Did you know that almost half of the population of Wellington and Dufferin Counties get their drinking water from private wells? Unlike municipal water, which is tested and treated before it reaches your house, private well owners are responsible for testing and treating their own wells. Yet, only 15% of private well owners test their wells at least once per year.
Why is this concerning?
Because even if your drinking water looks, smells and tastes just fine, it might not be!
Water from contaminated wells can carry harmful bacteria, such as Escherichia coli (E. coli), that can make you and your family very sick. But the good news is that testing your well water through Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health is free, simple and quick with our convenient water testing pick-up and drop-off stations.
If you get your water from a private well, here are the top 5 things you should know about testing your water.
1. Just because you can’t see E. coli, doesn’t mean it’s not there
E. coli are bacteria normally found in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli are harmless, but some strains can make you sick. They can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, as well as through contact with an infected animal or person. You can become infected with E. coli if you consume water or food (like the recent romaine lettuce outbreak) that has been contaminated by feces (i.e., poop).
Wait. How do food and water get contaminated by poop? It can happen if your well is near your septic system because fecal matter can make its way into the water table and end up in your tap water. It can also happen after a heavy rain if surface bacteria get pushed down to the level of the water table because of higher than normal rain amounts.
Here’s the catch with E. coli. Even though it’s found in feces, it doesn’t necessarily make your water taste like poop. You can’t see, smell or taste E. coli in water. So, without testing your water, you could be drinking poop and not even know it.
2. Contaminated well water can make you and your family very sick
The symptoms of an E. coli infection vary from case to case, and some people might not have any symptoms at all. If you do have symptoms, they usually appear within 1 to10 days after consuming the bacteria. According to Health Canada, you may experience:
- Mild fever
- Severe stomach cramps
- Watery or bloody diarrhea
While most people recover completely on their own, with symptoms subsiding within 5 to 10 days, some people may get sick enough to require hospitalization, and in worst-case scenarios, could even lead to chronic health issues, or death.
The bottom line: if you think you may have an E. coli infection, visit your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
3. We make it easy to maintain your well’s wellness
Testing your well water with Public Health is simple:
1. Pick up an empty water sampling bottle and lab submission form form from a Public Health office, Wellington County Library or other participating location. Please call your municipal office to find out if they participate in this program.
2. Follow the instructions provided with the sampling bottle to take your sample and fully complete the form that comes with the bottle.
3. Drop off the sample at a Public Health office, Wellington County Library or other participating location. Refer to the drop-off times to ensure your sample makes it to the testing lab in Hamilton on time for the results to be valid.
4. Your water samples are sent to Public Health Ontario laboratory for E. coli and total coliform testing.
5. Get your results from Public Health Ontario and see what they mean. You’ll have the option to have your results delivered by telephone or by mail.
6. WDG public health inspectors can help you interpret the results of your water test. Call 1-800-265-7293 ext. 4753.
Check out this video from our friends at Niagara Region Public Health on how to properly collect your water sample.
4. If your results show contamination, take action!
If E. coli is detected in your water, it’s very important that you act immediately.
If your results indicate more than a “0” reading for E. coli, and/or more than “5” for coliforms:
- Stop using your well water
- Resample your water
- Consider using bottled water or a municipal water supply, if available, until the issue is resolved
If your well water tests positive for E. coli, a public health inspector will call you to let you know that your water is unsafe to drink, discuss possible causes of the contamination, provide support and guidance on follow-up actions and answer any questions you might have.
5. Know when, and how often to test your water
The general rule of thumb for any well owner is to test their well water a minimum of three times per year. The most important time to test is the spring, because melting snow causes new water runoff. However, this is just a general guideline. It is recommended that certain wells be tested more often, including:
- New home purchase with an existing well
- Wells that have previously tested positive for contamination
- Shallow-dug wells
BONUS: WDG Public Health’s Well Water Survey is helping to improve well testing services
In 2018 we launched a Well Water Survey with the goal of gathering information on the needs and thoughts of private well owners. We want to improve our well water testing services to best support residents and help us to understand and identify factors that may increase the risk of well water contamination. For example, in the survey results we’ve gathered to date, well owners have indicated that they would like to receive email reminders on when to test their water. We’ve heard you and are in the process of developing a testing reminder service!
Haven’t completed the Well Water Survey yet? What better time than right now?
If you have any questions about the health of your well, call us to talk to a public health inspector at 1-800-265-7293 ext. 4753.