Bacteria grow at an alarming rate, under the right conditions. The exact growth rate varies based on the type of bacteria and their breeding conditions. In the case of coliform bacteria that contaminate your well water, once they enter the water they start to die, but this does not mean you are safe.
Since bacteria can begin to grow at very fast rates, it is definitely wise to get testing after any sort of water damage where sewage water is involved.
Bacteria require food, warmth, and moisture to survive. They can live in slow moving waters (like that found in your well) for a long time. How well they survive and grow depends on the conditions of the soil nearby your well and home.
Coliform bacteria are much less likely to survive in a well-aerated soil. For example, in a sandy well-aerated area, you may see a low bacteria survival rate. However, if the ground water around it is shallow and the water flows quickly through the soil, then the bacteria survival rate could still be high.
On the other hand, if there is heavy soil along with a great distance between the ground water and where it must go, and the water moves slowly through it, there is likely a much higher bacteria survival rate.
Fecal Coliform bacteria
The harmful bacteria in your water supply come from feces, both animal and human. If an animal leaves waste too close to your well, there is a greater chance of contamination.
Though fecal coliform bacteria are not usually pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria, they are generally an indication that pathogens are present in the water supply.
Since pathogens are so small, it is hard to monitor them directly. This is why it is recommended you test your water on a regular basis. Essentially, the warmer the conditions around the well, the more rapidly the bacteria will grow.
Treating contaminated water
If your water is contaminated with coliform bacteria, do not drink it. Do not cook with it. Do not brush your teeth with it. Do not wash dishes with it.
Your dishwasher will not get the water hot enough to kill bacteria. Your coffee maker will not get the water hot enough to kill the bacteria.
You can use contaminated water to:
- Bathe/Shower: Do not ingest the water.
- Wash clothes
If you must use water from the tap for cooking, eating/drinking, or washing dishes, then you should boil it at a full rolling boil for at least a full minute. Those who live in higher elevations need to boil it a bit longer to be sure the bacteria is dead.
This method is meant to be used in the meantime between the time the contamination is found and the time the water can be treated. It is not a long-term solution to the problem. When you boil the water, you must take care to ensure the cooled water does not become contaminated again.
Your water can be treated in the following manner:
- Ultra-Violet Radiation: makes use of UV light to kill bacteria. No chemicals are added to the water with this method.
- Ozone: Must be generated on-site. Offers more disinfection than chlorine, but is oftentimes not a practical solution.
- Chlorination: Most cost-effective solution to long-term treatment. This will not kill the bacteria, but instead reduces it to “safe” levels to keep you from getting sick.
A contractor familiar with well maintenance and water treatment will be able to help treat the water. Unless you are comfortable with chlorination, do not attempt it yourself. The amount of bleach required is based on the depth of the well and how much water is in it. Do not just pour bleach into your well.