Private Well Program Hot Topics

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.

NOW is a great time to test your private well water!

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?

Approximately 7 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, nitrate, 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.

Nitrate in Shallow Groundwater Supplies
Karst Map

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 nitrate 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.

Arsenic In Iowa's Groundwater and Water Supply Wells

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. This article provides you with information about areas where arsenic testing has been completed on private wells, how you can obtain testing of your water, and what to do if you find your water is high in arsenic.

The Iowa DNR's Arsenic testing recommendation. We recommend that all private well users have their well water tested for arsenic at least one time. If your arsenic level is elevated or high, you may need to perform arsenic testing more frequently. This allows you to monitor the level of arsenic and make informed decisions, like when to install a water treatment system to remove the contaminant, or when to stop drinking the water.

Where is Arsenic found in Iowa's 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 looking for arsenic began in 2015. This information has provided us with a better understanding on where arsenic may be a problem, but many areas of the state have not been tested. Further testing will help inform more well users of potential risk, increase our knowledge regarding which aquifers are affected, help well owners and well contractors predict where arsenic may be a problem, and potentially develop strategies on how to construct wells so they have lower levels of arsenic.

The map below indicates where arsenic testing has been done through March 20, 2017 and the approximate level of arsenic found in the water.


How to use the map. Look for your area and then look for a colored dot nearest to your location.

  • A green dot indicates a well was tested near this location and no arsenic was detected the well water - this means there is no arsenic risk at this time. When your well doesn't have any arsenic present, we recommend that you retest for arsenic every 6 - 10 years to monitor for any change.
  • A yellow dot indicates arsenic was detected in well water near this location, but less than 5 micrograms per liter (or µg/l) in concentration - a fairly low risk. We recommend you retest your well every 5 years to monitor for any change in the arsenic level.
  • An orange dot indicates arsenic was detected in well water near this location and it's in the range of 5 - 8.9 µg/l - this is a mid to high arsenic concentration - but not above the recommended Maximum Contaminant Level (also known as MCL). We recommend that you retest your well every 2 - 4 years to monitor for any change in the arsenic level.
  • A red dot indicates arsenic was detected in well water near this location with a concentration of 9 - 10 µg/l - this level is near or at the recommended MCL - we recommend that you retest your well for arsenic every 1 - 2 years to monitor for any change in the level.
  • A black dot indicates that arsenic was detected in well water near this location and its level is above the MCL of 10 µg/l. This is above the recommended maximum level for drinking water. Water with 10 µg/l or higher of arsenic should not be consumed unless it's properly treated using a water treatment system specifically designed to remove arsenic. When using a water treatment system, it's important to test the treated water periodically and maintain the treatment system to ensure the water remains safe to consume.
  • If there are no dots in an area, it means that there hasn't been any arsenic testing performed where the results have been provided to the DNR. If you have a well in one of these areas, please have your well tested for arsenic - we need your information too!

Private well owners or users 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 when your arsenic level is too high. If you find that you water contains too much arsenic, you have some choices on how to manage your drinking water. They include: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:

Other helpful resources for arsenic information:

The 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.

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 and Private Wells In Karst web page at

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

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.

- Attention Realtors and Buyers and Sellers of Land -


Rural properties that come up for sale commonly have one or more water wells located somewhere on the parcel. Many times, a well provides the only drinking water supply available for the property. Did you know that there's more to understanding the safety and reliability of the drinking water supply than taking a water sample and sending it to a testing lab?

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.

Heavy rains can cause flood waters - Will your water well be affected?


During a flood, there is an increased risk that drinking water wells may become contaminated with bacteria and/or any other contaminants that may be present in the flood 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.

Statistics - Private Well Permit Activity in Iowa

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.


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


There is a new DNR guidance document available to help well owners understand the requirements of developing high capacity wells. High capacity 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 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.

Do you know?

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.

Learn about wells through self-paced online 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.

The course include a Resource Library and Multimedia Learning area to provide specific learning tools. or

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.

Know the facts before you hire someone to work on your well

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.

Ask yourself these questions

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?

Do you have a baby, children or elderly consuming the water?

Can you or your family consume the water without worries of illness and chronic exposures to contamination?

If the questions above leave you uncertain about the safety of your drinking water, you should keep reading this web page.

Did you know that health organizations recommend you test your private water supply at least once each year?

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 water supply well and also your neighbor's wells. This is because they can allow contaminated water sources like surface water and shallow groundwater, rapid access to deeper, more protected aquifers.

Most wells can be plugged to help reduce the risk to the aquifer. To help make well plugging an easier decision, 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.

Click to view our well plugging brochure. -


Why groundwater is important

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!

Groundwater Protection
Types of Groundwater Protection
There are two fundamental categories of groundwater protection:

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.

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 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.

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 type of metals used in the pipes and fittings,
  • 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.

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.

Check it out!

Private well tools developed by the National Groundwater Association for

Private Wells in Karst Areas
How to Sample Your Well Water
Understanding Your Water Test
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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 definition of 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.
  • Establish and maintain 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?

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