It’s not uncommon for those who get their water from a private well to be a bit concerned when things get dry during the summer.
But is it possible to have too much rain before a well gets overwhelmed?
With record rainfall in much of the state during July and several more inches already hitting the ground in August, one local expert said the abundant precipitation can compromise residential wells.
“The groundwater level is up a bit in Luzerne County and that’s not a surprise,” said Brian Whitman, professor of environmental engineering, earth science and geology at Wilkes University. “If your well cap is not properly installed or if the ground slopes toward your well, you could have a problem.”
To find out, Whitman said the best recourse is a water test and, if contamination is found, a chlorinated shock treatment to kill any bacteria.
Still, if a well hasn’t been submerged in flood water and it was installed correctly, Steve Wojcik of Ron Meyers Well Drilling in Mountain Top said the heavy rainfall shouldn’t compromise water quality.
“Everything is cased so that water is going to the bedrock. It’s not going to fill the well up,” Wojcik said. “We’ve recently dug and found things dry just 3 feet deep. All this rain has just been runoff.”
Wojcik said he hasn’t received any calls recently for dirty well water and said, depending on the geology of an area, it could take a month before the recent rain percolates through the bedrock.
“Hand dug wells, which there are still a few around, are affected immediately by the rain but for a newer well that’s cased, it takes a long time to soak through,” he said.
Areas that have been flooded, however, are at higher risk of well contamination.
According to the Penn State Extension, wells that have been submerged by flooding should be inspected, particularly to determine if the appearance, smell or taste of the drinking water has changed.
“Signs of well damage may include a cracked or shifted well casing; a missing or damaged well cap; erosion or mud deposits around the well casing, inside the well pit if your casing terminates below ground, or inside the well itself if the casing was topped by floodwaters” said Extension Water Resources Educator, Andrew Yencha.
If a well does need to be treated after a flood, Whitman said it’s important to use special chlorine tablets and not liquid bleach. Better yet, he said, call a professional to do the job.
“If the ground isn’t sloped away from the well casing, like a cone, that water can pond there and run down the casing. Most people think they’re OK if the surface water didn’t penetrate the cap, but that’s not always true,” Whitman said. “If you have surface water flowing outside of the well casing, it’s going to keep going if it’s not sealed properly.”
Heavy and consistent rain can also impact septic systems, according to Penn State Extension. Flooded septic systems may not accept new household waste water or cause backups inside a home. If that occurs, it’s recommended that pumping not be attempted until the tank and absorption field are inspected by a professional. Water from saturated soil will likely fill the tank again quickly, which could cause damage or release sewer gases.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky