Well Aware | How To Be

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Protecting your well water

As a responsible well owner, you need to carry out a regular program of well maintenance. Taking care of your well is a three-step process:

  1. protect your well water at the ground surface by avoiding, eliminating, or reducing contaminants
  2. inspect your well regularly and keep your well in good running order
  3. test your well water regularly and respond to contamination problems

Well water protection
starts at home

Start by looking around your own property to identify what could affect your well.

As part of your routine well maintenance schedule, walk the grounds within a 30-metre (100-foot) radius of your well. Look for potential threats. A complete search for potential contaminants is recommended at the same time as you inspect your well. You should also look for changes that could affect your well as part of your daily and weekly routines.

Keep these contaminants away from your well:

Source protection –
the bigger picture

Contaminant sources affecting your well are most often found in your own backyard. Address these first. However, you should also support actions to protect all sources of drinking water for your community.
Municipal land-use plans need to identify vulnerable ground and surface waters. Land-use plans should provide the necessary protection through controls on the location, amount, and type of development. Contact your municipality to find out if a provincially funded groundwater study has been completed for your community.

Major sources of contamination need to be curbed, like polluting industries and urban and agricultural run-off. Programs need to be in place to reduce risks of groundwater contamination from unused wells, open excavations, quarries, and contaminated sites.

looking at well

 

Access to this drilled well is virtually impossoble as it is located in a hall closet inside the home (below).

drilled well in closet

Repairs, upgrades or decommissioning of this well will be extremely challenging due to decreased access for equipment necessary.

Additions, decks, or any structure are best suited away from your well.

 

Working with your contractor

Be sure the technician working on your well has the appropriate licence as required in Ontario’s Wells Regulation. Different licences are required for different work. 


Ask to see the licence. Confirm that the licence is up to date with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.
Get more than one licensed contractor to provide you with advice, a detailed written description of the proposed work (e.g., expected well depth, unit rates, extra services), and an estimate of the total cost.

Get references and review past work before making a final decision. Ask licensed contractors about the expectations of water quality and quantity in your area and confirm this with your neighbours.

Get a signed agreement in writing if there are any changes in the work and cost.

Pay promptly when the work is completed as described in the agreement.

 

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Upgrading your well

If your well has a water quality or quantity problem you may need to upgrade the well for the sake of your family’s health and safety. Talk over your options with an MOE-licensed well contractor who is experienced with upgrades and familiar with conditions in your area.

Upgrade your well, or construct a new one?

If there are significant problems with your existing well, one option is to drill
a new well. A new well may be the best way to go if your existing well is:

Well pits

Prior to the mid-80s, well pits were commonly used to protect water line connections from freezing. Due to age and deterioration, some wells located in pits no longer provide potable water because the pit can fill with surface water and debris. This debris and surface water can be drawn into the water supply, leading to contamination. An MOE-licensed contractor can do a thorough assessment of your well to help you determine whether your well can be upgraded. Upgrading may involve extending the well pipe to the required height above grade and filling in the pit. well pit

Chemicals and fuels


Any chemical or fuel spills that infiltrate the ground can contaminate your drinking water source. Check that gasoline, pesticides, and other chemicals are stored in proper containers designed to help prevent spills or leakage. Don’t store these materials anywhere near your well(s).
Refuel lawnmowers and other machinery a safe distance from the well. (One litre of gasoline can contaminate up to 1 million litres of groundwater.) Refuel over hard surfaces to help prevent infiltration of spills.

Change the oil in your vehicle on a sealed surface such as pavement or concrete, away from the well. Clean up spills with an absorbent material (clean sand or kitty litter) and remove to a Household Hazardous Waste depository. Keep a bucket nearby for quick access when spills occur.

Septic systems

Malfunctioning septic systems are a leading cause of private well contamination.  Ensure that your system conforms to the Ontario Building Code. Keep chemicals other than human waste out of the system. Pump out your septic tank every two to three years, or ask your pumper to specify the appropriate pump-out frequency. Keep your system in good running order.

See useful links page to find resources that help you learn more about operation and maintenance of your septic system.

Gardens

Eliminate gardens adjacent to your well. Plant a permanent low-growing ground cover such as grass. Don’t use fertilizers, manure or pesticides.

Underground storage tanks

Underground storage tanks are used to store home heating fuel and large fuel supplies for equipment. These tanks, pipes and fittings may leak, especially if they are over 15 years old or lack corrosion protection. Underground storage tanks are a special concern if the water table is shallow or if the tank is close to your well (or surface water). If possible, replace underground tanks with above-ground storage that has proper spill/leak containment.

Look for evidence of tanks that pre-date your ownership, including pipes sticking out of the ground. A tank may still contain harmful liquids that will leak as the tank corrodes.

Above-ground storage tanks

If storage tanks are required, keep them as far as possible from your well. They should be at least 15-30 metres (50-100 ft) away, depending on well type. Check with your fuel supply company to ensure that your fuel storage tank is providing adequate protection against spill containment and security measures.

Animal wastes

Livestock and pet wastes are a serious potential threat to well water. Ensure that your livestock and pets are kept away from your well and that you clean up after them appropriately. Consider using municipal weekly garbage pickup for cat litter and for dog wastes. An in-ground pet waste system from a reputable manufacturer is another option.


Get involved in protecting sources of drinking water for your community.
Contact your municipality for information.


Inspecting your well

Ontario’s Wells Regulation requires that you maintain your well to keep out surface run-off and foreign materials.

It is recommended that you conduct an inspection of your well at least once a year, as outlined below, at the same time as you check for potential contaminants.

If you have problems with your well water, or concerns about your well, have your well inspected by an MOE-licensed well contractor.

Things to consider:

Access

As part of your maintenance routine, keep your well head clear of brush, debris, and other obstructions.

Well cap

Check the well cap for signs of cracking or damage, and have it fixed or replaced immediately if there is a problem. The well cap should be firmly attached to the casing. The vent should face the ground and be properly screened to keep out insects. Only air should enter. Clean the air vent regularly to remove debris and moisture.

Annular seal

Look for problems with the sealant used to fill the annular space between the drilled hole and the well casing. A depression in the ground around the edge of the casing can indicate that the sealant has shrunk, collapsed, or cracked. If you can move the casing around by pushing it, that’s a bad sign. Cracking and gaps allow run-off and surface water to move down the outside of the well casing and contaminate your drinking water. A faulty annular seal should be repaired.

Well casing – condition

Look for any external signs of damage, cracking, or dislocation on your well casing, e.g., due to vehicle damage. If your well has been damaged, removing the cap is not recommended. Visibility is limited and you could cause contamination or further damage, especially if you have a submersible pump. Some MOE-licensed well contractors have a down-hole camera that can be used to inspect your casing.

If you have a structurally sound well - drilled, dug or bored - you can remove the lid with care.
Be mindful of electrical wiring and debris falling into the well. Inspect the inside the casing using a strong flashlight. Look for holes, evidence of animal infestations, or stains from casing joints that may indicate water leaking into the well.

Backflow prevention

Under certain circumstances, contaminated water can flow backwards through your plumbing into your well. Backflow prevention devices are available from your MOE-licensed well contractor.

Well pit

Remove the lid of your well pit and look for water, debris, vermin, etc. at the bottom of the pit. (Remove the cement outer cover, not the well cap inside the pit.)

Do not enter the pit or breathe the gases which may fill the pit.


Take extra care to ensure children do not gain access to the well pit. The pit should be clean and dry. If water or other material has entered the pit, your well water is at high risk of contamination. Consider upgrading or constructing a new well.

Hiring a Contractor

Ontario Ground Water Association and/or your Ontario Ministry of the Environment district office if you have any questions or concerns about the qualifications or work procedures of contractors.  

Keep all documents relating to your well, pump, pumping test, and maintenance.

The word “construction” means bore, dig, drill or otherwise make, extend or alter. Construction also includes installing equipment in or connected to a well.