Ground Water, Well and Conservation
BACOG Ground Water Video Presentation
Water conservation can help well owners keep their drinking water supply safe and plentiful, as well as saving money. By using more efficient fixtures, such as low-flow showerheads and toilets, and high-efficiency clothes washers and dishwashers, well owners can cut their water use by upwards of 30%.
Well owners with wells that produce less than 5-10 gallons per minute should be cautious of how much demand is placed on their wells, making water conservation even more important. Small changes such as repairing leaky faucets and toilets, turning off the tap while brushing teeth or shaving, taking shorter showers, running full loads in the clothes washer and dishwasher, and watering outdoor plants only, when necessary, can add up to big water savings.
Let us be honest, drought occurs somewhere in our nation every year stressing our resources. Many areas face serious water shortages because water is being used faster than it can be replenished naturally. Some local and state governments have declared mandatory water conservation measures, even for private well owners.
You may be thinking, “I have a newer home with efficient water appliances I should not have to worry.” Not the case! New homes typically have more efficient fixtures and use less water, but they usually have more fixtures – bathrooms, garbage disposal, whirlpool tub, hot tub, or swimming pool – that consume greater quantities of water. This information will help all well owners with all styles of homes take steps to cut water use, safeguard their drinking water supply, save money, and protect the environment. Trust us, you do not want to wait until a prolonged drought or water shortage creates a water emergency like a dry well!
Average Water Use
The average family uses more than 300 gallons of water per day at home and 70 percent of this use occurs indoors. Efforts to reduce water consumption are especially important if you have a low yielding well (less than 5 gallons a minute), live in a drought region, or an area of rapid development where groundwater supplies are stressed. The following chart shows average indoor water uses with no conservation measures to help you make an informed decision on where you can save water! And keep an eye on the Drought Monitor map throughout the dry months.
Conduct a Household Water Audit
A household water audit is an evaluation of how much water is used and how much water can be saved. This is important for well owners since there is not a water bill that provides this information. Conducting a water audit involves calculating water use first. This Water Footprint Calculator can help. It is very thorough and at the end you can have the report emailed to you. Compare your results with the chart on the previous page. Consider reasons for high levels of water use. Are fixtures leaking or appliances old and inefficient? Or is it the way you use the water, with long showers and many half-full loads of laundry? Continue your water audit by reading through the following simple ways to save water in and around your home.
Check for Leaks
The average household can have leaks that account for nearly 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year and ten percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more per day. Common types of leaks found in the home are worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and outside spigots. These types of leaks are often easy to fix, requiring only a few tools and hardware that can pay for themselves in water savings.
Some tips for finding leaks:
- Look at your water usage during a colder month, such as January or February. If a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month, there may be serious leaks.
- Find toilet leaks by placing a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank – do not flush! If any color shows up in the bowl after 10 minutes, you have a leak. (Be sure to flush immediately after the experiment to avoid staining the tank.)
- Check sinks for dripping faucets and water on the outside of pipe fittings.
- Visually inspect your well head/cap, pressure tank, water treatment, and other above ground well components for flowing water or standing water.
- Look for any unexplained wet spots in your yard along the route from the well to your home.
- Check outside hose bibs, hoses, and sprinkler heads for broken parts and leaking water.
These How-To Videos can help you find and fix leaks. When in doubt, call your licensed well contractor, plumber, or irrigation service for assistance and repairs.
Use Better Technology
By using more efficient fixtures, well owners can cut their water use. Conserve water by using technology to retrofit or replace inefficient water appliances and fixtures. Many are very low-cost, such as a flow restricting showerhead or a simple displacement device for water in the toilet tank, such as a gallon jug. Or consider installing high efficiency clothes washer and dishwasher and low-flow toilets. These appliances may have higher initial cost, but this is recovered over time by savings in water and energy. Find out how much you can save and a list of efficient products.
Contact your local plumber and/or the plumbing and appliance salespeople at hardware and home improvement stores for help in selecting and installing these products.
Small changes in behavior can also reap big benefits in water conservation and save money by reducing wear and tear on your well and septic system. Just think about the hundreds of gallons of water you are pumping from your well each day to your home then that water is released from your home which goes to your septic system. These heavy uses will eventually cause expensive repair or replacement and exhaust groundwater resources. Limit demand by spreading out your daily and weekly water-uses, such as bathing, watering the garden, and washing dishes or clothes. Remember, even seemingly small measures can save thousands of gallons of water per year. Try using some (or all!) these methods to save:
- Turn off the tap when brushing teeth, shaving, or scrubbing.
- Use the sink, not running water, to rinse your razor.
- Do not use the toilet as a wastebasket.
- Take shorter showers.
- Keep a pitcher of drinking water in the refrigerator rather than running the tap.
- Run the clothes washer and dishwasher only with full loads.
- DO NOT use your well to fill pools, hot tubs, or for other large uses. Use a water delivery service instead.
- Water during the coolest part of the day, preferably in early morning, to reduce evaporation. Most established lawns and gardens need just one hour of deep watering once a week to remain healthy. Remember to water just the grass, not the pavement!
- Set the lawn mower to 3 inches. Longer grass allows less evaporation and shades the roots from drying out so quickly.
- In the garden, switch from sprinklers to soaker hoses.
- Look for native perennial plants and grass seeds at the garden center. These require much less water,
- particularly in drier climates, than tropical annuals.
- Use mulch to retain water in the soil and reduce thirsty weeds.
- Fit all hoses with a sprayer to control flow.
- Use a broom, not a hose, to clear debris from sidewalks.
- Wash the car with soap and water from a bucket.
For more information on Water Conservation
Contact your licensed well contractor, plumber, septic service provider, or the wellcare® Hotline for additional measures you can take in and around your home to protect your well, well water, and septic system. And check out these websites:
- Regional Water Providers Consortium
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- The Water Research Foundation
For more information to help maintain and protect your water well system:
wellcare® is a program of the Water Systems Council (WSC). WSC is the only national organization solely focused on protecting the health and water supply of more than 13 million households nationwide who depend on private wells.
BACOG Homeowner’s Guide to Well and Septic Systems
Easy and economical ways to protect and maintain your well & septic system
Barrington Area Groundwater Resources:
Tens of thousands of people in the Barrington area rely on private wells for their daily supply of potable water. This guide will provide you with some basic information about well and septic systems – how to implement a few preventive measures, maintain the system, and recognize problems. It will also provide you with some maintenance measures and tips to prolong the life of your system, avoid costly repairs, and ensure your daily water source is safe and clean. When in doubt, contact your county or village health board for more information about your system and usage.
There are three types of wells: dug, driven, and drilled. Nearly all modern wells are drilled and the vast majority of private wells in this area are drilled.
Protecting the Well:
The fastest way for contaminants to reach your drinking water is directly through the well cap. Use these tips to prevent contamination and corrosion from your well cap.
- Make sure ground slopes away from the well, rather than toward it
- Direct surface water (like downspouts or sump discharges) away from the well.
- Avoid putting mulch close to the well cap. The cap should ideally be 12” above the ground to prevent corrosion and limit exposure to bacteria.
- Periodically, check your well cap to make sure it is securely fastened, in good condition, and does not show signs of deterioration or infestation.
- Test your water quality each and every year for bacteria and nitrates.
- If you do not already have a ‘sanitary’ or ‘Vermin-proof’ well cap (required on all wells constructed after Jan. 31, 1991), consider installing one. Most wells with standard caps (bolted to the casing of the well) should be grouted, but in some cases a small airspace between the cap and casing of the well can allow for insects, small mammals, or surface water to enter and possibly contaminate the well. ‘Sanitary’ or ‘Vermin-proof’ caps have bolts on the top, include an airtight rubber gasket, and have a small, screened vent to allow air exchange. The cost is typically $40-50 compared to $20-30 for a regular cap.
- Do not try to service a well yourself – use a licensed or certified water well driller or pump installer to service your well.
- Keep all hazardous chemicals away from your well.
Additional Tips from BACOG Neighbors:
Clearly mark your well: “Our driveway is very close to where our well was drilled so we’ve marked it with a small red reflector. We also put a small barrier at the end of the driveway that will reduce the chance of someone accidently backing into it.”
Keep vegetation and pets away from the well: “We make sure to trim back the bushes and vines in the area of the well so that nothing grows around that area or compromises the cap. That also deters ours dogs from digging over there.”
Test your water quality each year or if you notice a change in quality: “We noticed some small black flecks coming from our water faucet and decided to get the well tested-- It turned out that our standard well cap was so old it was allowing ants to get into the well casing. We now do an annual test (for bacteria and nitrates) and a visual inspection of the well head to make sure our new vermin-proof cap is in good condition!”
About Septic Systems:
Well maintained septic systems can provide many years of reliable, low-cost, hassle-free service to your home. A failed system is a source of groundwater pollution and a public health concern, causes property damage and is far more expensive than maintenance.
Clean your septic tank every 2-5 years: Scum and sludge build-up need to be removed. The scheduled cleaning should also help to ensure the structural integrity of the tank and identify any potential issues that would affect the life of the system.
Know what not to put into your system:
- Undigested food waste from garbage disposals, grease, oil, and coffee grounds all decompose slowly and can put undue strain on your system.
- Other items like paper towels, feminine hygiene products, cigarette butts, facial tissues, baby wipes and diapers are even slower to decompose and should not be flushed into the system.
- Toxic chemicals like drain openers, paints, pesticides, photographic chemicals, brake fluid, gasoline and motor oil and other toxic chemicals can kill off the bacteria that are necessary for your septic system to function properly and are harmful to the environment if the system fails and they leak into the surface water or groundwater supply.
Conserve water: Reducing the volume of waste discharged will extend the life of your system by reducing strain on the septic system from excess water. To do so, repair leaking faucets or valves, install reduced flow fixtures in shower or toilets, and/or opt for water saving appliances.
Know where your septic tank is located: Find out where the septic tank, pump tank, absorption area, and replacement absorption areas are located. Unintended damages from driving vehicles over these areas or from building sheds, pools, or decks over its parts can be very expensive to repair.
Warning Signs of a Malfunctioning System:
- Odors, sewage at the ground surface, wet spots or very lush vegetation in the drainage field area can indicate problems.
- Plumbing and septic tank backups with black liquid and odors.
- Slow drainage from sinks or bathtubs and gurgling noises from the plumbing system.
- Coliform bacteria or nitrates in your annual water quality test.
Fast Facts about Additives:
- Over 1,200 products are on the market claiming to improve performance of your septic system: claiming to counteract bleach / detergents, increase soil percolation, clear pipes, reduce odors, minimize solids, etc.
- Most engineers and sanitation professionals agree: you do not need to use additives and they are even potentially harmful. No known additives reduce solids enough to make pumping unnecessary
- Household waste water already contains the supply of bacteria to make your system function properly. Additives can potentially plug the drain field.
If you follow the best-practices guidance for your well and septic system and maintain it regularly, there is no need to use additives in your system.
Check Your Water Quality Annually:
If you have your own well, you should test your water annually for bacteria and nitrates with a certified laboratory. Contamination can be caused by improperly sealed well caps, ailing septic fields, or geological composition of the aquifer in which the water is located.
The State also provides additional testing services for a wider range of contaminants. The State recommends that households test for a variety of water quality parameters like arsenic, fluoride, boron, radium and other human-made and naturally occurring contaminants. Homeowners should test if they notice a change in the appearance, taste, or odor of the water. Testing may also be appropriate with real estate transactions or every ten years. The test requires raw and softened water samples and is recommended for homeowners without water quality records for their home, during real estate transactions, or if there is any change in the taste, odor, color or other features of the water.
If you have specific concerns or questions about your water quality and/or well and septic system, a number of population health service agencies may be able to help:
Illinois State Department 217-782-4977 535 W. Jefferson Street, Springfield IL 62761
Lake County Environmental Laboratory 847-377-8030 500 Winchester Road, Libertyville, IL 60048
More Information on Water Resources:
The residents and businesses in the Barrington area rely on shallow groundwater aquifers. Planning regionally can help prevent and create response measures for changes in water supply and quality that are anticipated to affect this area in the next several decades. Find out more about BACOG’s work in groundwater resources, its water resources committee, and water quality testing online at www.bacog.org.