Natural Disasters and Private Wells – What to Do

Editor’s Note:  The edited information below was taken from the Summer 2014 edition of WellCare News, a publication of the Water Systems Council.  The article describes common sense “what to do” options for private well owners after a natural disaster – hurricane, flood, tornado etc. – may have compromised their well.  For the complete article, please visit

Natural disasters and emergencies such as flood, fire, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wind storms affect thousands each year. If you are a private well owner, and a natural disaster has occurred on or near your property, there are some things you need to know about your drinking water supply.

Concerns and Advisories

If in doubt about your water supply, follow local or state health department drinking and bathing advisories.

Remember that there is danger of electrical shock from any electrical device that has been flooded; consult a certified electrician. Rubber boots and gloves are not adequate protection from electrical shock.

Septic systems should not be used immediately after floods. Drain fields will not work until underground water has receded. Septic lines may have been broken during flooding or other storms. Contact a local plumber or septic service immediately.

For information on long-term water quality conditions in the area or information on home water treatment devices contact your local or state health department or drinking water primacy agency, the wellcare® Hotline at 888-395-1033, or the Water Quality Association (WQA) at 630-505-0160 for assistance.

Conditions at the Well

Moving flood water or high winds can carry large debris that could loosen well hardware, dislodge well construction materials or distort casing. Coarse sediment in flood waters could erode pump components. If the well is not tightly capped, sediment, debris, and flood water could enter the well and contaminate it. Wells that are more than ten years old or less than 50 feet deep are likely to be contaminated, even if there is no apparent damage. Floods or heavy debris may cause some wells to collapse.

Electrical System and Pump Operation

After flood waters have receded and the pump and electrical system have dried, do not turn on the equipment until the wiring system has been checked by a qualified electrician, well or pump contractor. If the pump’s control box was submerged or damaged during flood or other storms, all electrical components must be dry before electrical service can be restored. Get assistance in turning the pump on from a well or pump contractor.

All pumps and their electrical components can be damaged by sediment and flood water. The pump, including valves and gears, will need to be cleaned of silt and sand. If pumps are not cleaned and properly lubricated they can burn out. Get assistance from a well or pump contractor who will be able to clean, repair or maintain different types of pumps.

Treatment Options for Safe Drinking Water

In most emergency situations, obtaining bottled water is the most commonly promoted way to access safe drinking water. However, there are treatment methods you can use when the quality of water is compromised during an emergency and it is not possible to obtain bottled water. But before considering such an approach, contact the local health authorities to assure yourself that the emergency has not introduced any chemical contaminants of concern into your well system. If the water only needs to be disinfected to be potable, there are 4 main options to treat water to make it safe for consumption:

  • Boiling
  • Chlorination
  • Distillation
  • Water treatment devices certified for microbial reduction of bacteria, cysts, and viruses

Do not rely on water treatment filters or devices that are NOT certified for microbial reduction as they may not provide the protection necessary for emergency situations. Consult a water professional or manufacturer for more information. (Visit to learn more about the different kinds of home water treatment systems that are available.)

For any of the disinfection options listed above, begin by preparing a clean storage container. You will need a little treated water to do these steps, so keep in mind this can be done simultaneously while disinfecting water. Use food-grade storage containers when possible, or re-use plastic 2-liter soda containers.

1.  Wash the container thoroughly with dish soap and clean water first, especially when reusing soda or other containers.

2.  Disinfect by mixing 1 teaspoon unscented chlorine bleach to ¼ gallon of water and pour it into the storage container.

3.  Agitate the liquid by swishing the mixture around inside the container to ensure that it hits every surface.

4.  Rinse thoroughly with disinfected water.

Emergency Disinfection of Your Well

After the power has been restored, you will need to disinfect your well. Clear hazards away from wells before disinfecting. It is best to have your well disinfected by a well professional. During an emergency, it may not be possible to contact a well professional. In this case, refer to our wellcare® information sheet on “Disinfecting Your Well” for complete instructions. It is important to note that disinfection will not remove pesticides, heavy metals, and other types of non-biological contamination.

Do not drink or cook with the water until a water test is performed and confirms there are no harmful contaminants in your water.

Testing Your Well Water

You should have your well water tested after disinfecting your well to confirm bacteria is gone and other contaminants are not present. For more information on testing your water, refer to our wellcare® information sheet on “Well Water Testing.”

Contact your local or state health department or state primacy agency to have your water tested or to get a referral to a state certified laboratory that can perform water testing. If you need assistance, contact the wellcare® Hotline at 888-395-1033.


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