Connecting Private Wells and Source Water Protection

Our colleagues at PrivateWellClass.org have developed the following article to help state drinking water programs think proactively about private wells, how to help their owners maintain them, and the connections between private wells and source water protection.

Improperly managed private water wells are a source of ground water contamination but are sometimes overlooked in the source water protection conversation. Activities typically focus on identifying and managing potential sources of contamination within a watershed, such as agricultural operations, leaking underground storage tanks, and storm water runoff. While these are undoubtedly significant and common, it’s important not to underestimate the impact that 15 million private wells have on source water quality. RCAP’s private well program, funded by EPA’s training and technical assistance grants, has elevated awareness of this issue within the public water supply community and worked to improve public health protection for the 47 million Americans who use private well water.

A majority of well owners don’t know how to care for their well, determine if their water is safe to drink, or protect groundwater from contamination. Many private well owners have never tested their well water quality. This lack of knowledge not only endangers the health of those who rely on private well water, but also increases the vulnerability of the 102 million Americans served by a public water system using groundwater. RCAP’s private well program uses a combination of online and in-person technical assistance, training, and education to boost knowledge and competency of the individual well owner as well as the thousands of dedicated environmental health, cooperative extension, and water well professionals that serve well owners day to day. With support from EPA over the last five years, RCAP has developed an extensive partner network that reaches all 50 states, tribal lands, and U.S. territories.

 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign coordinates the program with RCAP and their six regional affiliates. Other partners include the National Ground Water Association, the Water Systems Council, the National Environmental Health Association, and cooperative extension programs in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. Efforts to date have fostered cooperation with state health departments, county/local health districts, drillers associations, state extension offices, real estate professionals, and laboratories, among others, that leverage state and local resources to provide direct, targeted support for well owners. There is still significant work to be done to reach the millions of well owners lacking the basic skills of well care. Here’s how state drinking water programs can help:

 

  1. Sign up as a private well partner. The U of I team delivers a monthly newsletter for the private well stakeholder community and last year held the first-ever national conference for the private well professional community.

 

  1. Request and distribute well owner brochures. The U of I team has developed a brochure that encourages private well owners to test their water and learn more about well care. Requests for professionally-printed copies of this tri-fold are accepted on an ongoing basis, but please submit before February 9 to be included in the first print run.

 

  1. Lead the collaborative effort in your state. State drinking water programs are in a unique position to leverage existing source water protection programs, make connections with state-level colleagues who regulate well construction, and coordinate with RCAP field staff involved in this effort. A state-wide workgroup can boost dialogue about private well issues and connect stakeholders to the wealth of resources developed under the RCAP program.

Take advantage of these opportunities to share helpful information with private well owners and to help your state’s source water protection program.

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