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Drinking Water Program
Safe reliable drinking water is a priority for public health. The primary focus of this program is to provide information to well users on appropriate testing and the importance of water quality. Single family well owners are solely responsible for monitoring the quality of their drinking water.
Additionally, we provide review and approval service for those wells serving 2 homes and provide consultation services to larger systems as well.
What is Ground water?
How can I test my water?
My water smells like rotten eggs!
Home Water Treatment
Wells Serving 2 Homes (Approved Water System)
On-Site Review of a Well
Non-Residential and Systems with More than 2 connections
Consumer Confidence Reports
Whenever someone is using a well for their drinking water, they are using ground water. Ground water is the water that is found underground in the cracks of rocks and in the spaces between soil, sand and rocks. When it rains and when snow melts, the water moves down into the ground, traveling between these cracks and spaces. When the water reaches a point where all the cracks and spaces are full of water, this point is called the water table. The depth to the water table varies greatly by area and season. When we drill a well, the well must extend past the water table to insure that enough water is available to use in our daily lives.
Ground water is generally considered to be a safe source of water. As the water moves through the cracks and spaces between the soil, sand and rocks, contaminants and pollution that are mixed with the water get stuck in the small cracks and spaces while the water continues to move downward - just a little cleaner. The earth is acting as a giant filter!
To learn more about how water moves underground, click here
Ground water is one of our most valuable resources. It takes many years for water from the surface of the earth to make its way down into aquifers. While the soil, sand and rocks do make an efficient filter, many contaminants mix thoroughly with the water and are difficult to remove. Every state in the nation has reported cases of ground water contamination. Some common sources of ground water pollution are:
Once pollution is deep underground and mixed with ground water, it is generally difficult and expensive to clean up. Sometimes the only option is to drill a new well.
The best, easiest and least expensive ways to protect our ground water supplies are to prevent pollution and practice conservation in order to protect our ground water supplies from being contaminated in the first place.
- Leaking underground tanks that store gasoline and chemicals
- Leachate from landfills
- Too much fertilizer or pesticides applied on fields or lawns
- Dumping, spilling or spreading gasoline, oil, road salts and chemicals on the ground and roads
- Leaking and/or failing septic systems
Benton County Residents
- Use local household hazardous waste facilities for disposal of unwanted household chemical products, such as painting supplies, solvents, etc. IT'S FREE!
Household Hazardous Waste Facility
3102 Twin Bridges Road
Richland (Off SR 240, 3.5 miles west of Richland)
Monday to Friday 8 am to 4 pm
Sat & Sun 9 am to 5 pm
Richland Landfill Website
Franklin County Residents
Basin Disposal, Inc.
1721 Dietrich Rd.
Pasco (Between Basin Recycling and BDI Transfer)
Open Monday - Friday, 10 am to 3 pm
Click on the following links for tips on water conservation.
Water is a valuable resource. Clean, safe, drinkable water is an invaluable resource. We can protect the quantity of Ground water by simply reducing the amount of water that we use.
Washington Department of Health
City of Richland, Environmental Education Program
If your property will be served on an on-site sewage disposal system, it is important to contact the Benton-Franklin Health District before drilling your new well. Improper placement of a well on a lot can severely limit the placement of an on-site sewage disposal system and, in a worst case scenario, render the lot unusable. Placement of the drainfield must be a minimum of 100 feet away from all wells, not just the one you are anticipating drilling on your property.
The drilling of new wells is regulated by the State Department of Ecology. The following information is located at their site:
Ground water contamination can come from natural or human sources. Naturally occurring contaminates include bacteria, viruses, nitrates, heavy metals (like arsenic, cadmium, chromium and lead), radon, and fluoride (in excessive amounts).
Human activities, past and present, are the biggest threat to ground water quality. Bacteria and nitrates are abundant in human and animal waste material. If either septic tank systems or livestock management areas are located too close to a well, contamination may result. Consumption of excessive amounts of nitrates can cause adverse health effects in infants less than 6 months of age and some adults. In agricultural areas, fertilizers and pesticides are frequently applied to crops. This can also occur in suburban areas where there are many lawns, gardens, and golf courses. These chemicals can reach ground water. Fertilizers contain nitrogen compounds which may break down into nitrates, adding to natural sources of nitrates. Other potential contaminants include: underground storage tanks used for home heating fuels that can corrode and allow pollutants to leak into ground water, improper disposal of household wastes, used motor oil, paints, industrial products and other wastes that are not properly managed.
- Decommission any well that is abandoned, unusable, or not intended for future use.
- Do not store pesticides, fuels, fertilizers or other chemicals within 100 feet of your well.
- Follow package directions carefully when using pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers so that you do not overuse them.
- Properly dispose of hazardous substances.
- Do not flush them down the toilet or pour into home drains, storm drains or onto the ground surface.
- Test your well water annually for bacteria; more often if you notice a change in taste, color, or odor of the water, or if there are changes in the area surrounding your well (such as flooding).
- It is recommended that you test your well water for nitrates at least every three years; more often if you are pregnant, have children under 6 months of age, or are aware that the ground water in your area is known to be high in nitrates.
- Disinfect your well after work is performed or repairs are made. For instructions, contact a well driller or click here (link to disinfecting a well).
- Install a sanitary seal to the top of your well casing. If one is already installed, check to be sure it is in place and tightly secured (although not all wells have sanitary seals and/or caps--some may have pumping equipment attached at the surface-- all wells need to be sealed from surface pollutants).
- Periodically check the condition of your well to be sure everything is in proper working order.
|Well cap on a well. A bolt is missing to properly secure the cap to wellhead.|
|Mouse droppings present on top of the well head could contaminate this well, due to the opening around the electrical wiring to the pump. This opening should be caulked over to prevent contamination.|
Interested in performing an on-line assessment of your well? Click here be linked to the Washington State University, Cooperative Extension's Risk Assessment for Drinking Water Wells http://homefarmasyst.wsu.edu/Assess/wells.asp
A pumphouse should:
- NOT be used to store any chemicals, fuels, paints or fertilizers
- NOT be used as a storage shed and/or workshop.
- Be properly ventilated, insulated and drained, including a properly reinforced concrete floor and structurally sound walls.
- Provide adequate area for ease in installation and maintenance of water system components.
- Have adequate lighting and heat.
|Do not use your pumphouse for storage. This provides habitat for mice and other rodents.|
Other Well Protection Links:
One of the most common worries prospective well owners have about drilling a new well is whether or not they will be able to get a "water right." "Water rights" are often confused with "well permits." For the typical home owner, a well permit is all that is needed.
Well Permit - Issued by Dept. of Ecology to property owners who will use less than 5,000 gal/day of Ground water for
Well permits must be obtained from the Department of Ecology. Your well driller is familiar with this process and will walk you through the process of obtaining a well permit. For information about obtaining a well permit and fees, CLICK HERE.
- watering stock
- single or group domestic use
- industrial purposes
- irrigation of lawn or non-commercial garden of 1/2 acre or less
Water Right - The legal authorization to use a certain amount of public water for specific beneficial purposes.
Water Rights are more difficult to obtain than a well permit. CLICK HERE for more information on water right progress through the Washington Department of Ecology.
- If you plan to divert any amount of water for any use from:
- Surface waters
- Lakes, rivers, streams, springs
- Ground Water
- If more than 5,000 gal/day
- If irrigating more than 1/2 acre of lawn or non-commercial garden
Contacting the Department of Ecology
In the State of Washington, the landowner is responsible for properly decommissioning (abandoning) wells. The law also requires that decommissioning be done by a licensed well driller. If you have questions about procedures, costs or site specific details, please contact a licensed well driller. You can find them in the yellow pages of the phone book under "Well Drilling and Service"
- Central Regional Office (Benton County)
- Eastern Regional Office (Franklin County)
Click here to download the Washington Department of Ecology's brochure on abandoned wells: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/pubs/96br097.pdf
If you are using water from a private well, testing the water is the only way to find out it if is free from contaminants. As the owner of the well, you are the person responsible for testing the water.
The Benton Franklin Health District maintains a certified laboratory that performs bacteriological monitoring and limited water chemistry. The most commonly performed water quality tests are coliform bacteria, nitrates and fluoride.
Coliform bacteria are a group of bacteria commonly found in our environment, including the feces of man and other warm-blooded animals. While most of the bacteria in this group are found on the ground and within the first few feet of soil, it does include bacteria that can cause disease in humans, such as E. coli and Salmonella sp. The presence of coliform bacteria in drinking water indicates that the water has been contaminated with surface water, which may contain disease causing bacteria from the fecal material of man or other animals. This poses a potential health risk exists for those drinking the water.
- What are Coliform Bacteria?
- How often should I check for Coliform Bacteria?
- How do I disinfect my well?
For more information about coliform bacteria and how to submit a sample;
To disinfect the typical well:
It is recommended that private, single family wells be checked for coliform bacteria at least once a year. Remember that the results of this test only give a picture of what the water was like on the day of testing. You should also consider testing anytime the water changes in taste, odor, or appearance.
For tips on how to prevent coliform bacteria in your well,
|Coliform Testing -- Bottle #4430 is satisfactory, Bottles #4426 and #4387 are unsatisfactory (positive for coliforms).|
It is recommended that you test your water for coliform bacteria once a year.
What are Nitrates?
What are the health risks associated with nitrates?
How do I get them out of my water?
How often should I test for nitrates?
- Purchase 1 gallon of liquid household bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite) available at any grocery or drug store.
- Drain the water out of your pressure tank.
- Add the gallon of bleach to a 5-gallon bucket of water and pour the mixture directly into the well via the access port or by removal of the sanitary seal.
- Turn on the well pump and run water through a hose using a tap closest to the well until you smell chlorine. Then direct the hose nozzle back down into the top of the well to disinfect inside the well casing.
- Work your way from the well, opening ALL taps in and outside the house one at a time until the chlorine can be smelled at all taps. This also includes the hot water tank, toilets, shower heads and clothes washer.
- When the chlorine odor is noticeable at all taps, close each tap. This will stop the well pump. Try not to use the water system for 12 to 24 hours in order to allow the chlorine adequate time to disinfect the system.
- After disinfection, pump the system out starting with the tap closest to the well on which you can attach a hose. Use a hose to direct the water to an area where vegetation is not growing (away from grass and shrubs). Also, keep the discharge out of the septic tank and drainfield area. Continue pumping until the chlorine cannot be smelled, then work your way from the well, running the water through EVERY tap until each tap is free from the smell of chlorine. Do not drink the water if you still smell chlorine.
Wells most vulnerable to nitrate contamination include shallow wells, dug wells with casings which are not watertight, and wells with damaged, leaking casing or fittings.
For more information about nitrates;
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of nitrate as nitrogen (NO3-N) at 10 mg/L (or 10 parts per million) for the safety of drinking water. Nitrate levels at or above this level have been known to cause a potentially fatal blood disorder in infants under six months of age called methemoglobinemia or "blue-baby" syndrome; in which there is a reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. The symptoms of blue-baby syndrome can be subtle and often confused with other illnesses. An infant with mild to moderate blue-baby syndrome may have diarrhea, vomiting, and/or be lethargic. In more serious cases, infants will start to show obvious symptoms of cyanosis: the skin, lips or nailbeds may develop a slate-gray or bluish color and the infant could have trouble breathing. A sample of the infant's blood can easily confirm a diagnosis of blue-baby syndrome. It is difficult to determine the true incidence of blue-baby syndrome in Washington State because it is not a reportable disease.
Pregnant women, people with reduced stomach acidity, and people with certain blood disorders may also be susceptible to nitrate-induced methemoglobinemia. Some research has suggested that nitrate may also play a role in the development of some cancers. However, at this time there is no clear evidence that nitrate ingestion results in an increased cancer risk.
Here in the Columbia Basin, high nitrates are the most common contaminate of our ground water. Nitrate (NO3) is a naturally occurring chemical made of nitrogen and oxygen. Nitrate is found in air, soil, water, and plants. Much of the naturally occurring nitrate in our environment comes from bacteria in the soil breaking down plant and animal wastes. People can add excess nitrate to the environment when we over-apply fertilizers, over irrigate, improperly store and/or spread manure and by failing septic systems.
|Nitrate testing in the Benton-Franklin Health District Water Quality Lab in Richland, Washington.|
For more information about the health risks of nitrates;
Nitrates dissolve easily in water, so removing them is difficult. Home water softeners or filters DO NOT remove nitrates. Boiling actually concentrates the nitrates. Distillation and reverse osmosis are processes which remove all minerals from water, including nitrates. Ion-exchange systems will also remove nitrates. Because these systems are fairly expensive and require some maintenance and filter changes, you may want to consider using bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes.
It is generally recommended that your water be testing for nitrates once every three years. Below is a table which shows various nitrate levels and a recommended testing schedule.
*Nitrates are above a naturally occurring level. This information was developed by Home*A*Syst, a grant funded public education program administered by Washington State University Cooperative Extension.
When a single family well provides water to a family with small children, it is helpful to know what the fluoride levels in the water. Fluoride is a naturally occurring element found in water. A level of 1.0 mg/L in drinking water is sufficient to reduce dental caries without harmful effects on health. At excessively high levels fluorosis may occur. Knowing the fluoride levels in your drinking water will help you and your dentist to make the appropriate decision about any fluoride supplements that may be prescribed.
For the September 2000 Fluoride Report for community water systems in Benton, Franklin, and Umatilla Counties and the supplement schedule, click here.
For a complete list of water tests that are performed by the Benton Franklin Health District's certified laboratory, click here.
As long as our drinking water is colorless, odorless, and free of unpleasant taste, we tend not to give much thought to the water we are using. If, however, our water has a strange taste or smell, we are understandably concerned. In the Columbia Basin, hydrogen sulfide gas is often the cause.
Hydrogen sulfide is a gas that can show up in drinking water as a result of several different processes. The decay of organic matter is a common cause. However, in surface and ground water supplies, the presence of harmless sulfate-reducing bacteria is most often the cause.
|LOW||PRESENT*||ELEVATED*||EXCEEDS HEALTH LIMIT*|
|0-2 mg/L||3-6 mg/L||7-10 mg/L||Above 10 mg/L|
Within the range of naturally occurring nitrate levels. Test well water every three years.
Nitrates detected but considered safe. Test well water annually.
Level of nitrates is approaching health standard. Test well water annually.
Level of nitrates exceed health standard. Infants and pregnant or nursing women should not consume this water. Test well water annually.
Sometimes the characteristic "rotten egg" odor is caused by sulfur bacteria. This type of bacteria is not harmful. It lives in hot water plumbing. Sulfur bacteria chemically changes hydrogen sulfide to sulfate, which produces the unpleasant odor. Sometimes gelatinous slime is present, similar to iron bacteria. If you notice the sulfur smell when you run the hot water in your home, but not the cold, this may be the cause of your problem.
Hydrogen sulfide can also be responsible for tarnished silverware and yellow or black stains on kitchen or bathroom fixtures. Coffee, tea and other beverages made with water containing hydrogen sulfide may be discolored, and it can change the appearance and taste of cooked foods.
Hydrogen sulfide is a flammable and poisonous gas. However, at concentrations found in household water, it is usually not a health risk. Hydrogen sulfide odors are detectable by the nose at very low levels. Concentrations high enough to cause a health concern are extremely rare because the odor would be intolerable. Nevertheless, hydrogen sulfide in water, when released in confined areas, has been known to cause nausea and illness.
Water with hydrogen sulfide alone does not cause disease. However, in rare cases, the hydrogen sulfide odor may be from sewage pollution, which can contain disease-causing organisms or other contaminants. Sulfur-reducing and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria in water pose no known human health risk.
In order to properly treat your water for sulfate, it is recommended that you know the amount of sulfate found in your water. This requires an on-site test of the water as the sulfate dissipates rapidly. The treatment method will depend on the amount of sulfate in the water. Chlorination, activated carbon filters, aeration and sulfur blasters are some of the methods available. Contact your local water purifier and filter equipment dealer for more information.
If you believe the source of your sulfate odor is from bacteria, shock chlorination of the entire water system, including storage, hot water tanks, and distribution lines, is recommended to kill the bacteria. Click here for information on shock chlorination of a well. If this method does not eliminate the smell, contact a local water purifier from the yellow pages.
There are many different types of home water treatment devices on the market. The one that is right for you is the one that addresses the specific problems you are having with your water. When interpreting your water analysis results, remember that the presence of a contaminant does not always mean that the water needs to be treated. Click here for a list of maximum contaminant levels
If you receive your water from a public water system, call the operator for a report on the water quality (Consumer Confidence Report) which will show what the water is tested for and the results. Click here to go to list of local public water systems who's Consumer Confidence Reports are on the internet.
If you are considering water treatment to remove a contaminate related to a health condition, keep in mind that removing the source of contamination or replacing the unsafe water supply with a safe one is more appropriate than treating the water.
In general, there are "point-of-use" and "point-of-entry" treatment systems. Point of use (POU) devices treat the water at the point it is going to be used, usually for drinking or cooking purposes and only one tap in the house may be connected to this filter (such as reverse osmosis or charcoal filters attached to the top of faucets). Point of entry devices (POE) treat the water as it enters the home and is then distributed all the taps in the home (such as water softeners).
Activated Charcoal Filters. These systems use replaceable filter cartridges containing granular or powdered block carbon. Water needing treatment passes through the cartridge, coming into contact with the activated charcoal on its way to the faucet. These filters have a limited ability to adsorb contaminants and eventually need to be replaced. For best results, these filters need to have sufficient contact time with the water, so the depth of the filter and the flow rate of water can be important. In addition, activated charcoal becomes a growth medium for bacteria when the filter is saturated with organic contaminants, which supply the food source for the bacteria and when the filter has not been used for a long period of time.
Activated carbon filters remove organic contaminates, such as pesticides, industrial solvents, components of gasoline, radon, and many other organic compounds that cause the water to taste and smell bad.
Reverse Osmosis. This unit is usually installed underneath the kitchen sink. Water passes through a thin membrane with very tiny pores. The system works by applying a high water pressure on one side of the filter, which forces pure water through the membrane. The contaminants accumulate on the other side of the membrane. The pure water is collected for drinking and cooking use. These systems remove all major types of contaminants - nitrates, metals, and organics.
Check into the cost of installation, filter exchanges and the amount of waste water that is generated. Typically, these units use several gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of treated water. Pre- and post-treatment of the water is often needed.
Distillation. This unit treats water by heating it until it forms steam. When water becomes steam, any contaminants in the water are left behind. The steam then cools and condenses to form pure water in a separate storage container. The contaminants are periodically flushed from the unit. Distillers remove inorganic compounds, such as lead and nitrates, and some organic compounds. They also disinfect the water through the boiling process. These units may be found on the countertop, attached to the wall or on a cart.
Disadvantages to this system are high energy use and cost, the heat produced during its use, the loss of beneficial minerals from the water and possibly flat tasting water. Also, care must be taken to avoid bacterial contamination of the storage container.
Ion Exchange. Water softeners are the best known example of ion exchange systems. These systems work by exchanging a compound in the water for a chemical on the filter resin. Calcium and magnesium, which make the water hard, are exchanged for sodium ions attached to the resin surface. Once all the sodium ions have been replaced by the calcium and magnesium ions, the system must be recharged by flushing the system with high amounts of sodium. This creates a great deal of waste water that is discharged to the sewer or septic system. Ion exchange systems have been developed to remove nonhardness chemicals, however recharging the resins is more difficult.
All water systems that serve 2 connections or more are considered Group B public water systems within the State of Washington and are subject to the requirements of Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 246-291. In an effort to expedite your project, the Benton-Franklin Health District has entered into an agreement with the Washington State Department of Health accepting delegation of responsibility for 2 Unit Group B Water Systems within Benton and Franklin Counties. WAC 246-291-090(3) authorizes the Benton-Franklin District Health Department to establish uniform criteria for the development of residential 2 unit water systems in Benton and Franklin Counties that are less stringent than WAC 246-291.
An approved water system is needed when:
- Two or more homes are using water from the same well.
- The well is being used to provide water to a daycare.
- The well is being used to provide water to employees of a business.
When applying for approval as a Group B Residential 2 Unit Water System, please contact our office for an application packet. The following items must be submitted to the Health Department (many of which are included in the application packet), along with a completed application form and review fee. The review fee for a 2 Unit Water System is $300.00.
- Well driller's report (well log)
- If you do not have a copy of your well driller's report, you may obtain one from your driller or from the Washington Department of Ecology's web site at http://apps.ecy.wa.gov/welllog/
- A satisfactory bacteriological report from a certified laboratory within the last 12 months.
- A satisfactory inorganic analysis for nitrates and fluoride from a certified laboratory within the last three years.
- The Benton Franklin Health District has a certified laboratory that can perform the bacteriological, nitrate and fluoride analysis for you. The cost for these tests is $24.00 each. Click on the test name for more information
- A completed Water Facilities Inventory (WFI) form.
- A diagram of the water system that includes the following information (make your diagram as close to scale as possible):
- Property lines, individual lot lines, and easement locations (reference distance from property lines to structures drawn).
- Well Site (clearly marked). Include the 100 ft zone of protection.
- Buildings: houses/barns/storage sheds/other.
- Utility location (electrical)
- Customer services or connections (include parcel number and address).
- Distribution lines (including pipe lengths and pipe diameters).
- Elevation differences (provide topographic map when greater than 40 feet).
- Other existing wells in the vicinity.
- Irrigation lines.
- Size of lots served (usually in acres or square feet).
- Septic tanks/Drainfields/drywells/sewer lines.
- Slope direction/drainage pattern.
- Irrigation canals/other bodies of water.
- Show North (N) arrow.
- Other potential sources of contamination.
- An acceptable water user's agreement, recorded with the property title of each parcel to receive water (sample agreement included in packet).
- A Declaration of Covenant must be drawn up by the fee simple owner of the land to declare a sanitary protection zone around the public water supply source, and recorded with the County Auditor.
- A Restrictive Covenant, in addition to the Declaration of Covenant, must be drawn up if any portion of the one hundred foot (100') radius of sanitary protection extends into adjacent property not under fee simple ownership of the applicant, and recorded with the County Auditor.
- Water right permits from Department of Ecology OR Declaration of Covenant that states that less than 5000 gallons of water will be used per day.
Following the review of your submitted information, an on-site review will be conducted. Any problems with the site will be reported to you and must be corrected prior to formal approval of your water system by this office.
On-Site Review of Well
When the inspector visits the site, they will be looking at the following with regard to the well site:
When a water system is the water source for a business or serves 2 or more consumers, the system is required to be reviewed and permitted by the Washington State Department of Health, Drinking Water Division. Two to fifteen connections is considered a Group B water system. More than fifteen connections is considered a Group A water system. For Group B systems, we can help you complete the paperwork and help with your submittal. For larger systems, contact the Regional Engineer for more information on how to apply for a Group A water system.
- Does the Zone of Protection (all the area within a minimum of 100 feet of the well) contain any biological or chemical contaminants?
- Septic tanks and drainfields, underground storage tanks, public roads, railroad tracts, commercial or stored vehicles, barns, feed stations, enclosures for maintaining fowl or animal manure, liquid or dry chemical storage, herbicides, insecticides, hazardous waste, or putrescible garbage of any kind or description.
- Is the map provided accurate?
- Does the slope of the ground within the well site and beyond endanger the source from possible run-off contamination?
- Do public or private roads pass within the zone of protection?
- Does the ground slope away from the immediate vicinity of the source?
- Is the well site satisfactory?
- Was the well drilled at the time of the inspection?
- If yes,
- Is the source adequately sealed and covered?
- Is visible construction in sound condition (concrete, piping, electrical, floor slab, building, etc.)?
- Is there a substantial concrete slab poured around the well casing (where applicable)?
- Does the casing extend at least 6 inches above slab (where applicable)?
Regional Engineer for Benton and Franklin Counties
Andres Cervantes, P.E.
An onsite well review will be required for the system as well as the appropriate covenants. (See above).
What is a Consumer Confidence Report?
If you are a customer of a water system that provides water to 15 or more homes, you have a right to know where your water comes from, what is found in your water, and what your water system is doing to deliver safe drinking water. This information can be found in a "Consumer Confidence Report" or "CCR" which is required by water systems to be provided to you by July 1st of each year. For more information about Consumer Confidence Reports requirement, click here
The following links will take you to Consumer Confidence Reports of our major cities: