Is Your Well Water Really Safe To Drink?

Mar 4, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. - If you happen to live outside a major city, your drinking water might come from a well or cistern.  The question you might want to ask is how safe is that water to drink?  The Kentucky Geological Survey's Mike Lynch has this What Lies Beneath report.  WARNING:  Some of the material discussed may make you a little queasy.

“We just lower it down manually….…We’re at water level now.”

That’s a VIDEO CAMERA Glynn Beck is lowering into a water well…It’s going to get pretty WET, but the camera is designed for use underwater.  Beck, a water researcher with the Kentucky Geological Survey, is working with UK’s College of Agriculture to promote the safety of private water wells.  One tool he uses is the well-camera, lowered into the water to check for problems like cracks and leaks in the well’s casing, and critters that don’t BELONG in a drinking water.

"If the well is not properly constructed or has deteriorated over time, then you can have bacteria issues, where surface water has run into the well...or if the well has not been sealed properly, small animals, rodents, insects, bugs and  all sorts of debris actually, could fall into the well and cause quality issues."

Private water wells in Kentucky are NOT regulated by the state…leaving the job of insuring their safety to their owners. People who move from cities to rural areas are sometimes surprised to find that groundwater sources deep under the surface may NOT be as safe as they think.

Lorraine Treadaway and her family, who moved to Calloway County from New Mexico, were among them.  "All of our neighbors said the well water was fine, so we drank it and it tasted fantastic.  So later our family did develop some stomach problems."

Treadaway suspected contamination, and eventually had the water tested.  Sure enough it was contaminated.

Glynn Beck is active with a group called the Southern Regional Well Camera Project; he trains people in several southern states on the use of well cameras as a tool for checking wells. He says unsuspecting well owners are sometimes shocked at what the camera reveals in their drinking water.

"It sort of wakes them up and shocks them a bit because they didn't have any idea that something could occur.  For the most part, they think their well is protected.  What they don't think about is that mice are able to enter that well and we've seen mice and dead rats in wells, either floating at the top or sunk all the way to the bottom." 

One rule of well safety: If you don’t want to drink it, don’t store it near your well. And take steps to insure that surface runoff doesn’t collect around the well.

Well owners who want to find out more about keeping their water safe should contact the local health department.

In addition, the College of Agriculture and the Geological Survey have created a website with information and well-camera videos showing the things that can go wrong with wells and how to prevent them.

Only two cameras are currently available for well inspections in Kentucky, and Beck hopes more can be put into use to help well owners see firsthand the conditions in their wells.