Funds available to test, abandon private wells in Clay County

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Grant to Counties Program was established in 1987 under the Ground Water Protection Act to assist private well owners to test, abandon and rehabilitate wells. The program is available in 98 of Iowa's 99 counties.

According to Tammy McKeever, Clay County director of environmental health, zoning, safety and EMS, Clay County residents aren't taking full advantage of the program.

"We don't do a lot of well rehabilitation, but Clay County assists with well testing and well closing," McKeever said. "Both are important things to consider."

Well testing is free through the county and is recommended to be done once a year in the spring.

"If you have a private well, we will come out and take a sample of the water," McKeever explained. "We send it to a certified lab that tests for nitrates and coliform bacteria. It takes seven to 10 days for the results to come back and then we send them to the well owner. They can call me with any questions they have about the results."

She continued, "Nitrates cause what is called blue babies disease. A baby's body cannot distinguish between nitrogen and oxygen causing them to suffocate. It is important that pregnant women and babies not drink water with nitrates in it. Coliform bacteria does not cause disease, but it's an indication of an infiltration from the outside into your well water."

Should nitrates or coliform bacteria be found in a well, the owner has one of two options to correct the problem.

"For nitrates, a reverse osmosis system will have to be added to the well to get rid of the nitrates," McKeever said. "If the well has coliform bacteria, the first step is to shock chlorinate the well. If the shock chlorination doesn't work, they will have to look at replacing the well."

The Grant to Counties Program also assists well owners with plugging abandoned wells.

"We can pay up to $400 per well or $300 per cistern for the proper plugging of abandoned wells," McKeever said. "In order to qualify for this money, private well owners must use a certified well driller or plugger to do the work. I have a list of certified drillers and pluggers in my office people can call and ask me about. The Iowa Department of Public Health also has a list on their website."

She added, "The first reason we need to abandon wells properly is because they are a danger to people and animals. Abandoned wells can be forgotten making them a hazard for people and animals to fall into. If not properly plugged, wells can be a direct source of ground water contamination. If some type of chemical is spilled by an abandoned well, it can drain into the well. If that happens, that chemical ends up going straight into the ground water supply."

The county does not rehabilitate many wells due to the little difference in cost between rehabilitating wells and drilling new ones.

"Drilling techniques have changed and gotten better so it is better to drill new than to rehabilitate," McKeever said. "Also Clay County has rural water. If a well is found to be bad, a person has the choice to hook up to rural water instead of trying to rehabilitate the well."

McKeever said Grant to Counties is available to all private well owners.

"If you have a well within the city limits, we can test and abandon it for you as well," McKeever said. "Grant to Counties is not just for rural areas. You would be surprised by the number of wells in Spencer."

For more information about the Grant to Counties Program and how to apply, contact McKeever at 262-8165.

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