Success! You’ve hit water and your well is complete … almost. As with any project, it’s important to see through the finishing touches and guarantee safety to those who will use the well.

Before drilling, determine a safe well location with stable ground, low risk of contamination and convenient access. Check out this intro to water well drilling for more on preparation and training. 

Of course, site selection and safe operation of the drill are both important. But, when it comes to well safety, there are two other key aspects to consider: water quality and the physical safety of the well. Both are important to confirm before marking a project as complete.

Water Safety

The World Health Organization considers water “safe” if it contains no disease-causing organisms or harmful chemicals. Drillers need to know the importance of properly sealing a well to avoid possible contamination, which could affect any people or animals who use the well.

Groundwater is usually safe to drink without treatment because soil naturally filters out disease-causing organisms and chemicals as water flows through it. But that’s not always the case, and if a well isn’t sealed properly, surface water can leak in, bringing with it potential contaminants.

A sanitary seal is the key component that stands between surface water and well water. Shallow groundwater might also be contaminated, so sealing the upper section of the borehole will protect the well. Without this seal, water can easily flow through the disturbed soil between the borehole wall and the well casing. The sanitary seal should extend down to the first impermeable sediment layer to be effective. This is the standard that most government agencies follow to protect the quality of drinking water.

Before installing the seal, it’s important to fill the space between the casing and the open hole. Larger establishments and professional drillers with large drilling rigs likely use a grout pump. Operators lower a grout pipe or tremie from the pump into the ground and pump grout on top of the gravel pack. For smaller operations and those in the missionary field, a grout pump may not make sense. In these cases, fill the hole with bentonite chips or neat cement. Drillers can also use the neat cement mixture to create a berm around the top of the borehole, which protects against surface water collecting around the top of the well.

After sealing a well, wait at least 24 hours before installing the well’s submersible pump to ensure the sanitary seal sets completely.

Well Site Safety

For hand pump setups, a pump pad provides a strong, safe base for people to stand on while pumping water. A poorly constructed pump pad can result in a broken pump, contaminated groundwater and an unhealthy environment.

The pump pad should cover at least 3 feet (1 meter) around the pump base, be raised above the ground, and made with strong, reinforced concrete. Placement should ensure that rain runoff doesn’t collect around the pad. Make sure the pump pad is fenced so that animals can’t gather close to it.

Protecting the drill site and installing a pump pad are not always the responsibility of the driller. Some organizations choose to hire a mason, but it’s important to be familiar with well site safety.

Well Water Testing

In some situations, you may not be the one utilizing the well you’ve just drilled, and therefore not responsible for testing its quality. But if it is, in cases like a private water well, it’s important to continue testing the quality of water.

According to the Groundwater Foundation, it’s important to test private well water at least once per year. Test at the tap and at the source to determine the quality of the water and the system. Your local Health and Human Services Department can recommend a certified laboratory in your area.

Some common water tests include basic potability, coliform bacteria, nitrate, ions, sulfates, fluoride and total dissolved units. Testing water for its intended use — drinking water, livestock watering or chemical spraying — can help you make informed decisions about your water and best utilize it.

By following some basic guidelines, you can rest assured that the hard work of drilling a water well has resulted in clean, safe drinking water.