Private Well Owners – Frequently Asked Questions

Well Water Assessment – Private Well Owners – Frequently Asked Questions

What is a private well? What is a public water system?

In rural areas, household drinking water is commonly obtained through private wells or surface water intakes, and is usually called a private or “domestic” water supply. Most homeowners know if they have a well on their property.

Most drinking water, particularly in urban areas, is obtained through public water systems that serve multiple homes or entire communities. These can be groundwater wells or surface water intakes (pipes drawing from streams and rivers). If a well or intake serves more than 3 homes or connections, it is regulated as a public water system in Oregon.


Where can I get more information on my drinking water?

Private Water Wells

If your water comes from a household well (serving 1-3 households), it is considered a “private” or “domestic” well in Oregon. If you get your water from a private well, you are responsible for well maintenance, testing and operation. Basic information on household wells, water tests, water treatment and potential sources of contamination is available at from the Oregon State University Extension Service’s Well Water Website or from the Water Systems Council Wellcare Program. Information on household water treatment systems can be found in DHS’s technical bulletin.

It is important to note that private wells are not legally required by State or Federal law to conduct sampling and testing unless there is a property transfer. The homeowner has the responsibility for maintaining the private well and ensuring the well water is safe to drink. The Department of Human Services and the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon recommend that private wells be tested regularly to ensure your drinking water is safe for consumption. Testing should also be done as soon as possible if anyone in the family is experiencing chronic gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., chronic diarrhea), or other unexplained health problems.  DHS provides more information on testing for real estate transactions.


Public Water Systems

If you get your drinking water from a “public water system” (more than 3 connections), you can call the owner or operator of the system to get more information on the source of the water and whether there are any contaminants present in the water. The name of your water provider can be found on your most recent water bill. Public water systems are required to sample and test for contamination on a regular basis, and report the results to the consumers. You can get the most recent “Consumer Confidence Report” for your water system from the water provider.

For additional assistance with understanding public water system regulations and treatment, you can contact the Oregon Department of Human Services- Drinking Water Program. You can find the contact person for your water system and access the most recent test results. Click on “Data Online” (in the left sidebar) and use the “WS Name Look Up” or “WS ID Look Up” to access system information.


What types of things do you test for in drinking water?

Generally, it is a high priority to sample for microbiological contaminants and nitrates on a regular basis. In addition, both agencies are also becoming increasing concerned about arsenic. These are the most common risks for private well owners. The Department of Human Services and Department of Environmental Quality recommend that you also call a licensed well constructor in your area who will be able to give you information on what the County Health Department recommends to sample for in the private well. You can obtain more information on health risks and contaminants in drinking water from info sheets available from the Water Systems Council.


Where can I get my water tested? Can the state do it? How much does it cost?

The Department of Human Services and Department of Environmental Quality do not test (or pay for testing of) private wells. Unless your well involves a specific project, no state agency is funded to provide free testing. Well owners can have their well water tested at a nearby laboratory at their own expense, but the best way to accurately test your well is to hire a licensed well constructor who will come to the well, collect the sample, and take it to the lab for you. Testing for the most common risks will typically cost $70 for nitrate analysis, $70 for coliform bacteria (microbiological) testing, and $130 for arsenic analysis. If other contaminants are suspected, more extensive testing may be warranted.


What happens if there are contaminants in my private well?

If test results from your private well indicate microbiological contaminants we can assist with information on how to disinfect your well. We can also provide information on how to address other problems.

If test results show your well has toxic contaminants at concentrations above federal drinking-water standards, the responsibility for follow-up falls to the Department of Environmental Quality. In this case, we will call the local DEQ office. As DEQ’s regional staff resources permit (depending on the magnitude of the problem and the number of persons affected), they may investigate alternative water supplies and seek the source(s) of contamination.


What are my legal rights as a renter?

The Oregon Residential Landlord Tenant Act (ORS 90.320) requires that all landlords maintain their rental units in a habitable condition, including providing a water supply maintained so as to provide “safe drinking water”. If a renter has contaminated drinking water, the landlord is responsible for maintaining and treating the well, or providing another source of safe drinking water. For mobile home parks that supply water to each home, the owner of park is responsible for providing safe drinking water to the homes.

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