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Iowa's Private Water Well Program

- Private Well Hot Topics -

- Attention irrigation and high capacity well users-

NOTICE of New High Capacity Well Guidance. 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 which the proposed withdrawal has on other water users. The test pumping 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 construction.  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 The permit lists the amount of water that can be withdrawn each year by the permittee and is valid for 10 years.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 each year to the Iowa DNR. 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, truck farms, athletic fields), rock and gravel quarry operations, construction and foundation dewatering operations, recreational users and comfort heating an 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.

- Please consider properly plugging all unused or unneeded water wells -

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

Help protect the groundwater used by your family and others by having all of your unneeded wells properly plugged. To find out more about well plugging and how your can participate in a grant program that will pay for part of your well plugging costs, please visit our well plugging information page.

- Why Protect the Groundwater? - 

99 percent of all available freshwater comes from aquifers located underground. 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 treat the water we consume. 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 us money. 

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 as a state and nation 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 too. 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 and rely on. Think of it this way - If you dump it, you will drink it.

Almost everyone knows about public water systems and what they stand for - safe drinking water. Even 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, it protects the valuable resource used by many and 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 the cost of the overall water treatment your water requires to protect your health and too look and taste good.

The bottom line is that when all of us take steps to properly disposes of all potential contaminants and exercise care so we do not spill potential contaminants, it helps protect the our groundwater. Together we can make a difference!

- Knowledge is Power - Understand your drinking water -
Private well users - here is some 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? How about this fact - did you know residents of 97 of our 99 of Iowa's counties can take advantage of a program that provides free basic water testing for private well owners?

The Iowa Department of Public Health manages a private well testing program called the "Grants to Counties Well Program". This program provides free private water system testing and 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 supply, you can make a difference in the overall water quality where you live. The great thing about you doing your part is that it is easy - just be considerate how you handle things that should not be part of our groundwater and your drinking water. Keep this statement in mind - If you dump it, you drink it! The Iowa DNR supports efforts to inform and educate citizens on groundwater protection and promote safe drinking water.

- Is your well located nearby flood prone areas? -

Flood waters can present a hazard to your water supply well regardless if your well is located in the flood way or not. The Iowa DNR has information on how flood waters can impact your water supply well and the items that you should consider before trying to use your well during or after a flood event. Please view our Wells and Flooding document" for additional formation.


- Is the water from your well safe to drink? - When was the last time that you had your private water well system sampled and your drinking water tested?  Did you know that the major health organizations recommend that private water system owners should test their well and water system 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.


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.

The Private Well Classes are designed to help a homeowner and well user 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 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 will be reinforced by monthly webinars 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.

- Well Services Certification is required -
In Iowa, the installation of geothermal boreholes and water supply wells and all well pump installation/water system services and well repair services require that an Iowa DNR Certified Well Contractor be present on-site any time these well services take place. You can find out more about the certification requirements by viewing our Contractor Certification web pages.

 - Arsenic in groundwater and water 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, there is not a need for private individuals to test for arsenic. Public water supplies must provide an annual water quality report to their customers.

Read the Iowa DNR "Arsenic in Iowa's Drinking Water" Information Sheet

If your drinking water comes from a private well we recommend that the water be checked at least once a year for coliform bacteria and nitrate to ensure that the water is safe to drink. In addition, drinking water should also be tested for arsenic at least one time. Well owners can contact the State Hygienic Laboratory (1- 800-421-IOWA) or your local county sanitarian  and ask for a test kit to test the water for arsenic. Analysis of drinking water for arsenic can be performed by any Safe Water Drinking Act Laboratory certified for arsenic testing by the Iowa DNR. Contact your local county environmental health office or the Iowa DNR for additional information.

You can find additional information about arsenic by reading the private well arsenic guidance found on the Water Supply Wells web page.

There are treatment options available for well water that is determined to have elevated levels of arsenic. Information about this contaminant and water treatment options can be found in a State Hygienic Laboratory information booklet WellWater Quality and Home Treatment Systems. Additional information about analysis of your drinking water can be found on the on the home page of the State Hygienic Laboratory website found at the following web site:

Additional information on arsenic in drinking water is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Protection and the EPA Arsenic web page.

- Attention drinking water well users in NE Iowa -
Do you live in one of the green shaded areas of the map to the right and use a private water supply well? If so, you are located in a Karst area. Constructing and maintaining a well in these areas can be complicated. Wells finished in the shallow bedrock aquifers cancontain high levels of nitrates and other chemicals that cause health concerns. The Iowa DNR can provide basic information that can help you understand how your well may interact with shallow groundwater in Karst areas. For additional information, please see our karst area of the Water Supply Wells web page.

Additional web resources:

  • Testing your private water supply's drinkingwater
  • DNR Arsenic Information Sheet
  • Well construction permit information
  • Heat Pump Information and Guidance
  • Your Local County Environmental Health Staff
  • Information about Well Logs
  • IIHRGeoSam Geologic and Well Information Database
  • What every Realtor should know about water supply wells
  • Water Systems Council Well Information Brochure for Realtors
  • Water Systems Council Well Information for Inspectors - Evaluating Water Wells
  • Water Systems Council wellcare® Info Sheets

    - For additional information contact -

    Russell Tell
    Environmental Specialist Senior
    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