Domestic wells, also known as private wells, are typically on private property in contrast to publicly owned community municipal wells. Domestic wells need to yield only enough water for a single family and in some cases for small-scale farming. Hundreds of millions are estimated to use such wells for their basic water needs. In the United States and Canada, approximately 46 million people rely on domestic wells.

The quality of water provided by domestic wells is unknown due to an absence of testing requirements. Domestic wells are a common cause of harm to human health although the frequency and degree of harm is poorly documented. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on investigations and remedial actions at contaminated industrial sites across North America and Europe to protect human health from contaminated groundwater, but almost no funds are allocated for assessing or reducing health threats from domestic well water because domestic water quality is deemed to be a matter for the private well owner. There are precedents that suggest private property ownership should not negate government responsibility. For example, some governments regulate the location and design of domestic septic systems, in an effort to protect nearby domestic wells.

Globally, studies that test groundwater pumped from domestic wells have found that many contain harmful constituents from natural sources – such as arsenic, fluoride, manganese and uranium – and/or harmful constituents from human activities such as solvents, flame retardants, road salt and agricultural chemicals. Studies that test domestic wells for pathogenic bacteria typically show one-third of the wells have unsafe levels, but the cause is not known. This well water is also likely to contain harmful viruses, but virus testing is rare. There are stringent modern requirements and building inspections for home construction, but the requirements to ensure the safety of domestic wells have not changed for more than half a century and on-site well inspections are not required.

This book focuses on design, drilling and operation of domestic wells. Although domestic well owners will find this book of interest, it is aimed at professionals working in groundwater related areas to enhance their understanding of problems associated with domestic wells. Safe domestic well water is essential to societal wellbeing and requires solutions from multidisciplinary teams that interface with public health authorities.

Three other Groundwater Project books complement this topic: Fluoride in Groundwater, Septic System Impacts on Groundwater Quality, and Water Well Record Databases and Their Uses. John Drage, author of this book, is a senior hydrogeologist with the Geological Survey of the Province of Nova Scotia, Canada where more than 40% of the population use domestic wells, making it a microcosm of the many problems facing domestic well owners and governments.

John Cherry, The Groundwater Project Leader
Guelph, Ontario, Canada, January 2022


Domestic Wells – Introduction and Overview Copyright © 2022 by John Drage. All Rights Reserved.