One of the most difficult problems associated with domestic wells is ensuring they have safe water quality. This is mainly because domestic well water quality is unregulated and it is the well owner’s responsibility to ensure their water is safe to drink. Most jurisdictions recommend that well owners carry out regular well maintenance and testing for chemical and microbial contaminants. The recommended frequency of testing and the parameters to be tested vary, but many jurisdictions recommend that well owners test their well water either yearly or every two years (Colley et al., 2019). Adherence to these recommendations is voluntary, however, and well owners often rely on their own senses (taste, smell, appearance, personal illness) to determine if their water quality is satisfactory. Unfortunately, most groundwater contaminants with adverse health effects have no taste, odor, or visual indicators, so they are invisible to well owners who do not test their water. As indicated by the theme for World Water Day 2022 “Groundwater: making the invisible visible”, there are significant challenges to managing an invisible resource like groundwater and this is doubly true for the water quality of domestic wells, which is an invisible problem within an invisible resource.
Domestic water quality testing rates are low. Typically, less than about one third of North American well owners test their well water quality in accordance with government recommendations and less than half have tested their well within the last 10 years (Colley et al., 2019). A well owner’s decision to test their well water quality can involve numerous considerations and is influenced by the well owner’s income and education level. Colley and others (2019) present a health-belief model that suggests well owners are more likely to test their wells if they believe they are susceptible to a threat, if the threat is sufficiently serious, if testing has clear benefits, if the barriers and costs of testing are not too high, and if an event triggers them to take action (e.g., a noticeable change in well water aesthetics, a real-estate transaction, or learning about contaminated wells in their neighborhood).
There are multiple and complex reasons why a well owner may not test their well water quality (Chappells et al., 2015; Colley et al., 2019; Munene and Hall, 2019). When domestic well owners are asked about their water quality sampling habits, some of the most common reasons for not testing include:
- lack of concern;
- the inconvenience of testing; and
- the cost of testing (Figure 13).
All of these potential barriers must be considered in order to make significant improvements to domestic well testing rates and there is no single approach for motivating all well owners (Morris et al., 2016). The lack of regular water quality monitoring makes domestic wells vulnerable to undetected contaminants, and as a result, domestic well owners may unknowingly be exposed to contaminants for long periods of time.