If you are on a public water supply and you turn on your faucet for a drink of water, you expect a consistent level of water quality; free of contaminants. If you are on a private well and you turn on your faucet, you really do not know what to expect.
The big difference is that public water supplies are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The SDWA has allowed people in the United States to enjoy some of the cleanest drinking water in the world (as per the EPA). The SDWA ensures that drinking water is protected at the source; it ensures that the water is treated for contaminants, it is monitored regularly to ensure that health-based standards are met, and that the infrastructure that is in place to transport the water (pipes etc.) is properly maintained.
However, if you have a private well your drinking water is NOT mandated to be regulated. Unlike public water supplies, the government or the state cannot come into your home to regularly check your drinking water quality nor are they required to monitor your groundwater source. EPA estimates the people on private wells make up 15 percent of the population in the United States; 15% who may or may not be drinking potable water. It is therefore important for private well owners to take it upon themselves to protect and maintain their water quality. This includes making sure your drinking water well is properly constructed (some states have well construction guidelines and regulations), and learning what you can do to protect your drinking water. While most believe that private water well sources are safe, there are contaminants that occur naturally. These include:
- Microorganisms- are mostly found in people who have shallower private water wells where there is communication between the surface and the shallower water sources. Micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
- Radionuclides- these are naturally occurring radioactive elements that are found in naturally in the rocks that underlying rocks and in the groundwater. These include uranium and radium.
- Radon – is found naturally and results from the breakdown of uranium.
- Heavy Metals – Arsenic and chromium are two metals that may show up in your drinking water because of the regional geology in the eastern US.
EPA recommends that private wells be tested at least once a year, however not many private well owners heed this recommendation trusting only aesthetic and sensory value of the water as a judge of water quality. For people living in area where natural gas development is occurring, natural gas development companies will be required as a part of their permit in New York State to conduct baseline testing within predetermined area or a circle of concern. The area will be determined site specifically i.e. not all well pads are the same. This predetermined area is defined as the area where there is a higher probability of water issues potentially arising. This monitoring will help those rural residents determine the quality of the drinking water before development activities occur.