What’s in your water?

John Cox, R.S., Environmental sanitarian Marquette County Health Department

Many homes in Marquette County have on-site drinking water supplies, which is simply, a well versus a municipal drinking water supply. A municipal water supply is overseen by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). MDEQ requires regular water sampling and qualified staff to maintain the water treatment plant to ensure a safe supply for the community. The City of Marquette utilizes Lake Superior for its water needs. The lake water is drawn into the water treatment plant where it is filtered and treated. Negaunee Township on the other hand utilizes drilled wells for their water supply. This well water is pumped into a water treatment plant where it is chemically treated prior to entering the distribution network to be piped to your house.

On-site water supplies have much less sampling requirements compared to the sampling requirements for municipal supplier’s. Private well owners are responsible for monitoring their well water. When a new private well is drilled, the owner is required to collect one safe coliform bacteriological water sample prior to placing the new well supply into service. The presence of coliform bacteria is used as an indicator of other potentially harmful bacteria in the water supply. Coliform is found all around us in our environment, but isn’t normally found in a drinking water aquifer. No additional water sampling is required unless required by the well construction permit. However, to ensure long term safety of your health the Marquette County Health Department recommends a well owner sample their well water annually for bacteria and nitrates. Nitrates pose a health risk, particularly to young children. Water high in nitrates can interfere with a child’s blood supply’s ability to distribute oxygen throughout the body. A high blood nitrate level can turn a child’s pigment bluish and results in the body starving for oxygen.

A properly constructed and maintained water supply can provide years of safe drinking water, whereas an improperly constructed supply may never be safe. The minimum well depth in the State of Michigan is 25 feet below ground surface. A well less than 25 feet deep will not be approved and is considered unsafe because of a high probability of surface water influence.

Many homes in the county still have crock wells in use. Crock wells are generally hand dug large diameter wells. Due to their construction they are not approvable drinking water supplies. This type of well can allow insects and rodents into the well, contaminating the supply. Crock wells have been known to produce safe water samples during dry weather events and then produce positive (contain harmful bacteria) water samples during wet weather events. Unfortunately, in most of these cases, surface water runoff found its way into the well, contaminating the water. Crock wells are scary supplies. Consuming water from a crock well is not recommended.

Point wells are another type of water supply. A point well is generally a 1.25-inch galvanized pipe with a drive point on the end that is driven into the ground by a homeowner. In some locations in the county, this type of well may be an option, but in most cases it won’t work because you need to drive at least 25 feet of casing/pipe into the ground to meet Well Construction Code requirements. Hard soil layers, boulders and bedrock can all limit the depth of a point well. If you’re property is not all sand, driving a point can be very hard or impossible to do. Several years ago I issued a well permit to a property owner who wanted to install a point well. I was familiar with the location and told him it wouldn’t work due to the large number of boulders in that soil. He ignored my advice and tried to install a point well anyway. After several days of driving (pounding) the 1.25-inch pipe into the ground, the pipe bent into a “U” shape. Not knowing the pipe bent, the owner continued driving the pipe until it came back out of the ground. I laughed and he hired a well driller.

Not all areas of the county will give/produce water due to the rock formations underlying the soil. If you’re planning to build a new home and install a well, this department highly recommends drilling your well before you build your home since there is no guarantee that your property will produce water. Drill before you build. Over the last few years, we have had a few properties struggle to find water—a very scary issue to have especially after building a new home. There’s no guarantee that Mother Nature left you water on your site. Remember, the only way to know you have water is to drill a well.

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