Wellhead Protection Plan
PROTECTING YOUR PRIVATE WELL
The City of Winona recently completed the development of a Wellhead Protection Plan. The purpose of this plan was to protect the recharge area for the City’s wells, to prevent contamination from impacting the aquifer that supplies our drinking water. As part of the Wellhead Protection Plan, private wells were identified within the Winona area. While the plan primarily focuses on the City’s wells, private well owners also have a part to play in protecting the aquifer. Keeping the aquifer safe from contaminants not only benefits well owners, but benefits the entire community that uses the same water source.
Improper maintenance or management of private wells could result in contamination entering into your drinking water. Well owners can protect their drinking water by following a few of the best management practices listed below.
Well Landscaping & Building Considerations:
- When landscaping around the well, keep the top of the well at least 1 foot above the soil surface. Slope the soil away from the well casing to allow surface water to drain away from your well.
- Do not pile snow, leaves, or other materials around the well. This will help keep insects, dirt, and other contaminants from entering your well.
- Consider the location of your well when making physical changes to your property. Setback requirements from buildings and potential contaminant sources can be found in the Well Owner’s Handbook (see link below)
Well Management & Maintenance:
- Seal unused wells. Unused or abandoned wells that have not been properly sealed can provide a direct pathway for contaminants to enter the groundwater aquifer.
- When working near your well, be careful not to disturb or damage the well casing.
- Inspect your well regularly for physical changes or damage. Be sure the well cover or well cap on top of the casing is properly attached and in good condition. All connections to the cap should be watertight. If damage is detected, contact a licensed well driller to repair the well.
- Do not mix or work with hazardous chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers, paints or motor oil, near your well. Immediately clean up spills to prevent groundwater contamination.
- Take steps to prevent back-siphonage of material into your plumbing system and well. This can occur when there is a drop in water pressure, allowing water or other liquids to be suctioned back into the plumbing system and into your well. Situations to avoid include: 1) When connecting a hose to a faucet, do not submerge the hose in a laundry tub, chemical tank, container, or sprayer, and 2) When filling pesticide tanks or containers with water, avoid placing the hose inside the tank or container.
Well Water Quality & Monitoring:
- Most health-related contaminants in water cannot be seen by the naked eye and do not relate to the clarity of your water. Have your water tested regularly for basic health related contaminants including coliform bacteria, lead, arsenic, and nitrates. The Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District provides resources for private well owners to test their wells. More information can be found on their website: https://winonaswcd.org/
- Monitor for changes in the color or smell of your water. Consult with a local health department official, well driller or softening company to determine necessary steps.
Identifying and Sealing Unused Wells:
- Perhaps one of the biggest threats to our groundwater aquifer is the presence of old, unused wells than have not been properly sealed. These wells provide a direct pathway for contaminants to enter the aquifer. Once the aquifer is contaminated, it may take many years or decades before the water is safe to drink again. Because of this, State law requires that unused well be sealed by a licensed well contractor. Sealing involves the removal of any pumps or pumping equipment, and filling the well from the bottom-up with cement grout to close off the pathway for contaminants to enter the aquifer.
If a property owner has an unused well they wish to leave unsealed, perhaps because the well may be needed in the future, a well maintenance permit must be obtained through the Minnesota Department of Health. The maintenance permit requires the property owner to follow certain steps to safeguard the well. An annual fee is also a requirement of the maintenance permit.
On occasion, property owners may not even be aware they have an unused well. While most modern private well are easily identified, usually consisting of a 4-inch or 6-inch steel casing and cap sticking above the ground, older wells may be harder to identify. In older properties, these wells may sometimes be in the basement or under the front steps of the home. Any vertical pipe coming out of the ground or basement floor should be investigated to determine if it is a well. Pipes may be made of different materials, including metal, wood, concrete, tile, or a mixture of materials.
While property owners are responsible for the costs of sealing or maintaining wells, the creation of the Wellhead Protection Plan in Winona has opened up opportunities for grants and cost-sharing to help residents pay for the sealing costs. Often, 50-100% of the costs can be covered through existing programs. The City is also in a position to obtain grant money for well sealing from the State, so it is beneficial for well owners to make the City aware of any unsealed private wells. Contact Winona’s Public Works Department (507) 457-8269 for further information.
For More Information:
- MN Department of Health Website: https://www.health.state.mn.us/communities/environment/water/wells/index.html
- Well Owner’s Handbook: http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/wells/construction/handbook.pdf