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Groundwater is an important natural resource that touches our lives each day. Even if you don't own a water well yourself, it's an integral part of life on Earth and somewhere you consume or have consumed groundwater.
National Groundwater Awareness Week helps us recognize the importance of this resource and reminds us of the basic steps to being good groundwater stewards.
You can find out more about how you do your part in protecting our precious groundwater resources by looking at the information provided at the following web resources provided by the National Groundwater Association:
What is groundwater?
How to be a good groundwater steward
Give your water well a check-up
How do you get involved?
Groundwater Week Poster
This web page contains current hot topics in the Iowa DNR private well program. The content of this page changes, so check back for the latest updates. Personal computer users can also choose topics from the toolbar to the left of the page, or for mobile device users, the mobile menu button located at the top of the web page.
Iowa generally has aquifers that provide safe and plentiful drinking water for your rural home or farm, but did you know that not every aquifer provides safe drinking water or every well is constructed in a manner that allows access to only safe drinking water?
Currently, less than 6 percent of Iowa's private well owners test their water supply regularly. Are you one of them? If not, how long has it been since you last tested your private water supply? Do you know if your water supply is safe to consume right now?
These are topics that should be important to all private well owners - especially when the water is for drinking purposes.
The Iowa DNR and many public health agencies recommend that you test your private water supply at least once each year, and anytime your water quality changes - things like water color, clarity, taste or smell.
When you test your well water, keep in mind that the contaminants you should test for can vary by well location. Sometimes testing for the basics - bacteria, nitrates, and arsenic - may not be enough.
This website has guidance available to help you understand the importance of sampling and testing your private water system. Check out our
Frequently Asked Questions About Private Drinking Water web page.
To learn how you can qualify for free basic water testing, please contact your
local county environmental health office and ask to participate in the Grants to Counties Well Testing Program.
If you live in one of the red or green shaded area of map included with this topic, you are located in a Karst area. Constructing, maintaining, and using a well in Karst areas may be complicated by water quality issues. Wells finished in the shallow aquifers may contain high levels of nitrates and other chemicals that may cause health concerns. The only way to determine the quality of your well water is to have the water supply sampled and the water tested at a certified drinking water laboratory.
The Iowa DNR has basic information that can help you understand how your well may interact with shallow groundwater in these areas. Please see our
Shallow Wells in Karst web page and our Private Wells in Karst Areas fact sheet for additional information.
What is Arsenic? Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in rocks and soil. Recent concerns about arsenic in drinking water have left many private well users wondering if they should test their water for the presence of arsenic.
Where is Arsenic found in groundwater? Prior studies indicate that arsenic is present in the groundwater at some level in many areas of our state. Voluntary statewide testing of private wells for arsenic using grant based water testing started in 2015. This information has helped provide us with a better understanding where arsenic may be a problem, but more wells need to be tested to increase our knowledge of which aquifers are affected, how to construct wells that test lower in arsenic and the overall statewide occurrence of this contaminant.
The map included with this article shows a sample of the locations where arsenic has been found in well water. The blue dots indicate the arsenic is below the recommended maximum contaminant level. The red dots indicate locations where the arsenic is above the maximum contaminant level of 10 µg/l. Where arsenic is present at levels above 10 µg/l, the water should not be consumed without first removing or reducing the arsenic using a water treatment device specifically designed to remove arsenic.
DNR's Arsenic testing recommendation. Iowa DNR recommends that all private well users have their water tested for arsenic at least one time. If your arsenic level is near or above the maximum drinking water standard of 0.010 milligrams per litre (mg/L), or 10 micrograms per litre (µg/l), you may need to perform arsenic testing more frequently so that you monitor the arsenic level and help you make informed decisions on the safety of the drinking the water and if water treatment needed.
If you're a private well owner or user, you can contact your local county sanitarian and ask to arrange a free arsenic test through the Grants to Counties well program. You can also contact the
State Hygienic Laboratory (1-
800-421-IOWA) to obtain the test kit and pay for the testing yourself.
Treatment options. There are treatment options
available for wells that have elevated levels of arsenic. Normally, only the water used for consumption/drinking needs to be treated. Information about arsenic and water treatment options can be found in a State Hygienic Laboratory information booklet
Well Water Quality and Home Treatment Systems.
Where to find additional information. Additional information about analysis of your drinking water can be found on the on the State Hygienic Laboratory website found at: http://www.shl.uiowa.edu/env/privatewell/ordering.xml.
Other helpful resources for arsenic information:
Centers for Disease Control and Protection,
The EPA's Arsenic web page
The Water Systems Council wellcare® arsenic fact sheet.
National Groundwater Association arsenic fact sheet.
And the Iowa DNR Arsenic in Drinking Water information sheet.
Four new information resources are available to private well owners. This series of private well fact sheets touch on the common topics that well owners frequently ask during our correspondence. The topics include:
Private Wells In Karst Areas - Shallow well water quality issues that can occur in Karst bedrock.
How To Sample Your Well Water - How to obtain well water sampling for your private well.
Understanding Your Water Test Report - What to look for when reading your water test report.
Protecting Your Private Well - Information about managing your well to improve its protections.
For additional information on well water testing, please see our Private Well Testing web page at www.iowadnr.gov/privatewelltesting and Private Wells In Karst web page at www.iowadnr.gov/karstcontamination.
Old water supply wells can be a hazard to personal safety and to the groundwater you drink. People or animals can fall into abandoned wells and they provide a direct vertical pathway for chemicals and contaminated water to enter deeper, currently protected aquifers.
You can help protect your safety and your drinking water by having all of your unneeded wells properly plugged. To find out more about well plugging and how you can participate in a grant program that will pay part of your well plugging costs, please visit our
well plugging information page.
The Private Well Class has web based training that will help you understand what you should look for when a property has one of more water supply wells. Videos are available for your convenience at the following You Tube video link: What Realtors need to know about homes with well water.
Any well water system, whether deep or shallow, can become contaminated when flooding occurs. Water testing is the only way to know if your well is affected. Please see our document named "What should I do when my well floods" for additional information.
The graph below provides number of state private well construction permits issued each year in Iowa between 2002 through 2016. Both water supply wells (WW) and geothermal loop boreholes (GHEX) are shown. Click the graph to download a PDF version of the document.
The installation of any high capacity well requires the collection and submission of specific information before a Water Allocation and Use permit can be issued and the well put into high capacity service. This information includes a detailed inventory of nearby wells, a complete set of borehole cutting samples, a detailed well log from the test well or production well, and a well pump test to verify the characteristics of the well, like the well's maximum capacity, pumping and non-pumping water levels, and potential for well interference.
Depending on well location and aquifer used, the applicant may be asked to conduct an extended pump test to determine/verify the effects the proposed withdrawal has on other nearby wells. The pump test must be long enough in duration to achieve a stabilized water level in the test well or production well, and in the required observation well(s). It can take up to 72 hours of continuous test pumping to achieve a stabilized water level. During the test pumping, water level measurements are taken from the production and observation well(s) at predetermined intervals and the information accurately documented on a pump test log. This helps determine how much influence the new high capacity well has on the aquifer and nearby wells. Additional details can be found in
Iowa DNR Technical Bulletin 23.1.
All pump test information is used to help the well owner secure a Water Allocation and Use Permit. A Water Allocation and Use permit is issued to convey the legal right to pump and use 25,000 gallons or more of water a day for a beneficial purposes, like crop irrigation or industrial processes. Typical examples of water use permit holders include, but are not limited to: public water supply systems, power plants, manufacturing and processing industries, agricultural businesses, irrigation users (crop/agricultural, golf courses, turf or truck farms, and athletic fields), rock and gravel quarry operations, construction and temporary and permanent dewatering operations, recreational water uses and heating and/or cooling systems. A Water Use Permit is required for any person or entity that withdraws 25,000 gallons or more of water in a 24-hour period. The permit lists the amount of water that can be withdrawn each year by the permittee and is valid for up to 10 years. A Water Use Permit also requires that a Water Use Report be submitted to the Iowa DNR each year.
To find out more about Water Use Permits or to apply for yours today, please refer to the
Water Supply Engineering Water Allocation and Use web site.
Approximately 25% of all rainfall in the U.S. becomes groundwater.
Nearly 80 percent of Iowan's obtain their water from groundwater sources - wells are groundwater sources.
For the average household, the largest volume of water is used in the bathroom.
Water wells in Iowa can range from 20 feet to over 2500 feet in depth.
A private well user is responsible for testing their own water to determine if it's safe to drink.
The Illinois State Water Survey and the Illinois Water Resources Center at the University of Illinois are pleased to announce a new nationwide training initiative funded by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The training will includes classes for those who own or use private water supply wells, and individuals who are just curious about how wells function.
The Private Well Classes are designed to help you understand the basic science of water wells and inform them of best practices to maintain and protect the water supply. These basic tools can help you make informed decisions regarding your water supply. This helps ensure a safe drinking water supply and extend the life of the well.
The classes are part of an online learning experience that includes monthly emails with class lessons that are reinforced by monthly webinars you can - AND - you can attend as often as you wish, even after the emailed class materials have ended.
Click here to find out how the class works.
The course include a Resource Library and Multimedia Learning area to provide specific learning tools. http://privatewellclass.org/library or http://privatewellclass.org/multimedia
Well Drillers - Can drill wells and plug all classes of wells.
Pump Installers - Can install and service pumps and water systems, and plug all classes of wells.
Limited Well Pluggers - Can only plug Class1 and Class 3 wells only. They cannot plug drilled wells.
In Iowa, an Iowa DNR Certified Well Contractor be on-site and in direct control of your project any time well services take place. Well services are things like the installation of geothermal boreholes, construction of water supply wells, installation of well pumps, pressure tanks, and pressure switches, and other tasks that can expose the well or water system to sources of contamination.
Make sure you know if the well contractor you call is certified to perform well services in Iowa. Certified well contractors take special steps to ensure your well services are done properly. You should never hire a contractor who isn't certified to perform your well services because they are breaking the law.
You can look-up your contractor on the Iowa DNR Operator Certification database to find out if they are currently certified, or look at the three lists linked near this article.
Private well users - here are a few things to think about.
When was the last time that you had your private water system sampled and tested?
Do you know if your water is safe to drink today?
Can you or your family consume the water without worries of illness and chronic exposures to contamination?
Did you know that health organizations recommend you test your private water supply at least once each year?
If the questions above leave you uncertain about the safety of your drinking water, you should keep reading this web page.
How about this fact - did you know residents in most of Iowa's counties can take advantage of a program that provides free water testing for private well owners and users? It's true!
The Iowa Department of Public Health manages a private well testing program called the "Grants to Counties Well Program". This program provides free water testing for private well owners and users. This service will help you understand the safety of your drinking water. You can contact your
local county environmental health department to arrange your free water test.
Old, unplugged wells are a threat to your current well and neighboring wells. This is because they can allow contaminated water sources like surface water and shallow groundwater, rapid access to deeper, protected aquifers.
Most wells can simply be plugged to help reduce the risk to the aquifer. To help make this decision easier, well owners can participate in a grant program that can help pay for a portion of your well plugging cost. See our Well Plugging web page for additional information.
Did you know that 99 percent of all available fresh water comes from aquifers located underground and that nearly 80 percent of Iowans are served by groundwater?
Because of this, groundwater protection is something that everyone should think about. There is a real need to maintain the quality and quantity of this precious resource.
Poor quality groundwater affects all of us by creating long term health concerns and by increased cost to install and maintain water wells and water treatment devices. When you add it all up, being a good steward of groundwater just makes sense because it is the right thing to do and it saves money in the long term.
Nearly all things that can be dumped on the ground surface can impact your groundwater. One of the realities that we face is that many of our surface water bodies are connected to our groundwater systems. This means that contamination found in surface waters can make its way into the groundwater. Please remember that all drains eventually flow to surface waters that recharge groundwater sources. Whatever you dump down the drain will eventually end up in the water supplies that we all need. Think of it this way - If you dump it, you drink it.
Almost everyone knows about public water systems and what they stand for - monitored, safe drinking water. Most of Iowa's public water systems obtain all or part of their water supply from groundwater sources. Because of this, when you protect the groundwater where you live, you help protect the valuable water resource used by many. It also helps reduce future water treatment costs for each of the users. For those who live outside of the reach of public water mains - the private water well users - when you actively protect the groundwater resource, you help reduce the future cost of constructing and maintaining your well, as well as potentially reducing your future cost of removing contaminants that may reach the aquifer.
Remember, no matter what type of water supply you use - public or private - you can make a difference in the overall water quality where you live. Be part of the solution and manage potential contaminants in a safe manner. Remember - If you dump it, you drink it!
Well Water Testing
Shallow Well Water Quality Concerns
Well Construction Permits
Well Contractor Certification
Geothermal Heating and Cooling
Forms and Publications
Before examining what you can do to protect groundwater, you
should know that sometimes the quality and safety of groundwater is affected by substances that occur naturally in the environment. Contaminants are normally found through sampling and testing of the water. Visit our
water testing web page for additional information.
The answer is yes, at least one time - unless you change your water source or the manner in which you treat your water - then retesting is recommended. Water testing and analysis for lead is the only way you will know if your drinking water contains any lead.
EPA reports that up to 20% of a person's lead exposure comes from drinking water. Infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water. Drinking water lead testing is relatively inexpensive and can provide you with the knowledge you need to protect your own health and the health of your family.
Although groundwater can contain lead, the more likely source for lead exposure is though corrosion of your home's plumbing.
Over the last two decades, there have been steps taken at the federal level to help reduce potential lead exposures due to plumbing components manufactured for drinking water uses. But because many components still contained lead until 2014, all ages of homes can be at risk for increased lead levels when the water is corrosive.
When corrosive water sits idle in the pipes for hours, it can leach lead from piping components. The longer the water sits in the pipes, the higher the potential for increased lead levels.
If your current water system tests lead free, but you need to alter the water source - like replacing your well with a new well, or when you change the way you treat your home's water before using it, you may create an environment where the water becomes more corrosive. The more corrosive the water, the more likely it is the water will cause leaching of lead from the plumbing.
The only way to determine if your water has lead issues is to test the water. To help troubleshoot the system, you should test the raw water from the well and the treated water from the taps where you obtain consumable water. Comparing the results will indicate if lead leaching is an issue and may help pinpoint the source - the well, the plumbing, or both.
If water testing indicates that lead is present and at unsafe levels, you should stop consuming water from the water and make a decision on how you will manage your drinking water. You can use an alternative known safe source for consumable water, like a another well you know test safe for all contaminants or bottled water, or install a water treatment device that removes the lead at the levels you find.
To learn more about lead in private water supplies, please read information from: The State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa Lead in Drinking Water web page, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "Lead and Drinking Water from Private Wells", the Water Systems Council publication "Lead in Drinking Water", or the National Sanitation Foundation "Lead in Drinking Water" web page.
Corrosion in house plumbing can be described as a dissolving or wearing away of metal caused by a chemical reaction between water and your plumbing. There are a number of factors involved in the extent to which lead enters the water, these include:
Older homes are more likely to have lead used in pipe fittings and pipe solder.
The only way to know what's in your private drinking water supply is to test the water for contaminants.
Private well tools developed by the National Groundwater Association
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The Iowa DNR Private Well Program provides regulatory
oversight on a number of different types of vertical boreholes and borings that meet the legal definition of "well" in our state.
These well structures include:
The Private Well Program rules only apply to water supply wells and systems that serve fewer than 25 individuals on a daily basis. If a water system serves water to 15 or more service connections (like campground spaces or condos) or serves at least 25 individuals, the system requires management under the public water supply rules.
Examples of smaller water systems that meet the definition of Public Water Supply definition includes but is not limited to:
Public Water Supplies have specific federal requirements to help protect the health of the water users and the integrity of the water system. These requirements address the design of the water well and water treatment systems as well as the storage and distribution systems. The design and construction of these facilities must follow approved specifications and standards as determined by the Iowa DNR Water Supply Engineering section. In addition, a
Public Water Supply must manage and monitor the water system according to an operation permit issued by the Iowa DNR Water Supply Operations section. These steps help ensure that the water available and used by the public is safe for consumption. To
find out if you are a Public Water Supply or for more information regarding
Public Water Supply requirements, contact the IDNR
Water Supply section at 515-
The Private Well Program provides administrative oversight of the statewide private well program. This includes rule development and interpretation, working cooperatively with local county
governments to administer the private well program at a local level, working with well contractors regarding minimum and appropriate standards for well services, and
providing guidance to private well owners and other citizens.
The goals of the Iowa DNR Private Well Program are to:
The program goals are to have all wells constructed to appropriate minimum standards and that competent Iowa DNR Certified Well Contractors are on-site in direct control of each well service provided.
To help achieve the program goals the Private Well Program works with local county environmental health staff to issue private well construction permits at the local level. This relationship is an important part of the program and helps to ensure that there are local contacts to help local residents with permitting and construction information needs.
The Iowa DNR private well construction permit is issued by your local county on a web based private well permitting system known as the
Private Well Tracking System or PWTS. This system electronically records well permit information as well as record and track well water testing reports, well renovation reports and well plugging reports.
The Private Well Program also works with the Iowa DNR
Operator Certification Section to help Certified Well Contractors with their certification questions and testing, and helps training providers determine if a training event will qualify for continuing education units (CEUs) or "contact hours" for Iowa's well contractors.
You will find additional private well related topics in the left hand column or menu area of this web page. There are also useful links at the bottom of each web page for common private well topics. If you cannot find the information you are looking for, please contact us using the information at the bottom of this page.
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For more information, contact: