Cottage Q&A: Has the well flooded?

water-is-poured-from-a-jug-into-a-glass-on-a-green-nature-outdoors-background Evgeniia Bezuglova/Shutterstock

How do I know if my well has been flooded? Can I still drink the water? —Nicole Miriam, via email

Testing the water—which you do automatically every spring, right? Right?—will tell you if it’s safe to drink (negative for the dreaded E. coli and total coliforms). But if your well was flooded, the answer is probably “Quick, put down that glass!” Once flood waters recede, you may not see or smell any obvious problems with your well (floating debris; sewage), but “it’s unlikely that there would be no signs whatsoever,” says Stéphanie McFadyen, the head of Health Canada’s microbiological assessment section.

Time to investigate. Turn off the power to the well—you don’t want to risk an electrical shock—then look for damage (to the well casing, the well cap, or the well head), ponding around the well head, or even a change in grading around the well. If you suspect the pump or the electrical components sustained damage, get an expert to inspect and repair.

Once you fix any physical problems, disinfect the well by circulating bleach through it and your cottage’s plumbing system, a.k.a. shock chlorination. You should get two clean-water tests at least a week apart before you drink the water again.

If your water is still testing positive for total coliforms, that could simply indicate regrowth in the well, says McFadyen. Try shocking it again. If your water tests positive for E. coli, on the other hand, it could be a sign of ongoing contamination that wasn’t caused by the flood.

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