Making sure your well water is safe to drink after a flood

Tropical Storm Elsa brought a lot of rain into Southwest Florida, even flooding some areas, and these flooding events can contaminate well water with bacteria.

Hundreds of homes in our area rely on private wells for drinking water, but now, at least for a little while, families may need to look elsewhere.

“After a flooding event, wells tend to have bacterial contamination,” said Yilin Zhuang, Ph.D., water resources regional specialized agent with the UF/IFAS Extension.

Zhuang said well water could contain pathogens and germs like E. coli, rotavirus, norovirus and salmonella after being subjected to floodwaters.

“That’ll cause some symptoms of infections such as diarrhea, vomiting, nausea,” said Dr. Mary Beth Saunders, an infectious diseases specialist with Lee Health.

Zhuang recommends sending a water sample to a certified lab, and there are some tell-tale signs you can observe on your own.

“One is if your wellhead was surrounded by well waters, or your wellhead was submerged in well waters. Sometimes you can also notice a change of color or odor in your well water.”

After that, the hard work of shock chlorination begins.

“You will need to not only disinfect the well and the water system, you will also need to disinfect the whole plumbing system,” Zhuang said.

“After this process, you will want to retest your water in five to 10 days to make sure there is no bacterial contamination in your well water.”

Until you know your water is safe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says your best bet is to drink bottled water or get it from another source. Boiling it alone isn’t enough because bacteria isn’t the only concern after a flooding event. Fuel and chemical spills and releases are also possible, and when that happens, boiling or disinfecting water won’t make it safe enough to drink.

If you’d like more information on how to care for your well before and after a storm, you’re in luck. Zhuang is hosting a webinar on the topic on July 13. Click here to sign up.

FDOH Water Well Surveillance
FDOH Private Well Testing
CDC: Overview of Water-related Diseases and Contaminants in Private Wells

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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