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How Does Well Water Work? Important Things To Know


Water is a big deal. We drink it, cook with it, clean with it, even bathe in it — it’s part of almost everything we do. That’s why it’s smart to spend some time learning about where your water comes from, what problems it might face and how you can take care of it. This is an especially important task for homeowners with private wells.

Well water begins as precipitation, groundwater or surface water that filters through layers of rock and sediment until it reaches an underground “storage tank” called an aquifer. Most wells access this area through a system of drilled pipes and casings. Generally, a jet pump brings the water up to a storage tank, where it stays until you turn on the tap.

If you’re moving to an area with well water or are considering having a well installed, it’s important to note a few key differences from the city water system you might be used to. Here are several things to know about wells and how they work.

A Detailed Look at Well Water

When you turn on a faucet in your home, the water comes from one of two places: your municipal/city supply or a private water well. These water types have a few big differences:

  • Public water supplies come from a variety of sources, including lakes and rivers. This water is protected by regulations such as the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality and the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also undergoes different kinds of water treatment to ensure it is up to federal standards.
  • Private wells are generally fed by groundwater, which exists naturally under the Earth’s surface. Because private wells are separate from city water supplies, they aren’t protected by the same regulations.

tips on how well water worksSo, if well water isn’t sourced from the city, where does it come from? Here’s how wells really work:

  • Rainwater and some surface water filter down through layers of rock and sediment. They end up in an aquifer — nature’s holding tank. As the quantity of available water changes according to the season, the amount of water in the aquifer changes too, and the water table or water level rises or falls.
  • At some point in your property’s history, a dug well or drilled well was built by breaking through the ground to reach the aquifer. This was achieved through a water system of pipes, jet pumps or submersible pumps, casing and caps. These work together like a lining and lid to protect water quality.
  • Groundwater from the aquifer is pulled up and sent to a pressure tank, which is installed under your home. This pressure tank uses compressed air to control water pressure.
  • You’ll have access to this tap and drinking water for years to come. In fact, most drilled wells don’t go dry; a shallow well may run into issues if the pump can’t reach changing water levels. Similarly, dug wells usually only experience a water shortage if they’re placed too close to the surface or in an area with “low permeability,” which means rocks and sediment don’t allow much water to seep into the aquifer.

This process creates well water that can be safe for drinking, cooking, bathing and more — with a few precautions, that is.

Well Water Testing and Filtration

As water passes through natural systems to reach private wells, it can pick up certain sediments and contaminants.* These may include:

  • Microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria
  • Excessive amounts of fluoride
  • Organic chemicals
  • Heavy metals

Luckily, you don’t have to guess whether these contaminants are present — you can have regular water tests performed.

It’s generally recommended that you have your well water tested at least once a year. Culligan® offers a free, in-home water test that makes it easy to conduct annual water quality checks. If you need to test for more complex issues, our IL EPA-certified lab can handle additional tests.

Looking to learn more about your well?
Download our Guide to Cleaner, Safer Well Water

It’s important to remember that the yearly test is just a rule of thumb. You should also perform well water testing if certain events occur, such as:

  • Floods
  • Droughts
  • Power outages
  • Changes in water taste, appearance or smell
  • Nearby septic tank or septic system issues
  • Known problems with the water supply in your area
  • Any kind of water pump work, including repairs and maintenance

Since water wells do most of their work underground, you might not feel like you’re in charge of your water supply. Luckily, there are different water filtration systems for well water available to help put you in control of drinking water, water quality and more. Here’s what you have to choose from:

  • Whole house water filtration systems work hard to solve specific well water issues like too much iron, hydrogen sulfide, arsenic and other problems. By placing the system at the point where well water enters your home, you make sure all your water is filtered.
  • Drinking water filtration systems are the best solution if you’re concerned about drinking water safety and want to address a broad variety of potential contaminants in your water. They’re a great solution if your focus is on cleaner, safer, great-tasting drinking water.

Well Water Problem Spotlight: Hard Water

You may have heard of hard water and how it affects your skin, hair, showers, dishes and even water-using appliances. Water hardness varies according to location and can be an issue whether you use a private or municipal water system. However, if you use a well, you may be particularly susceptible to hard water.

Signs of water hardness include:

  • Soap scum on shower doors and walls
  • Buildup on showerheads, faucets and water-using appliances
  • Dry, breaking hair
  • Skin irritation

If you’re tired of spending time and money on cleaning products, soap and scrubbing, there’s a solution right at your fingertips: a water softener. These systems can be installed no matter where your water comes from, which means they’re a great fit for wells.

Get Your Well Water Questions Answered

Do you have more questions about private wells, well water quality and well water testing? You’ve come to the right place. At Culligan, we know how important well water is to you, your household and your community — so we’re here to help put you in control.

Get started today by scheduling your free, in-home water test and consultation.

*Contaminants may not be present in your water.

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