to disinfect the water in a well, with the particular goal of killing off any bacteria in the water - notably E. Coli. and friends. It's usually done by adding a chlorine-based solution, typically diluted bleach, and allowing it to sit for a period of time.
It's common to shock a new well, but we decided not to. We wanted to see what the natural state of our well was - in other words, did it naturally have any issues or not? We knew it was a bit of a risk, but we went with it.
There are typically two ways to do water testing - use a mail-order kit that you can buy online and then mail samples off, or, as we chose to do, work with a local lab.
In our case, we opted to use Endyne Labs who have labs across Vermont, New Hampshire and New York. We stopped in at one of their locations to chat with them.
After exploring our options, we decided to go with the most complete set of tests possible - their $275 comprehensive package. This spectrum of tests includes everything from pH, hardness and conductivity through to the levels of various minerals and chemicals, as well as of course bacteria levels.
We also asked them to separately test for radon for an additional $100, something that would give us an initial indication as to how much of an issue radon might be on our property.
They gave us a bag full of plastic sample bottles and specific instructions on how to collect the water samples and fill the containers - some needed filling from the first flush, others needed the water to be free of agitation, and others needed the bottle filled with no air pockets.
It took about 20 minutes to collect the plethora of samples which then had to be stored in a cool bag with ice blocks as we took them to the lab to keep them refrigerated. We dropped them off, paid the fee, and waited.
It would take about 24 hours to get the initial bacterial results back, and another 2-3 weeks to get the full suite of results.
Total Coliform & E. Coli
The presence of Coliform bacteria or E. Coli in water is a bad thing. Any detectable level is considered too much, and renders the water undrinkable, the next step at that point being to shock the well. Given we hadn't shocked our well, we were a little anxious.
On the flip side, this test is basically the decider on whether your water is drinkable. While other results later may indicate water quality issues that need to be factored in, those are typically long term concerns rather than the immediate health risks associated with drinking bacteria-infected water.
The next day we phoned the lab to get our results.
- Total Coliform: absent
- E. Coli: absent
We were clear! Their testing had been unable to detect the presence of either Coliform bacteria or E. Coli in our well water! We could now officially drink our water!
And we did - a few days later it was time to fill our RV water tank, and for the first time we were able to do so from our own well, albeit still filling our water bladder to haul it down to the RV.
Full water test results
We anxiously waited for the result of the results to arrive. Then, almost 3 weeks later, a nondescript email with a large PDF attachment landed in our inbox.
It took a little while to read through and understand all the data, but here it is in an easier-to-read format, showing our raw result along with the EPA limit (where available) in the right-most column:
|Copper, Total||mg/L||< 0.020||< 1.3|
|Lead, Total||mg/L||< 0.0010||< 0.015|
|Gross Alpha||pCi/L||0.0±0.4||< 15|
|Uranium, Total||mg/L||< 0.001||< 0.03|
|Alkalinity, as CaCO3||mg/L||91||-|
|Chloride||mg/L||< 2.0||< 250|
|Fluoride||mg/L||< 0.10||< 4.0|
|Hardness, Total as CaCO3||mg/L||103||75 - 105|
|Nitrate as N||mg/L||0.068||< 10|
|Nitrite as N||mg/L||< 0.015||< 1.0|
|pH||SU @ 16°C||7.7||6.5 - 8.5|
|Arsenic, Total||mg/L||< 0.0010||< 0.01|
|Iron, Total||mg/L||0.035||< 0.3|
|Manganese, Total||mg/L||0.01||< 0.05|
|Potassium, Total||mg/L||< 0.50||-|
|Sodium, Total||mg/L||1.1||< 250|
|Radon in Water||pCi/L||1,900||< 4,000|
That's a lot of data, so let me try to point out the highlights:
- For every single tested parameter, our water tested well within EPA guidelines - in fact, for many contaminants we were more than 10x lower than the EPA limit
- The pH level of our water is almost perfectly in the middle of the desirable range
- Our water is moderately hard, which is actually a little softer than we had expected given our area
- Iron and manganese levels, common targets for filtration, are 5-10x below EPA limits and unlikely to be a problem for us
- Radon levels are well below levels of concern
Or to put another way, our water is pretty much perfect!
I can't believe I get to write that. This honestly could not have gone better. Wanting to make sure I wasn't going crazy, I shared the results with our well driller and he agreed.
In fact, the only filtration or purification our system will likely require is a sediment filter, and really just because it's considered best practice for a private well.
As an aside, I also compared the results to European and WHO guidelines and everything looks good there too!
Drilling a well can be stressful, simply because there are so many unknowns. Will we hit water? How deep will we have to go? Will we get sufficient flow? How big a pump will we need? Will the water be safe to drink? What filtration and purification will we need?
We were elated. Not only is our water safe to drink, but the water testing shows the water is incredibly healthy - no elevated levels of any contaminants were found.
Combined with the relatively shallow depth for our area, the high static water level, and a flow rate in excess of 30 gallons per minute, we have, somehow, ended up with a perfect well.
For the time being, this is the end of our well installation story. But once we begin construction of the utility building in earnest there will be more to do - connecting up the pitless adapter, laying the supply line to the building, connecting up power, as well as installing the holding tank and other plumbing to provide water for our house.
This was a huge milestone for us and I hope you enjoyed following along in this chapter of our story!