Saturday, August 24, 2013

Well, well, well!

Got the water test back a month or so ago, and the water tests clean for bacteria and nitrates, but has a higher-than-acceptable level of arsenic (acceptable is .010 and this well is at .012) and a higher than acceptable level of manganese.  The water also has a faint sulfur smell, and it's pretty hard, and it has a fair bit of iron dissolved in it.   
48,000 grain water softener, new power panel, new plumbing
 There are all sorts of ways to treat the water.  I'd like the house drinking water to be at acceptable levels for everything, but I don't have much experience with water systems or wells.  So I asked the neighbors what they'd done; and my neighbor to the west, Vitaly, showed me his system and it gave me a basic capacity to shoot for in my system.  I figured that a 12gpm output would work for the house.   

The previous owner of this property just drank the well water directly and never treated it; the water is safe to drink, but the standards for drinking water are getting tighter. 
Well controller and pressure tank
 The first thing I had to do was straighten out the plumbing in the well house.  It was clear that the plumbing had been a multi-year project, and it was a bit of a mess.  A couple of hours with $50 worth of fittings, and the well house plumbing was simplified.  The pipes in this well house sweat quite a bit -- moisture in the air condenses when it hits the cold water pipes, and this masked a couple of small leaks, but even after fixing all of the leaks, the well house is going to be damp.  

The power panel wasn't in good shape, and the outlets weren't grounded, and generally speaking the wiring sucked.  So $200 worth of parts and 6 hours and everything was in shape and, more importantly, water resistant for this wet environment.  And properly grounded. 
The 1832 hand-dug well (left) and cased, modern well (right)
After installing the water softener I'm having the water re-tested to see what effect the treatment has had on the other issues (iron, manganese, calcium carbonate, arsenic).   What I'll probably do is install a reverse-osmosis system in the kitchen to supply the ice maker in the refrigerator and the kitchen sink with pure drinking water.  The dishwasher and washing machine, toilets and faucets around the house are probably ok.  Not sure what I want to do about the bathroom sinks.  Brushing teeth, for instance...  When I get the test back I'll figure out what sort of further treatment is needed. 

The well house itself is built of wood, and is probably 40 years old.  The base of each of the 4 walls is rotten.   It's been in a few floods, and its a wet building to begin with.  I think that long-term I'll want to rebuild the well house on a concrete foundation with a drain and high enough to be out of the flood waters, which, on a record-flood year, are about 1' deep.  

The county says I can construct a building up to 400 square feet without a permit, so I'm good for remodeling my well house; no permit issues. 

More of a problem is the well house connection to the modern well.  It's a freeze hazard; a couple of plastic pipes that are run 2' above the ground to the top of the well housing.  I did talk to a well contractor about fixing that; he said he'd give me a bid and that was the last I heard of him.   Guess I'll be calling another one. 


Andrew said...

I'm going to be forced to tackle my well house in the next month, but my well house actually has the well in it. Is your well house just adjacent to your well?
I can't imagine getting away with the water pipe 2' above ground, but then I'm not living on the West coast. I found out the hard way last winter that my well will freeze at precisely -10F.

Anonymous said...

I have experience with arsenic reduction. An RO system is adequate at the level you mentioned, and the regs allow you to have just one tap that is clean. However, a whole-house filter is possible, if you're willing to run new pipes for those taps you want to have clean water. In our house all water is softened to remove iron and manganese, and most cold water taps are filtered for arsenic (we have 48ppb compared to your 12ppb). The exceptions are showers, toilets, tubs, outdoor faucets and outbuildings. All hot water is unfiltered. We tested our goat milk and some vegetables to see if it contained arsenic from watering, and it did, but far less than the 10ppb limit for human consumption.

We built our houes with three water supplies - hot, cold (unfiltered) and cold (filtered). Easy enough to do in new construction, but not so easy as a retrofit.

The arsenic filter is somewhat like a small water softener, but uses an iron-based media to remove the arsenic. We have been told that the media needs to be replaced in 8-10 years, and so far we have not done it (5 years so far). We do an annual test, and at 4 years we saw a measurable level.

We also have a fairly low well capacity, about 5gpm. We have a 300 gallon storage tank and a separate pump for house pressure. That has been more than adequate for our family.

I'd be happy to provide more details if interested.

Bruce King said...

Andrew: The picture in the center is the well water supply line and the electrical line that goes to the modern pump. It's about 2.5' above ground; my guess is that the only reason they got away with that is that they had enough water leaks in all of their water supply lines that the water was continuously running. With tighter lines and no leaks, the unintended consequence is that I've increased the danger of the water line freezing.
The fixes this year are a sort of layered thing; you fix one thing, and that leads you to the next thing, which causes you to have to fix the third thing, and so on.

Bruce King said...

Don: What you've done sounds like where I will probably go. The water softener is on the supply line for the house, so all of the house water is softened, which takes out calcium carbonate (what makes this wells water "hard"), iron and I think manganese. I'm waiting on the water test to see what (if any) effect the water softener has on the other minerals. Once I have an idea of what remains in the water I can tackle it directly.

Right off the bat though, the softened water doesn't have the sulfur smell anymore, and the taste is better (to me, anyway).

I am running unfiltered, untreated water to the barns and outbuildings. The jury is still out whether providing some level of treatment to the animals water is worth the cost. My reading agrees with your findings: milk isn't affected by arsenic in the water supply.

the well here is a pretty high capacity; it's an artesian well, and if the pump isn't running there's actually pretty significant pressure coming up the well; enough that it will spout out when I take the vent off.

Anonymous said...

Bruce: I don't think the softener will reduce the arsenic. It is not a mineral, it is a metal.

Goats, and I suppose cows, seem to be a fairly efficient filter for arsenic, but not perfect. Our 48ppb input level in drinking water results in a 4ppb output level in the milk. This is certainly acceptable, and in your case if the process is linear, you might expect to see ~1ppb in your cow milk. This is at the limit of the detection level of the test, so it may be reported as "ND" (not detected).

Our well water also is used for garden watering (in addition to rain water of course). I tried to find information about whether arsenic in water makes it into the vegetables, and I found no such data; therefore I did my own test. Using a zucchini (chosen for high water content) in late summer (most watering done without rain) my test result was ND (none detected).

We also must remember that while arsenic has a certain "scare factor", in the past it was not a controlled element of public or private water supplies. People were drinking high levels of arsenic with impunity. In fact, until about 10 years ago, a level of 50ppb was considered "safe" in government regulations, and is still allowed for drinking in some areas of the US.

Jeff said...

If your water is anything like the water we had both in Monroe and our new place, the water softener won't make a dent in the iron.

jgmafa said...

I won't profess to be an expert, but I can say that I've spent a fair amount of time and effort on my own well, everything from cleaning it out (it had gone unused for 10+ years before I'd purchased our property), treating (shocking) and installing a treatment/filtration system. Also in the process I remodeled/rehabbed my pump house.

I have no experience with arsenic (lab tests came back with Not Determinable), but I DO have experience with iron, manganese and Iron Reducing Bacteria [IRB]. It is this last one, IRB, that can really mess up any system. IRB and SRB live off of, respectively, iron and sulfur and tend to hold iron and sulfur and slime things. If you have IRB (or SRB - Sulfur Reducing Bacteria) it's going to clog things up, including your water softener. IRB is something that you can monitor without the aid of any lab tests (though there is a test that can quantify levels): take a sample in a clear glass and shine a bright light through it; IRB, for me anyway, showed up as some milky vortex in the middle of the glass; over time this tends to dissipate (IRB exhausting itself?) and form a slight sheen/slick on the surface of the glass. Anyway, because it's bacteria, IRB and SRV have to be killed, they cannot be filtered (unless you want to be changing filter media out on a frequent basis).

I ended up using chemical injection (H2O2 - Hydrogen Peroxide) with a carbon filter and then a final polish filter (1 micron). Lab test come back clean for bacteriological. I'm still waiting on numbers for the iron and manganese: I cannot detect any visually, by odor or by taste; I just want to have numbers showing the efficacy of my system (samples of both raw and treated). Water samples from my tap show no indication of IRB (and my toilet tanks, after all the house plumbing was shocked, no longer have any traces- it's just not there).

If you don't have any bacteria issues then you can go straight for the iron, manganese and arsenic. If, however, you DO have bacteria issues then any system will have to manage them first.

When I bought the components that I did I did so only after thoroughly vetting them. I did my own proving of the effectiveness of H2O2 as an oxidizer- it REALLY works!

Here's the work I did on cleaning the well:

Here's the new system (much is about the remodel work on the pump house):


jgmafa said...

I couldn't fit this in my other comment so I'll add it separately...

There were a few key things I learned in my Well adventures:

1) There's no such thing as "clean" from a source (I even researched rainwater collection - there's a guy right here in Snohomish County, ironically enough once on the health department's board, who has a system set up (great job);

2) If you think your well source sucks there's no guarantee that any new well will be better (if you pop for a new well better make sure you have money for any treatment/filtration system afterwards)- best advice is to try and go with what you have because that is what you know (or can find out about); my well was rated at 30gpm when it was drilled- I've been able to pump at 10gpm non-stop w/o and hint of running out of water (24hrs straight was long enough of a test for me), so it was pretty hard to give up on this well (especially when you see from other well logs folks with wells 200+ feet deep that are only producing a few gpm!);

3) Shallow wells get bugs (though mine's drilled, at 38' it's hand-dug depth); EXPECT to have to have an on-going disinfecting process; - we'd previously been getting water from a spring, and I had a UV sterilizer to deal with the bugs;

4) Don't skimp on lab tests!

5) There are some good well/water people out there (I've noted a couple that I ran across in the comments on one of the links above); if you don't have the stomach to test your hand at this then hire a good professional!

6) Don't use female PVC fittings on male metal fittings! (I'm NOT a plumber by trade; this, perhaps more than everything else, has caused me the most grief- I could totally sign off on my project if I could get a couple of leaks taken care of! [waiting on parts from Grainger [couple of 1 1/4" brass couplings and 1" stainless steel unions!]);

7) Health departments and others are WRONG in their notes about shocking with sodium hydrochlorite- it's like someone just copying and pasting the same thing over and over all around the country- they'll state that it's OK if you put more "bleach" down your well (than their general guidelines), that it won't hurt. WRONG! more results in higher pH values- less biocidally effective and more oxidative (which is fine if you want to create a bunch of rust), and, it's also harmful to your cables and pumps (though probably only over the course of several applications); in my well rehab link above I mention what I did (you have to be careful, which is probably why you won't hear about this from your local health department- it's also why most people will end up paying a professional- because the info they get isn't likely to really work that well).


Unknown said...

Understanding the best way to treat the water in the well can be quite complicated. It was a good thing that you have a neighbor that helped you on this, by showing you how their system works. That was very helpful of them! At least you now have an idea for creating your own. And adding a reverse-osmosis system is a great plan. This will treat the water and lessen the metal component on the water. Anyway, good luck!

Verna Griffin @ Axeon