Heavy Rains Could Imperil Your Well Water

When it is saturated soil loses its ability to remove pollutants from surface water says OSU water quality specialist.

Published on: May 2, 2011

Heavy rains mean more than an increased risk of flooding. They also can pose a threat to drinking water, says Karen Mancl Ohio State University Extension's water quality specialist.

Many residents in rural areas get their drinking water from wells rather than municipal systems, and have septic systems rather than sewers for household wastewater.

"Normally, soil does a fantastic job of removing pathogens and other pollutants from wastewater," according to Mancl, who also is a scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) and a professor in the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering.

"But when it's saturated, soil loses its ability to remove pollutants. If your well or your neighbor's well is near your septic system, drinking water could be unsafe."

Properly constructed and grouted wells protect drinking water against this type of problem, Mancl says. But it's estimated that 40% of the nation's well water is contaminated. Code specifies that septic systems need to be at least 50 feet from wells, but research indicates that pathogens can move hundreds of feet through saturated soil, she said.

"With so much rain, this is when your well is most at risk," Mancl says. "It's the ideal time to get your well water tested."

OSU Extension offers detailed information to help Ohioans know how to test and protect their well water. It is available on Mancl's Soil Environment Technology Learning Lab website, http://setll.osu.edu/publications.html and on Extension's website, http://ohioline.osu.edu.

"Homeowners who use wells for drinking water need to realize that routine water tests are not a waste of money," Mancl says. "Even if there's no problem, water tests will give you peace of mind. And, you'll have records about the safety of your water supply, which you'll want to have on hand if you ever want to sell your house."