Private Well Program Hot Topics

This web page contains the current hot topics in the Iowa DNR private well program. The content of this page changes, so check back for the latest updates.

Introducing Four New Private Well Fact Sheets

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.

    Do you live in one of the green or red shaded areas?
    Karst Map

    If so, you are located in a Karst area. Constructing and maintaining a well in Karst areas can be complicated. Wells finished in the shallow bedrock aquifers can contain high levels of nitrates and other chemicals that cause health concerns.

    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 for additional information.

    Arsenic In Iowa's Groundwater and Water Supply Wells
    Map of Arsenic positive tests in Iowa

    Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in rocks and soil. Recent concerns about arsenic in drinking water have left many homeowners wondering if they should test their water for the presence of arsenic.

    If your drinking water is provided by a city or town, the public water supply is required to perform arsenic testing and inform the water users if the water supply is safe to drink. Because of this, public water supply users do not need to test for arsenic - the water supplier takes care of this for you. Public water supplies must provide an annual water quality report to their customers which provides information about the system's water quality.

    When your drinking water comes from a private water supply well, we recommend that the water be tested for arsenic at least one time. If your arsenic level is near or above the drinking water standard, you may need to perform arsenic testing more frequently so that you monitor the arsenic level and make informed decisions on drinking the water and water treatment.

    Voluntary statewide testing of private wells for arsenic started in 2015, but prior studies indicate that arsenic is present in groundwater in many areas. The map included with this topic shows a sample of the locations where arsenic has been found in well water. The blue dots indicate the arsenic is below the recommend maximum contaminant level. The red dots indicate locations where the arsenic is above the maximum contaminant level and the water should not be consumed without proper treatment.

    If you are a private well owner or user, you can contact the State Hygienic Laboratory (1- 800-421-IOWA) or your local  county sanitarian and ask for a test kit to test a private well for arsenic.

    There are treatment options available for wells that have elevated levels of arsenic. Information about arsenic and water treatment options can be found in a State Hygienic Laboratory information booklet Well Water Quality and Home Treatment Systems.

    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 sources of information on arsenic in drinking water include: the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, the EPA Arsenic information web page, the Water Systems Council wellcare® arsenic information sheet, and the Iowa DNR "Arsenic in Iowa's Drinking Water" information sheet
    Are you drinking safe water?

    When was the last time that you had your private water system sampled and your drinking water tested?

    Did you know that the major health organizations recommend that private water system owners should test their drinking water source at least once per year? How about this thought - did you know that there are contaminants that you should test for besides bacteria and nitrates?

    The Iowa DNR 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.

    It's flood season - Will your well be affected?

    Flood waters can present a hazard to your water supply well regardless if your well is located in the flood way or not.

    Hazards include contamination of the well, electrical shock and damage due to floating debris.

    The Iowa DNR has information on how flood waters can impact your water supply well and the items that you should consider before using your well during or after a flood event.

    Please view our Wells and Flooding document" for additional formation.

    Did you know your old unused well can contaminate the well that you use?

    Old water supply wells can be a hazard to personal safety and to the groundwater you drink. Abandoned wells that are left standing open and un-plugged pose a risk because they provide a direct vertical pathway for chemicals and contaminated water to enter the deeper aquifers.

    You can help protect your drinking water and the groundwater 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.

    ATTENTION - Owners of Crop Irrigation Systems and owners of High Capacity Wells

    The DNR has new a new high capacity well guidance document available to help potential requirements on developing high capacity wells. 

    High capacity water supply wells are wells that withdraw 500 gallons per minute or more from groundwater sources. The installation of any high capacity well requires the collection and submission of specific information before a water use permit can be issued and the well put into service. This information includes a detailed inventory of nearby wells, a complete set of borehole cutting samples and a detailed well log from the test well or production well. 

    The applicant may be asked to conduct a pump test if the department finds it necessary to determine the effects the proposed withdrawal has on other nearby wells. The actual test pumping of the aquifer must be long enough in duration to achieve a stabilized water level in the test well or production well, and in the observation well(s). It can take up to 72 hours of continuous test pumping to achieve a stabilized water level. In addition, one or more nearby wells must be monitored and documented during the test pumping to help determine how much influence the new high capacity well has on neighboring wells. Additional details can be found in Iowa DNR Technical Bulletin 23.1.

    We recommend that you apply for your water use permit before constructing your well. Water Use permits are issued to convey the right to use quantities of water for beneficial purposes. 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 10 years. A Water Use Permit also requires that a Water Use Report be submitted to the Iowa DNR each year. 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 and turf, truck farms, athletic fields), rock and gravel quarry operations, construction and temporary and permanent dewatering operations, recreational water uses and heating and/or cooling systems. 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.

    Do you know?

    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.

    Learn about wells through self-paced classes

    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.

    Find your Certified Well Contractors right here

    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.

    Before you hire someone to work on your well...

    In Iowa, the installation of geothermal boreholes, water supply wells, and all well pump installation/repair and water system services require that an Iowa DNR Certified Well Contractor be present on-site any time these well services take place.

    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.

    Food for thought

    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 long term exposures?

    Did you know health organizations recommend that you test your water system 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? Its 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.

    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.

    The great thing about you doing your part is that it's easy - just be considerate on how you handle potential contaminants so they don't become part of our groundwater and your drinking water. Remember - If you dump it, you drink it!

    FACT

    Old, unplugged wells are a threat to your current well and neighboring wells.  Wells can easily be plugged and there is a grant program that can help pay for a portion of your well plugging cost.  See our Well Plugging web page for additional information.

    Why groundwater is important

    Did you know that 99 percent of all available freshwater comes from aquifers located underground? In fact, 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.

    Did you know that 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 - 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.

    The bottom line is this - when all of us exercise care in handling contaminants to prevent spills and properly use and dispose of contaminants, it helps protect the our groundwater. Together we can make a difference!

    Should you test your private water supply for lead?

    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.

    The 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, 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 in formation from 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.

    Lead leaching due to corrosion

    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:

    • the chemistry of the water (acidity and alkalinity) and the types and amounts of minerals in the water,
    • the amount of lead it comes into contact with,
    • the temperature of the water,
    • the amount of wear in the pipes,
    • how long the water stays in pipes, and
    • the presence of protective scales or coatings inside the plumbing materials.
    Tips To Reduce Lead In Drinking Water
    • Replace suspect plumbing items that may be contributing to the lead problem.
    • Before using the water for drinking or cooking, flush your cold water pipes by running the water for a few minutes. You can use the water flushed from the tap to water plants or for other non-drinking uses.
    • Use only cold water for consumption.
    • Have your water tested periodically to look for lead level changes.
    • Use a water treatment system designed to reduce water corrosion or a lead removal system certified under NSF/ANSI standards.
    FACTS

    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 potential contaminants.

    Private Wells in Karst Areas
    How to Sample Your Well Water
    Understanding Water Test Reports
    Protecting Your Private Well
    Learn more about the Iowa DNR Private Well Program

    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:

    • Private potable water supply wells like household and acreage wells. Basically, any water supply that is not regulated as a Public Water Supply.
    • Private non-potable wells used on farm and in industry, like: Livestock wells, commercial water supply wells, manufacturing and processing water supply wells; cooling tower water supplies; and any other water well that supplies water for non-potable use.
    • Irrigation wells for all uses including row crop irrigation, turf production, water for truck gardens and home yard irrigation.
    • Temporary and permanent test, observation and monitoring wells used to determine the quantity or quality of the groundwater or to monitor water groundwater levels.
    • Temporary and permanent piezometer or monitoring wells used to look for contaminants in soils or groundwater.
    • Temporary and permanent dewatering wells used to lower water tables to allow for subsurface construction or stabilization.
    • Geothermal heat exchange water supply and reinjection wells used to exchange heat from a structure to the groundwater.
    • Geothermal Heat Exchange (GHEX) closed loop boreholes used to exchange heat from a structure to the earth.
    • Direct push type technology for groundwater sampling when a temporary or permanent well casing and/or well screen is installed in the ground.

    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 Public Water Supply definition includes but is not limited to:

    • rural churches,
    • rural restaurants, bars and entertainment venues,
    • rural industrial or manufacturing facilities,
    • rural trailer parks,
    • rural wineries,
    • rural conference or meeting halls,
    • certain rural day care facilities,
    • and any other place that is not connected to a municipal or rural water public water supply where the public gathers or conducts business and 25 or more individuals have access to the water.

    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- 725-0282.

    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:

    • Protect the groundwater resources and public health by establishing well construction, well maintenance and well plugging standards.
    • Establishing well contractor certification requirements for all types of boreholes that meet the definition of "well."
    • Provide a source for accurate and meaningful guidance to help answer questions pertaining to the private well program areas.

    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.

    Well Booklet
    Iowa Groundwater Basics
    Do you need additional resources?
  • Your Local County Environmental Health Staff
  • Testing your private drinking water
  • DNR Arsenic Information Sheet
  • Information sheet about Arsenic & Groundwater
  • State Certified Drinking Water Testing Laboratories
  • Frequently Asked Questions from the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa
  • Reasons to test your water - an EPA web page 
  • Drinking Water from Household Wells - an EPA publication
  • Water Systems Council guide -"A Homeowner's Guide to Your Well"
  • Water Systems Council wellcare® fact sheet series for private well owners and users
  • Do you have questions about your well? - By the Water Systems Council
  • Sharing a well with another home - By the Water Systems Council
  • Renting a Home with a Private Well - By the Water Systems Council
  • Epa guidance "What every Realtor should know about water supply wells"
  • A Real Estate Agent's Guide to Buying or Selling Homes with Wells
  • Home Inspectors Guide for Evaluating Water Wells by the Water Systems Council
  • Well construction permit information
  • IOWA DNR PRIVATE WELL PROGRAM

    For more information, contact:

    Russell Tell
    Water Supply Engineering Section
    Iowa Department of Natural Resources
    Wallace State Office Building
    502 E. 9th Street, Des Moines,IA 50319-0034
    Fax 515-725-0348 Phone 515-725-0462
    russell.tell@dnr.iowa.gov