Private Wells Should Be Tested at Least Once a Year

Resources are available to help Iowans keep their wells safe and know their numbers

July 23, 2019, 9:00 am | Jamie Benning

AMES, Iowa – Private wells are an important part of Iowa’s landscape, and keeping an eye on the quality of water coming out of those wells is equally important.

In the July edition of Acreage Living newsletter, Jamie Benning, water quality program manager for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, says testing should be done annually, and is relatively easy to do.

Filling up a glass with drinking water from kitchen tap by Dmitry Naumov/“Even if your well and the area around it have remained unchanged, it is important to test water annually for indicators of contamination, including nitrate and bacteria, to ensure the water is safe to drink,” said Benning.

The spring and early summer months are ideal times to test, as melting snow and spring rains move through the soil and recharge the aquifer.

Water testing kits can be ordered through your local county environmental health department or county sanitarian. Many counties participate in the Grants-to-Counties Well Program that provides financial assistance for water testing. Testing kits also may be ordered through the Iowa State Hygienic Laboratory Private Well Water section. More information is available on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Private Well Testing website.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, more than 75% of Iowans rely on groundwater as their primary source of drinking water, using a combination of private and public wells.

The recent flooding in Iowa makes testing your well even more important, especially if you suspect that flood waters may have reached your aquifer.

Benning said if flood waters reached your private well casing, covered the top of the well casing, or covered areas around neighboring wells, then the Iowa DNR recommends testing for total coliform bacteria.

If a well tests positive for bacteria, an alternative water source should be used for cooking and drinking until a test indicates that it is safe.

Benning said it’s also important to test water used for livestock. Concentrations of 100 ppm or less of nitrate (N) is generally considered safe for livestock, but it is also important to consider the nitrate content in forages to calculate total nitrate consumed. Young and pregnant livestock are at higher risk for nitrate toxicity than mature animals.

The July edition of Acreage Living also features articles on managing striped cucumber beetle, monarch butterfly conservation, and the upcoming Fruit and Vegetable Field Day, Aug. 5 at ISU’s Horticulture Research Station.


Photo credit: Dmitry Naumov/

About the Authors: