Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Water Wells ... and Well Water Quality
Basic Questions about Water Wells
Q: What is a water well?
A: A well is an artificial opening in the ground made for the purposes of extracting and using ground water. There are generally three types of water wells in British Columbia: dug wells, drilled wells and driven sand points. Water wells are usually completed into either unconsolidated sediments (e.g., sand, sand and gravel) or bedrock.
Q: What is a water well record?
A: A driller fills out a Well Construction Report when a well is constructed, altered or rehabilitated. The report usually includes the name and address of the owner, legal description, purpose of well, depth and diameter of the well, the estimated yield, the description, depth and thickness of geologic materials encountered during construction.
Information on water quality and potability of the ground water is usually NOT included in the well record because water samples are usually taken by others (e.g., home owner), AFTER the driller has left the site.
The driller usually leaves a copy of the well record with the property owner. A copy is submitted to the Ministry of Environment on a voluntary basis. The driller keeps the third copy. Well records submitted to the ministry are accessible on its Ground Water website. Well records that are not submitted to the ministry may be obtained from the driller or property owner.
Searching for Well Records
Q: I need the well record for my property. I tried searching the internet and can't find it. What can I do?
A: Searching for a well record by legal land description or street name may not always be successful due to deficiencies in the data provided in the well record. The legal descriptions in the water well database are the legal descriptions of the property at the time the water well was constructed. If your search by legal land description was unsuccessful in finding a particular well, you may find it with a British Columbia Geographic System (BCGS) search, or by searching through the Aquifer and Water Wells in B.C. site.
If you can't find the well using any of the above searches, then that record either has not been provided to the ministry by the owner or driller, or is a recent record that has not yet been processed. Try contacting local drilling companies in your area to see if they have the original well record for your property.
Q: I want to buy a rural property. How can I find out if there is a well on the property, whether its yield is good and water quality is potable (safe to drink)?
A: Search for your water well record on the ministry's Ground Water website. It is important to also realize the yield reported in the well log is estimated from a short duration test. The actual sustainable yield of the well may be less than that reported in the well record, particularly for bedrock wells.
Information on water quality and potability of the ground water is usually NOT included in the well record because water samples are usually taken by others (e.g., home owner), after the driller has left the site. To find out if the water is potable, you should have a water sample taken from the well and have it tested for potability. Consult your local health authority office regarding what to test for.
Drilling and Abandoning Wells
Q: Can I drill a well anywhere on my property? How close can I site the well to the property line?
A: The province does not have restrictions on how close a well can be drilled from the property line. Check with the local municipal government in your area; it may have restrictions.
The site of a proposed water supply well should not be:
- within a horizontal distance of 3 metres (10 feet) of an existing building;
- within a horizontal distance of 30 metres (100 feet) of any probable source of contamination or point of waste discharge to the ground, such as a privy vault, cesspool, septic effluent field, manure heap, stable or pig sty; or
- within a horizontal distance of 120 metres (400 feet) of any cemetery or dumping ground.
A well should be located on higher ground so that the well head can be protected from normal flooding and surface drainage. Shallow wells should be located away from surface drainage ditches.
Q: What do I need to know if I want to get a well drilled? How do I find a driller? How can I make sure my well will be properly constructed? How much does it cost to put in a well?
A: The following are several useful Internet sites on how to select a driller and have a well drilled properly, making sure the need for basic well components (i.e., screen, sanitary grout seal, well location) are met.
Costs involved in having a well drilled will vary and asking for quotes from more than one certified driller is always preferable.
Drillers will suggest that you drill where the location is convenient to the house and also meet the requirements of the health authority (safe distance from septic system, etc.). They will also look at records of other neighbouring wells to identify aquifers present, the depth and yield expected. For larger water supplies, such as for a town or subdivision, hiring a professional ground water consultant to evaluate the geology, look at other wells in the area and recommend where to drill to obtain the sufficient amount of water is recommended.
Q: What should I do if a well on my property is not being used?
A: If you have a well on your property that will no longer be used, you should consider permanently abandoning the well by sealing it. Unused wells that are not properly sealed provide a potential rapid pathway for any contaminants to enter into the ground water directly through the well. Dug wells that are no longer in use can also be a safety hazard for small children and animals to fall into.
General guidelines for permanently abandoning wells can be found in the draft Code of Practice for Construction, Testing, Maintenance, Alteration and Closure of Wells, Province of British Columbia.
You should also consult a local qualified well driller on how your unused well can be permanently abandoned and how much it will cost. You may need to provide the driller with a copy of the well log or information on the depth and construction of the well.
Once the driller has permanently abandoned the well, he should provide you with a report of this work for your records. You may wish to forward a copy of the well abandonment report to your local Environment office for updating the provincial WELL database.
Water Quality Testing
Q: I have a private well. How and where can I get my well water tested? How often should I test my well water? What should I be testing for?
A: Please refer to the Ministry of Health Services's Health File #5b, Should I Get My Well Water Tested?
Q: I have a well at my cabin and I don't use the well frequently. What can I do to ensure that the water is safe to drink?
A: The best way to ensure your well water is safe to drink is to have your well water regularly tested by a laboratory. Contact an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) at your local health authority (see blue pages of your phone book) to get information on what microbiological and chemical constituents to test for in your well water and which local laboratories can test your water. Health File #5b, Should I Get My Well Water Tested? provides additional information. (Health Files should be available from your local health authority.)
When taking a water sample from your well, run the tap for a few minutes before collecting the water sample. For testing coliform bacteria in your well water, if you are collecting a water sample from a household tap, first remove any screen from the tap as it provides a good breeding ground for bacteria.
If you are sampling from an outside tap, collect the water sample directly from the tap, and not through the garden hose, for the same reason. When filling the sample bottle, do not touch the inside of the bottle or bottle cap. Your local EHO will be able to provide guidance on:
- what to test for;
- how to properly collect a water sample;
- what sample bottles you will need;
- how to get the water sample to the laboratory;
- interpreting the results; and
- what to do if your well water is not potable (safe to drink).
Q: Our well is contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria. Who can give me advice on what to do? (Refer also to "How can my well become contaminated?")
A: If your well is contaminated with fecal coliform bacteria, the first thing to know is do not drink the water without disinfecting it first. The easiest and most effective way to disinfect the water is to bring it to a full boil for a least one minute. Health File #49b, How to Disinfect Drinking Water, provides additional information on disinfecting drinking water.
It is important to contact an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) at your local health authority (see blue pages of your telephone book) as soon as possible, to get advice on how to prevent illness by disinfecting the water and how to remedy the contamination problem. The EHO will probably provide advice on chlorinating the well and determining the source of the bacteria. It may be necessary to have the well inspected to determine if there are any problems with the well — such as cracks in the casing, or openings between the well and the ground surrounding the well, which may be causing the problem.
To prevent bacterial contamination:
Ensure the well has a secure lid that does not allow water, insects or rodents to enter the well;
Keep the area around the well clean and tidy, and if possible, cover the well with a small shelter to keep it out of the elements; and
Do not allow surface water to pool around the well. Ideally, the well should be located on a mound or local high point so that surface water sheds away from the well.
Protecting Well Water Quality
Q: How do I protect my well from potential contamination sources that are off my property?
A: Follow these suggestions:
For new wells, ensure the well is properly constructed and has a sanitary grout seal;
Ensure a proper well cap;
Site a new well upslope (if possible) and far enough away from potential sources of contamination such as neighbours' septic fields;
Assess well lithology (sediments, rock types) to determine the risk of potential sources of contamination on ground water quality degradation (If the well is completed below a significant clay or till layer, the risk of ground water contamination from land use activities may be negligible.); and
Approach neighbouring property owners to make them aware of your drinking ground water supply and request that they curtail any land use activities that may affect your ground water quality, especially within the capture zone.
Q: How can my well become contaminated?
A: There are several ways a well can become contaminated. Commonly, a well can be contaminated by the well owner through careless action. The best way to minimize the risk of a well from contamination by activities on your own property is to:
Locate the well at least 30 metres (100 feet) from septic systems, barns, fuel tanks and other potential sources of contamination;
Keep the area around the well clean and tidy, and if possible, cover the well with a small shelter to keep it out of the elements;
Do not store chemicals, fertilizers, de-icing salt and fuels in the well pumphouse;
Ensure the well has a secure lid that does not allow water, insects or rodents to enter the well;
Do not allow surface water to pool around the well. Ideally, the well should be located on a mound or local high point so that surface water sheds away from the well;
Permanently seal any unused wells on your property; and
When constructing a new well, include a sanitary grout seal for the well to prevent contaminated surface water or shallow ground water from entering the well.
A well can also be contaminated from potential activities of your neighbour’s because contaminated ground water can flow from your neighbour’s property to your well.
Finally, a well can be contaminated by contaminants that are naturally occurring in the underlying soils and rocks. Elevated arsenic and fluoride levels in well water in some parts of British Columbia are believed to occur naturally.
Monitoring your well water quality regularly is a good way to check if your well water is potable (safe to drink). Consult your local Environmental Health Officer about what to test for and how often to test. Results of the well water analysis will help identify if your well water is fit for domestic use or, if not, what types of contaminants are in the water.
Q: Can my neighbour's activities contaminate my well?
A: A neighbour's activities such as inappropriate disposal of waste materials can contaminate your well if the ground water movement through the water-bearing zone or aquifer is in the direction of your well and if there is no significant thickness of confining sediments such as clay or till to protect downward migration of contaminants into the aquifer or water-bearing zone. Your well can also become contaminated if it does not have a proper well seal.
Q: Am I liable if my well contaminates the ground water?
A: It would depend on the use and condition of the well. If someone was introducing wastes into a well without a permit (from the Ministry of Environment), they could be liable for contaminating ground water. Wells should be maintained in a secure condition to preclude the entry of contaminants or any foreign substance through the well head, or zone immediately around the well.
Unused wells should be properly abandoned. See the FAQ, "What should I do if my property is not being used?" for information and tips on properly abandoning your well.
Conflicts with Neighbours and Nearby Activities
Q: We shared a well on a neighbour's property. The neighbour's property was recently sold and the new owner has told us to stop using the well. What can we do?
A: Negotiate with the new owner if the former arrangement was verbal. Review any written agreements that may have been in place and discuss with your lawyer if necessary. Consider drilling your own well if necessary.
Q: My neighbour has drilled a well on his property. Now our well has gone dry. Is there anything we can do?
A: These actions are recommended:
- Consult a qualified driller or professional hydrogeologist to establish possible cause of your well going dry. Visit these websites:
- B.C. Ground Water Association site for a list of drillers; and
- Ground Water Consultants in British Columbia.
- Assess well lithology (sediments, rock types) to determine the risk of potential sources of contamination on ground water quality degradation (If the well is completed below a significant clay or till layer, the risk of ground water contamination from land use activities may be negligible.); and
- Approach neighbouring property owners to make them aware of your drinking ground water supply and request that they curtail any land use activities that may affect your ground water quality, especially within the capture zone.
- There may be the possibility of finding additional water supplies by drilling your existing well deeper or drilling at a different location on your property. Refer to the question, "What do I need to know if I want to get a well drilled?" for information and tips on re-drilling or drilling new wells.
- If you are still getting some water, installing a cistern to store water and filling it up as water in the well is more readily available (times when neighbour is not pumping or it is a time of greater natural recharge, that is, during the rainy season or the snow is melting). Companies that install water systems could help with installing the cistern that would meet your needs.
- There could be a co-operative solution in sharing the water from your neighbour’s well.
- There is no legislation in force, right now, that restricts the use of water from domestic wells. People whose wells may be adversely affected by others may consider seeking damages through the courts. Consult a professional hydrogeologist to ascertain the possibility that the drilling of a well on your neighbour’s property actually was the cause of your well going dry. Consult your lawyer regarding possible legal actions to take.
Wells and Drought Conditions
Q: My well yield has decreased, how can I tell if my well is being affected by a neighbouring well pumping or by the drought?
A: Extracting water from a well lowers the water levels in and around the well. The impact of pumping on neighbouring wells depends on:
- the volume of water pumped;
- the proximity of the neighbouring wells; and
- the permeability of the aquifer.
The impact from pumping of neighbouring well or from drought is generally the same: lowered water levels which then limits well yield. Here are some steps that you can take to find out if your well is being affected by a neighbouring well pumping, or by drought:
Note: Typically, well interference is caused by a relatively large withdrawal from a well affecting adjacent neighbouring wells.
- Check for any mechanical or electrical problems with the pumping system;
- Find out if there is a provincial observation well close to your well, and if the observation well's water levels are going down, staying constant or going up (See B.C.'s observation well network). If the water levels in the observation well are steadily decreasing, this could mean that the aquifer your well is tapping is experiencing decreased recharge. Therefore, the water levels are being lowered across the entire aquifer (possibly due to drought conditions);
- To determine if pumping of a neighbouring well is the cause (well interference), you will need to check the water level in your well and be aware of the pumping schedule of the neighbouring well. The water level in your well should rise and fall with the cessation and commencement of pumping in the neighbouring well; and
- If you cannot determine whether the lower water levels in your well are resulting from a neighbouring well pumping or drought, it is recommended that you hire a qualified professional with expertise in ground water be hired to:
- interpret the information collected
- conduct a short term pump test, if necessary; and
- help determine if the impact on your well is from interference from a neighbouring well, or drought
If it is found that the neighbouring well is affecting the water levels in your well, it is best to co-operate with your neighbour in developing a compromise that works for everyone, such as an alternate-pumping scheme. You may want to check your pump setting to see if the pump can be lowered in your well. You may also consult a ground water engineer or driller to see if your well can be deepened to increase the available drawdown in your well, so it is less vulnerable to well interference.
If it is determined that it is a drought that is lowering the water levels in your well, there are many water conservation practices that can be implemented in your home to decrease your daily water consumption. Again, you may need to check with a driller or a ground water engineer about the possibility of deepening the well to increase the available drawdown in your well.
Q: I own a relatively large water supply well. How can I better protect my well supply against drought conditions?
A: Many water conservation measures can minimize the demand on the well water supply source. (As mentioned in the previous FAQ, if the well is shallow, with limited available drawdown, you might want to consult a driller or ground water engineer about deepening the well.)
One measure that is often neglected is maintaining the performance of the well itself to better safeguard the supply during periods of low, seasonal, ground water levels. Here are some ways to ensure that a well water supply is developed and maintained to better withstand drought. These apply especially to larger water supply wells that typically pump a large volume of water. Any drop in the performance of these wells may affect the water supply:
- When the well is first constructed, the driller should develop the well to as efficient a state as possible. An efficient well uses less available drawdown in the well for a given pumping rate (i.e., it minimizes the drawdown in the well's water level during operation), compared to a less efficient well. Well inefficiency will cause excessive drawdown during pumping and limit the well's capacity;
- When the well is operating, conduct a short-term pump test each year to monitor the well's "specific capacity"— to make sure the well's efficiency is maintained over time. "Specific capacity" is the well’s pumping rate divided by the drawdown in the well. Seek advice from a ground water engineer on how best to monitor your wells' specific capacity.
- A well’s specific capacity can decrease over the years, due to encrustation or bacterial growth at the well screen. Monitoring the well’s specific capacity allows any gradual drop in well efficiency to be detected and addressed. Annual monitoring of specific capacity is particularly appropriate for larger capacity water supply wells because resources for this monitoring are more likely available, and greater volumes are typically required from these wells; and
- If a drop in specific capacity of 10-20% is detected, remedial measures for the well (e.g., redeveloping the well) can be planned. Consult with a ground water engineer or driller.
Ensuring that the performance of your well is maintained allows your well to perform at its best at all times, but is especially critical during periods of drought.
Well Water Conservation
Q: What can I do at home to conserve our well water?
A: The amount of ground water available for use varies around the province. Some wells are constructed in very productive aquifers, while others are in low-productivity aquifers. There are even wells in aquifers that annually go dry at the end of the summer season, although this is not the general situation in B.C.
Regardless of the amount of water your well is capable of yielding, it is always good practice to conserve the water you use. This is especially true in areas of low water availability or high well density. Factors which affect low water availability are:
- the geology that makes up the aquifer may not be conducive to storing and yielding lots of water;
- the local climate may have little annual precipitation with which to recharge an aquifer; or
- the number of wells withdrawing ground water from a specific individual aquifer may be nearing the aquifer's capacity to meet the demands of all the well owners.
Canadians use an average of 340 litres/day (86 US gallons/day) per person. British Columbians use even more than that: an average of 490 litres (129 US gallons) of water per day, per person. Our water consumption (per person) is much higher than the United Kingdom's average of 148 litres (39 US gallons) per day, and Germany's 128 litres (34 US gallons) per day.
Conserving water also makes financial sense. The cost of making some small lifestyle changes and buying a few water-saving devices is far less expensive than that of redeveloping a well, drilling a deeper well or even drilling another well.
We can all do our part to lessen the effects of limited water supplies by conserving the water we use, both outside and inside our homes.
Outside the Home
Outdoor water consumption accounts for almost half the water used by the home owner, and therefore provides the greatest single opportunity for conserving water. It is important in B.C. to follow your local restrictions on water use.
The following information contains useful tips on how to conserve water regardless of whether your water supply comes from your own well or you are part of a large municipal water district.
Lawn and Garden Sprinklers
- Water in the morning before 10:00 a.m.
- Avoid watering in the heat of the day, to prevent evaporative losses -- and late in the day, to prevent fungus and other lawn diseases.
- Depending on the weather, it's generally better to water once a week and provide 2.5 to 3.8 centimetres (1 to 1.5 inches) of water. (If it's hot, you might have to water more often.)
- Time how long it takes to apply 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) of water by placing a flat-bottomed can about 1.8 metres (6 feet) away from the sprinkler.
- If you can water 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) at a time, avoiding runoff, this is usually enough to penetrate the soil 10 to 15 centimetres (4 to 6 inches).
- If your soil begins to runoff after only 3.8 centimetres (1.5 inches) of water, let it soak in, and then water another centimetre (0.5 inch) as soon as you can.
- These methods encourage deeper, healthier root systems and allows the lawn to go without water for a longer time.
- Set a kitchen timer or invest in a sprinkler timer to help prevent overwatering, if you don't have an automatic sprinkling system. Outdoor faucets can flow at more than 1,100 litres (300 US gallons) per hour. A lot of water can be wasted in a short period of time if you forget to turn off your sprinklers.
- Do not mow lawns too short. This will help shade roots from sunlight and encourage deeper roots. Taller grass requires less water. Avoid cutting more than 2.5 centimetres (1 inch) at a time.
- Consider letting your lawn brown out. It will come back.
- Position sprinklers so water doesn't land in the gutters or any paved areas.
- Don't water on windy days. Water will go everywhere except where it is needed.
- Consider installing drip irrigation systems around trees and shrubs. Drip irrigation allows water to flow slowly to roots. This encourages strong root systems and reduces water loss due to evaporation.
- Consider collecting rain water from your roof into a closed barrel or cistern to water your garden.
Mulching and Weeds
- Lay mulch around trees and plants at least 2.5 to 5 centimetres (1 to 2 inches) deep, in order to retain moisture, slow evaporation, and discourage weed growth.
- Weeds rob your plants of water and nutrients. Try to keep your lawn and garden weed-free. Spot spray or remove weeds as they appear, using an environmentally safe product.
Your Soil: Help it hold the right amount of water.
- Clay Soil: Add organic material such as compost or peat moss. Clay soil absorbs water very slowly, so water only as fast as the soil can absorb. Don't waste water by letting it run off.
- Sandy Soil: Water can run through sandy soil so quickly that plants don't have a chance to absorb it. Add organic material to supplement the soil and slow down water flow.
- Loamy Soil: Loamy soil is the best. It's a combination of sand, silt, and clay. It absorbs water readily and stores it for use by plants. It can retain its loamy quality by continual additions of organic material each year
- Check for leaks in pipes, hoses, faucets, and couplings. Leaks can waste a lot of water.
- If you own a pool, get a cover for it to help prevent evaporation. An average-sized pool can lose about 3800 litres (1,000 US gallons) of water per month. A pool cover can cut this loss by up to 90%. It can also help keep the water cleaner and warmer, saving water and energy if your pool has a filtration and heating system.
- Use a broom, not a hose, to clean driveways, sidewalks, and other hard surfaces.
- Rinse the car once, wash from a bucket, rinse quickly again. Be sure to use a shutoff nozzle on your hose. Consider washing your car on grass or gravel rather than pavement.
- In areas and times of very low water supplies, practising xeriscape landscaping (quality landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment) and not washing your car are options that should be considered.
Inside the Home
- Repair Leaks
- Check faucets and hose connections for leaks.
- Inspect pipes for pinhole leaks, and leaking joints. A slow drip can waste 57 to 76 litres (15 to 20 US gallons) a day. Fix it and you will save almost 23,000 litres (6,000 US gallons) a year.
- Showers and Baths
- Take shorter showers. You can save 19 litres (5 US gallons) every minute.
- Use low volume showerheads. They are inexpensive and can pay for themselves in water, sewer and energy savings, in less than a year. For a five-minute shower they can reduce water usage from about 47 litres (12 US gallons) to 151 litres (40 US gallons).
- When taking a bath, close the tub drain before turning on the water and fill the tub up halfway or less. A full tub can hold more than 189 litres (50 US gallons) of water.
- Flush only when needed.
- Put a water-displacement device (e.g., a brick, filled bottle of water) inside the toilet tank or replace your toilet with a high-efficiency, low-flush toilet that uses only 6 litres (1.6 US gallons) per flush. Toilets older than 1992 typically flush at 13 to 19 litres (3.5 to 5 US gallons) per flush.
- Check for leaks. Drip 10 drops of food coloring into the toilet tank to see if there is a leak.
- Brushing Your Teeth or Shaving
- Leave the water off when brushing your teeth or shaving. You'll save 11 to 27 litres (3 to 7 US gallons) of water each minute, if you don't already have a low-flow faucet aerator. If you have an aerator you will save about 9 litres (2.5 US gallons) per minute.
- Repair Leaks
- Check faucets and hose connections for leaks.
- Inspect pipes for pinhole leaks, and leaking joints. A slow drip can waste 7 to 8 litres (15 to 20 US gallons) a day. Fix it and you will save almost 23,000 litres (6,000 US gallons) a year.
- Drinking Water
- Keep a container of cool water in the refrigerator instead of running the faucet.
- Use faucets at a low volume.
- Install high efficiency, low-flow faucet aerators that use no more than 9 litres (2.5 US gallons) of water per minute. Most faucets use between 11 and 26 litres (3 and 7 US gallons) per minute.
- Garbage Disposal
- Use the sink disposal sparingly.
- Compost kitchen scraps rather than flushing them down the drain.
- Cleaning Vegetables and Fruits
- Clean vegetables and fruit in a pan of water, not under a running faucet.
- Use a vegetable brush to remove dirt.
- Defrosting Food
- Defrost in the refrigerator instead of running water. This may require taking food out of the freezer a couple of days in advance, but it will help reduce water bills.
- Run the dishwasher only when it's fully loaded. Most dishwashers use between 45 and 57 litres (12 and 15 US gallons) of water, full or empty.
- When loading the dishwasher, scrape food off of dishes and pots instead of rinsing them.
- Check out water-saving dishwashers, if you're thinking about buying a new one.
- Washing Dishes by Hand
- Fill the sink or a pan with soapy water, instead of letting the faucet run while soaping dishes.
- Don't let the faucet run while rinsing off dishes. Rinse dishes in a filled sink or a pan of water.
- Washing Machine
- Run the washing machine only when it's fully loaded. Every load uses up to 190 litres (50 US gallons).
- Some washing machines have controls that let you select the load size. Select the size that's right for your load, no bigger.
- Washing machines use 114 to 189 litres (30 and 50 US gallons) of water per full load.
- Pre-soak clothes in the washing machine only when absolutely necessary.
- Check out front-loading washers, if you're thinking about buying a new washing machine. These washers can cost more, but they use 1/3 less water and half the energy per load than top-loading washing machines.
- Avoid using extra cycles whenever possible.
More Information about Water Conservation in B.C. Visit:
British Columbia's Water Plan.