Private Drinking Water Wells & Systems
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Did You Know?
It is the responsibility of the private water well owner to sample and have their well water tested. The State of Alaska, Drinking Water Program, does not sample, test, or regulate the construction of private drinking water wells. In fact, the only local governments that regulate and have established standards for private water wells are the Municipality of Anchorage and the City of North Pole.*
Also, it's important to note that while the DEC-Division of Water requires minimum separation distances for on-site disposal (septic) systems and other potential sources of contamination from private water wells, it is typically enforced only when a septic system is being installed by a certified installer. Therefore, failure to meet or maintain minimum separation distances for new and existing private water wells may only be highlighted during the sale of your home.
As defined by 18 AAC 80 (PDF), "private water systems" means a potable water system that is not a public water system.
It's up to you, the well owner ...
... to maintain the well in a safe and sanitary manner.
Here are some helpful tips for maintaining your well and protecting your groundwater:
- Maintain proper drainage away from the well; e.g. ensure no standing water around the wellhead.
- Make sure the top of the well casing is at least 12 inches above the ground surface, or well house floor, and higher if the area is frequently flooded. Remember "High and Dry".
- Eliminate potential sources of contamination near the wellhead.
- Maintain a sanitary seal to minimize the risk of contamination entering the well casing, such as animals seeking shelter.
- Limit use of lawn and garden chemicals:
- Apply sparingly,
- Follow application instructions, and
- Consider low-maintenance landscaping near wellhead.
- Regularly test your water: at a minimum perform annual nitrate and coliform bacteria analyses, and in certain areas, test for arsenic.
- Well log
- Pump test and aquifer test records
- Maintenance records for your well or pump
- Water test results
- Water Rights documentation from DNR
- Be sure to keep all well records in a safe place
- Periodically inspect well parts for damage:
- Broken or missing well cap, or well cap nuts and bolts,
- Unsealed electrical conduit,
- Cracked, corroded or damaged casing, and
- Settling and/or cracking of ground surface, or well pad, around casing, and
- Replace well cap with a sanitary well seal.
- Take care working around your well to prevent damage to the well casing
- Consider installing bollards, or concrete posts, around wellhead to prevent collisions from vehicles and equipment.
- Don't pile snow, leaves or other materials around your well.
- Avoid planting flowers, trees and shrubs near your well.
- Install backflow preventers on all outdoor faucets.
- Hire a qualified well contractor for any new well construction, modification or closure of your water wells.
- Familiarize yourself and/or your well contractor with proper well drilling and pump installation practices, as described in the Alaska BMPs for the Construction of Non-Public Water Wells (PDF).
- Educate yourself on the characteristics of nearby water wells by talking to your neighbors and/or visiting the DNR Well Log Tracking System (WELTS) database.
- Research whether there is nearby potential or existing contamination. For help with this, visit DEC's Contaminated Real Estate in Alaska web page.
- Be aware of separation distances that may impact the placement of your water well. Separation distances may vary, so it's best to review DEC Division of Water regulations 18 AAC 72.020 (c) to determine the distances that apply to your water well. These distances are also summarized in the DEC Installer's Manual for Conventional Onsite Domestic Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Systems (Table 6) (PDF). Failure to adhere to these separation distances may impact your water quality, could affect future real estate transactions and also increase the likelihood of contamination and jeopardize public health protection.
- If a well has the potential to become a public drinking water system, you are strongly encouraged to design the well to meet DEC's standards for public well construction. Failure to do so may result in difficulties getting the well approved by the DEC Drinking Water Program.
- Alaska requires water well contractors and well service companies to have a general or subcontractor's license, but not to be specifically certified for well construction. As a result, it's up to you to research a contractor familiar with your area and whose background, experience and qualifications demonstrate the skills needed to develop a water well that can provide a safe and sustainable water supply.
- National Ground Water Association (NGWA) maintains a list of water well contractors certified by NGWA available at Wellowner.org
- Alaska Water Well Association (AWWA) is the professional association for water well contractors in Alaska and maintains a list of members. They may be able to provide additional assistance when planning to drill your well
- Upon completing the well construction, it's in your best interest, as a homeowner, to assure that the water well drilling log is submitted to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in order to record the information in WELTS. While water well contractors are required to submit this information to DNR, it is not always carried out. Failure to record this information in WELTS may lead to difficulties in future real estate transactions.
- Water Well Logs can be sent to DNR at:
- Alaska DNR, MLW, Alaska Hydrologic Survey
- 550 West 7th Ave, Suite 1020
- Anchorage, AK 99501
- Below is a great checklist as well as DNR regulations for the required elements for a well log. We suggest going through these required elements before your contractor has left the site.
Once your water well is drilled and operating we recommend reading through the "Existing Well Owners" section below for more information on protecting and maintaining your new water well.
Obtaining Water Rights assures that you will have legal rights to the water used by your well. For additional information on Water Rights visit the DNR Water Resources website or review Water Rights in Alaska: Fact Sheet. (PDF)
What should you sample for?
There are no State of Alaska requirements to sample a private water well. Some contaminants naturally occur throughout Alaska, such as arsenic, nitrate, and sometimes radon. Consider testing for arsenic and nitrate, and if radon has been detected in the air of your home, consider testing for radon in the water. “Contaminants in Alaska's Water Resources (PDF)”, developed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks - Cooperative Extension Service (UAF - CES), provides some useful information on these contaminants and others as well as testing and treatment options for the water used by your well.
Where should you send your samples to be tested?
- It's recommended that all samples be sent to a State of Alaska Certified Laboratory. A list of current laboratories certified by the State of Alaska can be viewed in the links below:
How often should I have my water tested?
- The NGWA recommends testing your water annually.
- More frequent sampling is recommended if:
- You experience a change in the taste, odor, or appearance of the water.
- A problem occurs with your water well such as a broken well cap.
- A new contamination source is present such as, flooding, a chemical spill, or a septic failure.
- There is development of nearby excavations associated with resource extraction and/or well construction, as these may introduce contamination shortcuts/pathways to your water well.
If your well becomes no longer useable, it is advisable to decommission or maintain the well in such a manner that it does not become a potential conduit for contamination of nearby existing or future wells. Familiarize yourself and/or your well contractor with proper well decommissioning practices, as described in the Alaska BMPs for Decommissioning Water Wells or Boreholes (PDF). Note the well decommissioning methods are required by DEC Drinking Water regulations 18 AAC 80.015(e) (PDF).
What can you do if you feel that nearby land-use activities may impact your water quality?
Contacting the appropriate local governmental department is where you should start. If it is a State-regulated activity that you are concerned about, contact the appropriate program within the Department of Environmental Conservation or Department of Natural Resources. Finally, establishing baseline sampling for your well (by following the recommendations for sampling above) will help provide the documentation needed to assess whether your water has been impacted.