Common Problems Private Drinking Water Sources (Wells / Springs)
Written by Mr. Brian Oram, PG
My Private Well Has Red, Black, or Purple WaterIron, Manganese, Sulfur, Nuisance Bacteria, Sulfide Compounds
Water Testing Services and Test Kits - Common Causes of Water Quality Problems for Private Water Systems (Wells / Springs)
Drink Clean Water - Get the Water Tested !
Red, Black, Green, Bluish, Purple, and Brown Water - Just a Few of
the Possible Colors of Drinking Water
Some Case Studies for Private Well Owners Across the United States
Private Well Owner Survey For United States (New Free Outreach)
New Booklet for Private Well Owners (2012)- Written for PA,
but Great Information for ALL Private Well Owners In the United States.
Private Well Owner (Testing, Education, Monitoring, Treatment) - Online Store
When you are evaluating a water quality issue, the questions that you should ask are as follows:
1. What was the original quality of the water? This may be called the baseline test.
2. What actions have occurred near or at the well or within the region that could have contributed?
3. What is the current quality of the water?
4. What are the changes?
Here are just a few examples:
Case Study # 5
Water is Green - Alkaline/Metal Taste / Odor
(Problem with the Hot Water) - Colorado
Yes - This is Me !
Holding a Jug of Well Water and
Yes it is Light Green with Particles that are Green and White
More Photos of Other Green Particles
See Case 7
Water Issues- Email Report from Well Owner in Colorado
1. Water became intermittently discolored- Green and Blue.
2. Hot water was more discolored then cold water.
3. Hot water had a slight odor.
4. Had to turn up the hot water heater to a higher setting to produce hot water.
5. Drained hot water heater - greenish sludge came out the base.
6. When the sludge was shaken - the sludge would break up into a fine particle that would become suspended in the water and with time it would create a particle and settle.
1. Water Quality Testing- The water coming in the house was crystal clear, but the water coming out of the hot water pipes was greenish to blue green.
2. Aerators would clog because of a greenish to white precipitate.
3. No coliform bacteria - but slime bacteria was elevated.
4. Water chemical analysis - the cold water had a high pH, high hardness, high alkalinity and potential aggressive, i.e., scale formation and had an elevated level of slime bacteria, heterotrophic bacteria, and chloride over 100 mg/L, but the hot water had a slightly lower hardness and lower alkalinity and higher levels of copper and lead.
5. Activities in the area - rural area.
1. Corrosion - there was some biologically induced corrosion in the system that leached copper and lead out of the water. The elevated temperature in the hot water heater caused some of the carbon dioxide in the water to outgas. This caused the solution be become supersaturated and cause a precipitate to form. The precipitate was green and white because it appeared to be a combination of calcium and magnesium carbonate with some copper carbonate (see image to left).
2. Pasteurized the heating unit and Shock disinfect the well.
3. Flushed the System
4. Change Temperature of Hotwater Heater
5. Install a UV system to disinfect the water to control slime bacteria and high standard plate count.
6. There were warranty issues with the heater. Because the water required pretreatment, the company that manufactured the unit would not warranty the unit unless a treatment system was installed.
1. Water Quality Returned to Normal, but the owner had to flush hotwater heater every 6 months.
Note: The information under this case is an actual case !
Case Study 6
Hot Water Heater Failures - Repeatedly
Homeowner Contact Us After the Sixth Unit was Installed in 10 years
Repeated failure of water heating systems with some piping corrosion
1. The water had a metallic / bitter taste.
2. Field check the water quality: pH 5.35, Conductivity 90 uS/cm, Total Dissolved Solids 50 mg/L, Alkalinity 10 mg/L, T. Hardness 35 mg/L
3. Calculated a Corrosion Index - (-4.10) - Very Corrosive
4. Nuisance bacteria - Elevated - Slime Forming Bacteria
5. These conditions can immediately invalidate the warranty on a hotwater heater.
6. Activities in the area - urban landscapes, pipeline work, stormwater systems, and septic systems. Geology - sandstone and siltstones with no limestone.
Purged well an shock disinfected and circulated well water.
Retested water and recommended the installation of a Neutralizing System to
reduce the corrosion potential for the water.
Homeowner higher contractor to install a neutralizing system. (external link)
Water Quality Good - No more corrosion problems.
Our Library on Water Treatment
Black Slime Coatings on The Piping
(Black was Manganese)
Corrosion in Piping
Note: The information under this case is actually a summary of observations for a
number of similar cases that we have conducted over the past 23 years.
Case Study 7
Was Called by Homeowner - Natural Gas Region
I have got Green Particles in My Water
Green Particle - Actual Size 1/8 inch
Actual Size of Particles
1/16 inch or less.
1. Homeowner changed particle filter - found green particles in the filter housing
2. No baseline water testing was ever conducted
3. Checked the well for methane gas and saline water - Negative
4. Collected a Sample of water for a Well Water Check Test, plus bacteria
5. Collected a sample of the material - green materials that would sink or float and black/particles that would link for a microscopic analysis.
6. Sample started out-gassing, i.e., producing a gas after about 3 to 5 minutes.
1. Water Chemistry - no major problems and nothing approaching or exceeding a standard. The water did contain some copper, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, strontium, and zinc. Methane not detected. What had a low pH.
2. Microscopic evaluation - green material was not a chemical precipitate or coating and was actually a synthetic material - sponge like, but the reddish material appeared to be a coating of iron. No reaction with acid or the addition of an oxidizer.
3. Microscopic evaluation - the small particles appeared to be rust or pieces of the formation.
4. Activities in the area - gas drilling, urban landscapes, pipeline work, excavations, stormwater systems, urban runoff, fertilizers, and road salting.
1. Recommended the wellbore be checked. It is possible that some type of foam or insulated material got down the well.
2. Recommend Baseline Testing - NOW !
3. Out-gassing could be carbon dioxide or nitrogen - no sulfur odor.
4. Total Coliform Bacteria Negative - but may want to check for nuisance bacteria.
Case Study 8 (Specific Case)
Black Particles in the Water
Homeower Complained of Black Water and Black Particles in the Water
1. Visited Site and Evaluated System.
2. Found the black particles in toilet tank, aeration screens, and on sink.
3. Some elongated particles did float, but settled quickly.
4. Toilet reserve tanks had an red, black and clear slimy feel.
5. Collected water sample.
6. After the water treatment system, the black particles increase in concentration.
7.Initial assumption was the the black particles were manganese.
1. The water had an elevated level of iron, manganese, arsenic, nuisance bacteria, radon in water and detectable levels of uranium.
2. Black particles were in the raw well water and then after the newly installed water treatment system.
3. Iron bacteria was elevated.
1. Black particles had two sources - a portion of the black particles was manganese and the other particles were the material flushed from the water treatment system that was recently installed.
2. After the installation of the system and well, the plumbing was allowed to set on used. Slime and other bacterial started to grow.
3. The well was shock disinfected and flushed to waste. The water treatment system was by-passed and the plumbing was shock disinfected and flushed to waste.
4. The water treatment system was flushed and backwashed.
5. Sample tested after treatment - meet drinking water standards.
Fine Particles - < 1 mm
Close Up of My Finger - Showing the
Note: Case Study 8 is a combination of Two Similar Cases.
Case Number 9
Dirty Discolored Water, Bacteria, Iron Staining, and Odors
Guide to Iron Overload Disorders
Cooking with Less Iron
Homeower Complained that Particle Filter Clogged Quicker, Pump Failure, Smell in the Water, and Total Coliform Bacteria Problem.
To solve the problem - a Water Treatment Contractor was higher and they installed a water treatment system. Larger Particle Filter and water softener and shock disinfected the well. The problem returned.
1. Inspected the System and Water Treatment System.
2. Removed the Well Cap - The Answer was found. Look at the casing -it is rusty away.
3. We suggested a camera inspection of the hole and then lining the casing with a PVC liner.
4. Surface rust on water pressure tank, water lines, and piping - because the components had insulation blankets that trapped condensation. We suggested proper ventilation and insulation of the space and not the piping.
Hopefully this is a work in Progress.
Lesson Learned - Sometimes the problem is the well construction and all wells need proper maintenance.
Case Number 10
Frac Sand in My Well???
Gray White Sticky Material
Location- Luzerne County, PA (2010)
Homeower Complained of Intermittent Problems with Fine Particles and Sandy Particles in Water- System already had a particle filter
1. Visited Site and Evaluated System.
2. Found the accumulations of very fine material in filter housing and on filter
3. Particles - they were not well rounded and when concentrated the material was slightly sticky. The material was gray in color, clear, brown, but some particles had a rusty appearance.
4. Reviewed historic water quality - no methane problems, no evidence of saline water impacts. Water turbidity - 0.6 ntu.
5. Intermittent Bacterial Problems
6. Toilet tank had a coating not really slimy.
7. Camera surveyed well - casing was only 40 feet below ground, no grout around annular space, drive-shoe present - gray like material observed just below the driveshoe and fractured zone below driveshoe.
8. Returned after a rain storm - cascading water entering at 42 feet - well water turbidity untreated increase to 5 ntu.
9.Test water for a Tier 3 and information water quality test, plus added total coliform, standard,plate count, slime bacteria, sulfur bacteria, and iron related bacteria.
Size of Particles
1. The water testing - no evidence of methane or salt or saline water contamination.
2. Particles appeared to be a combination of silt and very fine sand what was not well rounded with slime bacteria and other iron oxides- very atypical of frac sand.
3. Particles appear to be entering the well at about 42 feet and the steel casing was rusting contributing particles to the water
4. Pathway appears to be associated with a fractured zone in the rock that is allowing some of the overlying unconsolidated material to migrate into the well following a recharge event.
5. Recommendation - Line the upper portion of the well to extend the cased zone to approximately 65 feet.
6.Recommendation - Shock disinfect and retest.
1. The problem was solved.
Case Number 11
Black Water - Sulfur Smell
Tunkhannock, PA- Again another Natural Gas Investigation
Sorry Used my Cell Phone
Homeowner Complained that the water came out of of faucet black with a strong sulfur odor. They said natural gas and "FRACKing" was happening within a mile of their well and there was past drilling about 3000 feet away. They had no baseline testing.
1. We visited the site.
2. We ran the water directly from the well - the water was clear, but there was a sulfur odor. LEL (Lower Explosion Limit - 0%)
3. Went into Trailer #1 - the water had a strong sulfur odor and very slight tint.
4. Went into Trailer # 2 - the water had a strong sulfur odor and very slightly discolored. Trailer # 2 is used intermittently.
5. Asked the homeowner where the water was "BAD" - was told -the second bathroom in Trailer # 2.
6. When to this Bathroom and Sampled - BLACK Water - see photo.
7. Tested all water in the field for pH, conductivity, and temperature. The conductivity was low and the pH was less than 6.0.
8. Removed the strainer from the "BAD- Spigot" Large Mass of slime came out of the faucet tap.
9. Checked the toilet tanks - they were slimy and black and red.
10. Toilets - coated red.
11. Copper staining and slime deposits where water drips in the sink
1. No salt problem.
2. No Methane Problem.
3. Total Coliform - High
4. E. coli. - Negative
5. Standard Plate Count - well over 10,000 colonies per ml
6. Nuisance Bacteria - iron, slime, and sulfur bacteria present - 60,000+ colonies per ml.
7. Dropped off and educational guide.
The suggested cause:
1. Nuisance bacteria in the well.
2. Because of intermittent use of Trailer # 2- there was excessive growth in the piping of the building.
3. Thought the problem was Manganese, but the laboratory testing indicated that the particles were iron and sulfur or iron sulfide. When the particles were oxidized, they turned RED and Yellowish Brown. (Something New Every Day!)
a. Shock disinfect well and distribution system.
b. If Trailer # 2 is not being used, drain the water lines to prevent the regrowth.
Did It Work - Yes - The well was shock disinfected TWICE!
Looking for Case Number 12
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