Reply To: Ask the Expert Session – State & Federal Policies on Private Wells

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Doug Farquhar

Since the new administration, have there been any updates to the state or federal policies regarding private wells?

Private wells are not federally-regulated or protected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act, despite the fact that an estimated 43 million people (15% of the population) in the United States rely on private wells for drinking water (DeSimone, 2009). The laws regulating these wells are not uniform; rather they are promulgated by each individual state.

Little is known about the quality of water from private wells because there are few regulations requiring homeowners to test and/or treat their well water, or to provide financial support to test (Flanagan et al., 2015). Since testing is the responsibility of homeowners, testing occurs infrequently (Malecki et al., 2017; Jones et al., 2006; Paul et al., 2015; Katner et al., 2015). Other major barriers to testing include limited knowledge of water testing by well owners, inconvenience to owners, cost of testing, privacy concerns, property value concerns, and lack of perceived health concerns (Kreutzwiser et al., 2011; Malecki et al., 2017; Morris et al., 2016).

As part of their COVID-19 response, Congress created the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) in 2021, providing funds to assist low-income households with water and wastewater bills. LIHWAP was created as part of an overall emergency effort to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus, with the public health focus of ensuring that low-income households have access to safe and clean drinking water and wastewater services. LIHWAP grants are available to states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Territories (including Puerto Rico), and Federally and state-recognized Indian Tribes and tribal organizations that received Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) grants. It is designed for households with the lowest incomes and who pay a high proportion of income for drinking water or are facing water disconnection.

National Statistics
 Private water systems are the largest users of unregulated water. No known data on number of water-borne outbreaks from unregulated systems, but CDC has data that outbreaks are increasing from private wells. Public water systems are seeing fewer outbreaks. Random testing shows these wells generally do not meet SDWA standards; however the level of contaminants is based on location of the wells.
 Small systems serving less than 25 people or have fewer than 15 connections are exempt from federal standards
 10.5 % of the nation gets their water from unregulated systems (as you can see, this figure varies depending on the agency collecting the data.)
 Includes private well water, small systems and rural areas not served by a utility
 Estimated 20% of private wells have contaminants above EPA standards
 Water-borne disease outbreaks from private wells increasing, according to CDC
 Reverse Osmosis System (ROS) costs around $500; $60 a year in maintenance

State Statistics
 California SB 776 (2021) Safe drinking water and water quality – California’s Safe Drinking Water Act would be expanded for small state water systems.
 Maine HP 1401 (2022) – Support Safe Drinking Water for Maine Families – Provides $400,000 in grants for private well water treatment of contaminants.
 Maryland HB 1069 (2022) – Water Supply – Private Well Safety Program – Requiring an owner of residential rental property that is served by a private water supply well to provide water quality testing every 3 years and to disclose to a tenant certain results; requiring notification to the Department of the Environment and the local health department about well contamination
 Virginia HB 162 (2022) – Coal ash ponds; definitions, well monitoring program, wells near ponds. Requires Utilities to commission independent well water test on behalf of the owner of any private well or public water supply well located within 1.5 miles of such coal ash pond, and requires tests to be conducted once per year during each of the five years following the approval of the closure of the coal ash pond and once every five years thereafter. The bill provides that if any test exceeds any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level for drinking water, the utility shall provide water treatment or alternative water supplies, potentially including a connection to a city or county water utility, to the owner of the well.
 Iowa provides free testing of water samples from private wells
 New York requires annual testing of private wells
 New Jersey requires testing once every 5 years; Provides testing for homes with elevated copper or lead levels (Chap. 265, 2021)
 New Hampshire provides low-cost water testing
 Maine initiated new private well water testing and mitigation program
 North Dakota requires oil & gas operations to test wells within ½ mile of their development
 Washington regulates private systems serving 2 or more homes
 Colorado wells tend to be cleaner because to higher elevation and less agricultural activities (CAFOs). Other states have adopted standards more stringent than EPA for private wells.