Health officials: floods may have contaminated well water

Heavy rains caused muddy water to overload the Westfield water system.
Heavy rains caused muddy water to overload the Westfield water system.

MAYVILLE, NY (WIVB) Chautauqua County health officials are warning private water well owners about possible contamination from the recent floods and high waters.

Well water may be unsuitable for drinking if it has been under flood waters. Residents are urged not to use water for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth or making ice cubes in these cases without boiling it first.

“Even if it is not still under water, a flood will leave warning signs that a water well may be unsafe,” said Christine Schuyler, Director of Health and Human Services, “Debris and mud in the area of the well casing and water or mud stains on the well casing are good indicators that the well was flooded.”

Several recommendations for flooded wells have been issued by the Chautauqua County Department of health and Human Services’ Public Health Division-

· Water wells should be pumped until the water runs clear to rid the wells of floodwater. Use an outside spigot and rather than running it into the septic system or public sewer. During and after flooding, both septics and public sewers may be overwhelmed and do not need more water. Depending on the size and depth of the well and extent of contamination, pumping times will vary from thirty minutes to several hours.

· Once a well is running clear it should be disinfected before using it for drinking, cooking or brushing teeth. Even if the well is operational, the water should be disinfected until it is tested and found suitable for drinking. Changes in the water’s appearance, taste or odor may indicate possible contamination. Disinfecting water by boiling it is the best way to ensure it is safe for drinking or cooking until it can be tested. Bring water to a rolling boil for at least one minute and then let the water cool before using it.

· If you think your well has been contaminated with flood waters, you must disinfect it using standard household bleach. 

· After a contaminated well has been properly disinfected and all chlorine has been flushed out of the well and plumbing, the water should be tested for the presence of bacteria to confirm that contamination has been removed. If chlorine odors persist, additional flushing or waiting several days before testing will be required to be sure that all the chlorine has been flushed from the water system. Until testing shows that the water is free of bacteria, continue to use bottled water or disinfect water for drinking and food preparation by boiling it as described above. Consider retesting the well water again after several weeks. If flooding and groundwater contamination is extensive, the well may be susceptible to re-contamination for some time.

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