Most people drank water from a well for much of human history. Water wells date back almost 10,000 years, first appearing in the Neolithic era. Wells can provide a reliable source of water when surface water is scarce.
Many properties still have wells today. In fact, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that about 15 percent of Americans use well water for drinking. That said, the vast majority of people in North America today drink water from established plumbing systems. Many people go the extra mile and install well water filtration system at home.
But is modern well water safe to drink? Are there health benefits of drinking well water? The truth is that this is an ongoing debate that may not have a firm answer. Here’s what you need to know:
What Makes Water ‘Safe’?
Unless water looks visibly dirty, it’s pretty much impossible to tell whether or not water is “safe” for human consumption just by looking at it. Unless you’re looking through a microscope, you won’t be able to see the microorganisms and chemicals that can make you sick. You can purchase water testing kits or hire a professional to come test your water supply. However, these are often expensive and inconvenient options.
To fully understand what makes water safe to drink, it is first important to outline the history of water purification.
When did Humans Start Purifying Water?
Well water gradually fell out of favor during the 1800s. This was thanks to a number of factors, primarily revolving around the industrial revolution. Although people had actually been boiling water for centuries, new technology and education made people more aware of how disease spread. There was also the rise of pasteurization in the late 1800s. While water could not be pasteurized, this did make people even more aware of potential bacterial dangers.
Nevertheless, boiling water itself before use was an inconvenient practice. A new solution was needed. As the industrial era resulted in rampant urbanization, communities became denser. Public water sources became more exposed to bacteria and disease-causing microorganisms. Plumbing systems became more widespread, meaning water traveled further from its source into people’s homes.
In 1908, Jersey City, New Jersey became the first community in the United States to begin routine disinfection of their public drinking water. Cities across the country soon followed suit. By the time the 1930s hit, disease rates had decreased dramatically. Cholera and Typhoid were both rendered virtually nonexistent as a result.
People still use wells today, but precautions should be taken.
Not All Wells Are Created Equal
If you have a well on your property, don’t just waltz over and take a sip. Find out as much as you can about the history of the well. If the well was condemned or sealed off due to contamination at any point, it’s very possible that it still isn’t safe.
Extremely old wells may also not meet modern standards. For example, the EPA recommends that wells be at least 50 feet away from septic tanks and livestock fields. Wells should also be 100 feet from petroleum tanks (and any other chemical storage tanks). They should also be at least 100 feet away from sealed manure storage. Manure stacks should meanwhile be kept 250 feet away.
Wells should also have a history of regular contaminant tests. Fertilizers and pesticides should likewise not be used near the well. Even minimal use of these chemicals can cause them to seep down into the groundwater.
It’s also important to take the type of well into account. Different types of wells come with different levels of contaminant risk. Here are the three main types of wells you should know:
Types of Wells
- Dug / Bored Wells – Dug or “bored” wells are traditional wells dug in the ground dug by shovel or backhoe. In most cases, they are lined for support with stones or bricks. More modern versions may have tile or other materials lining them. Bored wells are usually shallow (between 10 and 30 feet deep) and may be wide in diameter. These types of wells can be easily susceptible to contaminants if the ground around them is affected.
- Driven Wells – Driven wells consist of a pipe driven straight down into the ground. They can be shallow, but are usually deeper than dug / bored wells (between 30 and 50 feet deep). Driven wells may easily keep out dirt and close proximity contaminants because of their design. However, these wells also draw from aquifers near the surface. Because of this, they may be susceptible to other types of contamination that affect surface water.
- Drilled Wells – Today’s drilled wells are drilled into the ground via percussion or rotary machines. They can range from shallow to thousands of feet deep and can be lined with a wide variety of materials. They may even be continuously cased in metal pipe. Drilled wells have lower risks of contamination as long as they are kept deep and are lined with reliable materials.
Regardless of the type of well, it is important to keep it maintained. All wells should also be tested regularly for contaminants.
Does Drinking Well Water Have Health Benefits?
While contamination is a concern, well water may have some desirable health benefits. More research on the matter is still needed, but these are some of the proposed benefits:
- Hydration – Drinking water in general is crucial to health!
- Weight loss and better brain function – Well water may be free of chemicals found in public water supplies. Some people believe fluoride, for example, can have negative effects on weight and cognitivity. Drinking more water also boosts metabolism.
- Environmental Benefits – Drinking well water may decrease the amount of plastic bottles you purchase and use.
Keep in mind that more studies on well water health benefits still need to happen. However, if you drink well water and feel good doing so, there’s no reason to stop as long as precautions are taken.
Drinking well water may have some health benefits. However, you need to make sure it is not contaminated. Modern wells, especially modern drilled wells, may be less susceptible to contamination. Nevertheless, regular water testing is still important.
It is also crucial to follow the EPA’s guidelines. Make sure that new wells are not built in close proximity to potential hazards. Older wells should meanwhile be carefully assessed. If you are unsure, consider calling in a professional to assess the well, its history and the surrounding area.
In any case, it is still wise to take extra precautions. This is where well water filtration comes into play.
Water Filters and Well Water Can Work Together – Well Water Filtration System
If you are going to drink well water, consider a well water filtration system. A good quality well water filtration and/or purification system can remove contaminants and ensure well water is safe to drink. Some well water filtration systems can be attached to the well itself, while others are used indoors after the water has been drawn. The right water filter will depend on the design of your well and your personal needs.
Along with the well water filtration system, you may also want to consider a water softener. A lot of well water can be too hard for safe drinking. “Hard water” contains high amounts of minerals like calcium and magnesium. These can have adverse health effects, but fortunately both water softeners and filters can help ease the problem.