Testing of Private Wells

Testing and Private wellsIn rural areas, most people rely on private water supplies such as wells or adjacent surface waters in lakes and rivers. Privately owned water supplies for individuals are not regulated by the government. Unlike consumers of municipal water, residents with wells or those extracting water from adjacent lakes or rivers are responsible for making sure their water supply is safe to drink.

Rural homeowners often spend hundreds of dollars installing water filters without knowing how successful the filtration system is in eliminating bacterial contamination.

Importance of Testing Well Water for Bacteria:

Regular testing is important to:

  • ensure safe drinking water
  • identify existing problems
  • determine the effectiveness of a treatment system

The quality of a water source may change over time, even suddenly. Changes can go unnoticed as the water may look, smell, and taste the same.

When should you test your well water for bacteria?

Testing your well on a regular basis is the best way to ensure safe drinking water. However, probably the most important time to check your well is in the spring when rain and snowmelt cause runoff conditions. You should also have your well tested if:

  • There are known problems with well water in your area
  • You have experienced problems near your well (i.e., flooding, land disturbances, and nearby waste disposal sites)
  • You replace or repair any part of your well system
  • You or a family member has experienced a recurring gastro-intestinal illness
  • You are pregnant, or have a child less than six months old living in your household
  • Your well is next to a septic tank, and it is questionable if the septic tank is set back far enough from your well
  • Your well is next to an area where livestock are kept
  • Your well does not meet current building codes
  • You have noticed an increased amount of turbidity in your water

How do bacterial contaminants get into a well?

Bacterial contaminants in well water come from ground water which has become contaminated by human and/or animal fecal waste. Human/animal waste can be carried into a well by polluted storm water runoff, flooded sewers, agricultural runoff, wildlife waste in runoff or individual septic systems that are not working properly.

What bacterial contaminants should I test my well water for?

  1. Total Coliform
    Coliform bacteria are microbes found in the digestive systems of warm-blooded animals, in soil, on plants, and in surface water. These microbes typically do not make you sick; however, because microbes that do cause disease are hard to test for in the water, "total coliforms" are tested instead. If the total coliform count is high, then it is very possible that harmful viruses, bacteria, and parasites might also be found in the water.

  2. Escherichia coli (E. Coli)
    E. Coli bacteria are a kind of total coliform. The feces (or stool) and digestive systems of humans and warm-blooded animals contain millions of fecal coliforms. E. Coli is part of the fecal coliform group and may be tested for by itself. Fecal coliforms and E. Coli are usually harmless. However, a positive test may mean that feces and potentially harmful microorganisms have found their way into your water system. These can cause diarrhea, and other gastro-intestinal illness as well as more serious diseases.

Guidelines for Drinking Water:

The government established guidelines for safe drinking water are 0 Total Coliforms/100mL sample and 0 E. Coli/100mL water sample.


Watercheck™ is a presence/absence test kit for the determination of Total Coliform including E. Coli in drinking water. The format of this presence/absence test conforms to government guidelines since the presence of any bacteria will give a positive response (colour change) and will qualify as a ‘failed test’. This kit is easy to use and interpret and the ‘do-it-yourself’ method is a convenient alternative to sending well water samples to local health authorities for testing. Our bacterial testing kits offer peace of mind for the homeowner who wants the assurance that their drinking water is safe.

**Please see Watercheck™ page for more information on this product.

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