It's likely that contamination news is concerning some of your customers, especially those with private wells.

Surveying the land for possible pollution sources can tell you a lot about the likelihood of contamination. Photo courtesy of Ciger.
After seeing recent media accounts about TCE tainting private wells in DuPage County, Ill., MTBE polluting the water supply in Pascoag, R.I., and arsenic levels reaching 500 times the federal standard in East Helena, Mont., it's easy to figure out that no part of the United States is exempt from ground water contamination. With all of this coverage, it's safe to say that this contamination news is concerning some of your customers, especially those with private wells.

To find out how drilling contractors can help alleviate some of this contamination anxiety, we talked to Bill Ryan, a geologist with the Ground Water and Drinking Water Branch of the Environmental Protection Agency's Water Division. Ryan is quick to say, "We don't want to give private well owners the idea that they should be testing for a whole suite of chemicals." However, there are wells and locations that are more susceptible to contamination than others, he notes, and drillers need to give smart advice to their customers about the likelihood of contamination and make suggestions about chemicals they may want to test for in their wells.

"Drillers usually know about local contamination concerns, especially arsenic," Ryan notes. "That's one substance that drillers may want to encourage their customers to test for, if they are concerned that there's a problem with arsenic in that area."

However, becoming even more informed about the areas in which they drill can only help contractors give their customers better counsel, he says. One thing Ryan urges drillers to do is identify possible sources of contamination right off the bat. "Anything that is upstream or upflow from a well could potentially get into that well," he says. "You need to survey the lay of the land. If the homeowner is in an industrialized area, that is a cause for concern right there."

Giving his own residence as an example, Ryan shares, "I live in Lake County, Ind., and I have a private well at my house. I happen to know that the major component of ground water flow is to the north, and looking south of me, there is really no potential source of contamination that I would be concerned about - there are no gas stations, there are no industrialized facilities."

Simply looking around the area may not be enough, though. Luckily, there are means through which drillers can become educated about possible areas of contamination, Ryan says. For example, in his job, he spends time working with communities on their Source Water and Wellhead Protection Programs - programs that could be very valuable to drillers, he claims. "Under Wellhead, communities are encouraged to form a local team to protect their wellhead areas - to delineate and map a protection area around a well or well field that should receive some increased scrutiny," Ryan says. "Then they to do a very careful inventory of potential sources of contamination and come up with some sort of a plan to manage those potential sources of contamination." After taking these steps, the communities are encouraged to educate the public and make management plans for the future. Source Water Protection Program just takes the Wellhead Protection Program and expands it, he explains.

Essentially, these programs do a lot of contamination research and then educate the public about their work. If drillers take advantage of this information, they can learn a great deal about contamination in their drilling areas, Ryan relates. There are many Web sites dedicated to these programs, he says, and by doing an Internet search, drillers will most likely be able to find information on the programs in their area.

In addition to becoming familiar with the land, Ryan suggests that drillers educate the homeowners about their wells so they are better equipped to deal with contamination problems should they arise in the future. "I suggest that when a driller is drilling a private well, he provide the homeowners with a copy of the well log and maybe explain a little bit about how the well is construction - whether it's confined or unconfined and things like that. Pass on some of that information," he says.

Drillers also can tell homeowners about the ground water conditions in their locale. "Drillers have a pretty good idea of the hydrogeology of the area," Ryan notes. "A lot of homeowners have shallow wells in very sandy, gravel conditions, so the well driller could very easily provide the homeowner with indication of how susceptible the well might be." Private well owners may also need to be reminded to take proper care of their septic fields and not to over-apply pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, he says.

Probably the best recommendation he can give, though, is that drillers simply put themselves in their customers' shoes. "All of the drillers I've worked with are pretty commonsense individuals, so they have a pretty good feel. They might want to think this way, 'If this were my water supply well and my kids were drinking out of it, what would I be concerned about?'"