How Septic Systems Affect Well Water Odor, Taste Quality, & Safety
Do you have poor-tasting well water and unpleasant water smells? Do you have a septic system and a well? Homeowners or business owners with both private wells and septic systems may face health risks if their septic systems malfunction leading to contamination of the groundwater table and nearby well water. If this happens, it doesn’t just make your well water taste bad and smell funny, but it creates health risks as well. That’s why it’s critical that property owners with both of these systems take the necessary precautions to ensure their septic systems are well-maintained and operating at peak efficiency. No one wants a foul odor coming out of their sink when they’re just trying to get a glass of water or wash some dishes, so read on to learn how to identify these issues and prevent them.
In this guide, we will look at the best ways to prevent well water contamination from the start through proper system configuration, maintenance, and testing. We’ll also teach you how to proactively detect if something is not working properly in your septic system. Be aware though, if your water has high levels of naturally occurring sulfur or minerals, like iron, it may have a taste that’s different than what you’re used to. This is different from contamination, and nothing you need to be worried about. Try a filtering system to mitigate these tastes and smells if they bother you.
How a Residential Septic System Might Affect Well Water
When you have both a private well and a septic system, the health and safety of your drinking water should be a priority. If your water tastes bad or stinks, there’s likely a problem with one of these two systems. Septic systems, when functioning correctly, are efficient at breaking down household waste. But if something gets into the well water supply from your septic system, it poses a risk to the health of everyone around. Not only that, but it’s gross. No one wants their septic water mixing with their drinking water, making it taste and smell bad – that’s a fact! This article will help you understand how septic systems can affect well water, signs of contamination to be on the lookout for, and what to do to fix and prevent issues.
This helpful graphic from the Environmental Protection Agency does a great job of showing visually how a septic system can potentially impact a drinking water well. You can reference this diagram as you read through the explanations below.
How a Septic System Works
Having a basic understanding of a septic system’s function is important to understand the way it affects well water. To put it simply, a septic system breaks down waste from your home and treats wastewater before it’s released back into the environment. There are two main components to your system: the septic tank and the drain field. Wastewater first goes into the tank then solid wastes settle at the bottom and form a sludge, while oils and fats float to the top as scum. Bacteria within the tank help break down the solids. Later, treated wastewater from the tank goes into the drain field. The water spreads out in underground trenches and further undergoes natural filtration as it travels through the soil, then it’s reintroduced into the groundwater supply and eventually your well. This step is where things can get a little tricky. A variety of factors affect how your septic system interacts with your well water, and if something is off it leads to potential problems. Below, we’ll walk you through factors our in-house experts and those from the EPA agree often lead to well water contamination.
Proximity: The closer your well is to your septic system, especially the drain field, the higher the risk of contamination. Multiple homes in the area utilizing septic systems and the same water source increase the chance of contamination. Infected groundwater carries contaminants from the septic system to your well.
Faulty Construction or Design: If a septic system isn’t designed or installed correctly, it won’t treat or contain wastewater as it should.
System Overload: If the septic system is overwhelmed, which happens from excessive use or heavy rain, it can’t treat waste effectively. This leads to untreated or partially treated wastewater entering the environment.
Field or Stream Runoff: from systems that may be in proximity of fields or downstream of systems that are not properly maintained.
Don’t be too worried though, if your water tastes bad or is giving off gross odors you’ll definitely notice. But that’s not the only sign something might be wrong with your water. Here are four signs to keep an eye out for if you think something’s wrong. If you experience any of the following, we recommend that you get a professional to test your water as soon as possible. Many areas have a local water treatment business or labs willing to perform a field water test upon request, for no cost at all. If you can’t find a place willing to perform this test for free, affordable home-test kits are easily purchased online.
1. Taste and Odor
As we’ve already discussed, if you suddenly notice poor well water taste or smell that is unusual for your water supply, often resembling rotten eggs, this may indicate contamination. But be careful not to confuse naturally occurring high sulfur content aquifers for contamination. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, “Hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) can give water a “rotten egg” taste or odor. This gas can occur in wells anywhere and be: Naturally occurring – a result of decay and chemical reactions with soil and rocks.”
2. Cloudy or Colored Water:
Water that appears cloudy or has a tint (often brown or yellow) suggests the presence of contaminants.
3. Digestive Problems: If you or family members experience stomach issues repeatedly, contaminated water could be the culprit. Get a water test immediately and seek appropriate medical care.
4. Poor Water Test Results: The most sure way to know if something is wrong is testing for it. Regular testing detects nitrates, coliform bacteria, and other contaminants.
Steps to Prevent or Fix Contamination
Though there’s always a risk of contamination when you have a septic tank and well water, there are many things to do that will effectively prevent and/or fix contamination problems, so your water stays tasting and smelling normal. In our experience, these steps are tried and true methods for keeping well water safe and contamination-free.
Maintain a Safe Distance
When planning and installing a septic system, make sure your professional installer has selected to put it a good, safe distance from your well. Ideally at least 50 feet away. The exact distance can vary based on local regulations and specific site topography and conditions. As a legal regulation, it’s referred to as a setback distance.
Inspect your septic system every few months for leaks or malfunctions. Pumping the septic tank every 3-5 years removes solids, making sure the system works efficiently and lessening the chances of clogs.
Reduce Water Usage
Overloading the septic system will lead to problems. Use water-efficient fixtures, fix leaks, and space out water-intensive activities.
Avoid Harming the Drain Field
Never park vehicles or heavy machinery over your drain field. Avoid planting trees nearby – if tree roots have the opportunity to grow into your system they will, causing breaks, blockages, and just generally interfering with the system’s functions.
Protect Your Well
Make sure the well is correctly sealed and capped, preventing surface water from entering directly. Some extra steps that ensure your well is properly separated are avoiding placement in extra porous soil and even surrounding the well with a rock bed or insetting it in concrete.
Regular Water Testing
Test your well water annually for contaminants. If you suspect an issue, test it more frequently. A local water treatment business may be willing to perform a professional field water test for no cost, upon request. If not that’s not available, a home-test can easily be purchased online.
Use Quality Septic Treatments
Investing in high-quality septic treatments like HOTROD Septic extends the life of your septic system, reduces the risk of failure, and minimizes negative environmental impact. Treatments like ours are designed to aid bacteria in breaking down waste, ensuring smooth system operation. Our specific formula is resistant to antimicrobial hand soaps, sanitizers, and cleaners, unlike many other additives, which die off soon after being added to your system.
Install Water Filters
A filtration system removes many contaminants, unwanted impurities, hardness, sediment, and bacteria from water ensuring safer drinking water. The longevity and effectiveness of such filters, starts with protecting the system from contamination.
Notify Local Health Department
If you suspect significant contamination, particularly if from neighboring systems, field or waterway runoff, alerting local authorities will help ensure you’re taking the right corrective actions.
If you implement the above practices, you’ll save yourself from many future headaches. Ignoring your septic system has serious consequences, both in terms of your wallet and the environment. Not to mention the overall quality of your drinking water. That’s why regular maintenance and vigilance are crucial! By investing in a high-quality septic treatment like HOTROD Septic, you not only ensure the efficiency and longevity of your system but also contribute to environmental protection. So, for a well-functioning and environmentally-friendly septic system, consider integrating top-notch treatments like HOTROD Septic into your maintenance routine.