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Private Wells and Natural Disasters

Wells and Disasters: Wildfire, Flooding, and Winter Weather

Disaster events seen in New Mexico including wildfire, floods, and extreme weather, can damage or contaminate wells. Taking steps to protect your well before a disaster or weather event can greatly reduce the potential for damage and contamination.

If your well has been contaminated or you suspect that it may be contaminated, do not drink the water. You need to properly disinfect or treat the water and have it tested before drinking/using the water. Drink clean water from another source (e.g., bottled water) until you are sure the water from your well is safe to drink again.

Drilled, driven or bored wells are best disinfected by a well or pump contractor, because it is difficult for the private owner to thoroughly disinfect these wells. However, if you need to disinfect a well yourself, follow these safe guidelines from the CDC

Working on a well after a natural disaster can be hazardous. Disasters can damage well piping and electrical systems. Unless you are highly skilled, electrical repairs are best conducted by a qualified electrician or well contractor.

Wells in a Wildfire Prone Area

If you live in a wildfire prone area and have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should a wildfire occur:

  • Maintain your private well.
  • Know your private well and take pictures of storage or pressure tanks, pump, treatment system (including any filters), well documents, and electrical components to reference later if there is damage.
  • Store things that easily start on fire away from your well (e.g., paint, gasoline).
  • Use a well house made of fire-resistant materials and use fire-resistant electrical coverings.
  • Keep the surface seal in good condition.
  • Additional steps can be taken that may require a well contractor: Keep extra sanitary seals in case the seal gets damaged. Install shut-off valves right before and after the pressure tank. Install backflow prevention valves on all hydrants and outside taps. Use a non-PVC well casing.

What to do if a wildfire is coming

If a wildfire is likely and you have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should a wildfire occur:

  • Buy or store safe water to use for drinking, cooking, and bathing for several days.
  • Have contact information for a licensed well contractor, health department, and certified laboratory on hand.
  • Environmental Health Epidemiology on-call service: (505) 827-0006 or doh-eheb@state.nm.us
  • Clear away debris near the wellhead.
  • Turn off power to your well pump and equipment (if possible). Power switch may be by the water pump or tank or at the main electrical panel.
  • Shut off the water (if possible) using shut off valves.
  • Wrap the well cap and well casing with durable flame-retardant sheet plastic and duct tape to form as tight a seal as possible.
  • Place fire resistant sandbags around the well. If possible, cover the wellhead with a sealed standpipe and bury it with fire-resistant sandbags.
  • A well contractor can assist with other protective measures including removing any above ground well pumps or plumbing. Store them in a fire-resistant area.

After a wildfire

If a wildfire has occurred and you have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your health and respond safely after a wildfire:

  • Well Inspection and repair - Electrical system, cap, casing, pressure tank, plumping, and well house. Clear debris and check for contaminants.
  • Flush the well - may best be done by a well contractor. Check pressure (pressure gauge or running a faucet). Disconnect water softeners/treatment systems. Run the pump (30 min-hours) until water is clear. If water doesn't run clear use alternate water source and contact a well contractor.
  • Test your well water - Coliform bacteria, E. coli, nitrate, other contaminants of concern. Retest the water in several weeks to confirm.
  • Disinfect your well if water tests positive for bacteria (E. coli) or repairs were done.
  • Prepare for flooding - Areas burned by fires have little to no vegetation increasing the chances of sudden floods and mudslides. Learn more in the section below.

Wells in a Flood Prone Area

If you live in area likely to experience flooding (including areas that may be affected by wildfire and flooding) and have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should a flood occur:

  • Maintain your private well and keep records of well maintenance.
  • Keep chemical and other contaminants away from the well head including keeping animal waste piles located where water will not flow toward the well.
  • Make sure the well has a cap or sanitary seal.
  • Have the well water tested annually for bacteria, nitrates, pH and conductivity.
  • Make sure that the ground is sloped away from the well so that surface water flows away instead of towards the well head.
  • Make sure that the well casing extends at least 18 inches above land surface (NMAC 19.27.4) (check with a licensed contractor).
  • If you have a well pit, consider upgrading.

What to do if flooding is likely

If flooding is likely, including areas burned by wildfire and you have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should a flood occur:

  • Buy or store safe water to use for drinking, cooking, and bathing for several days.
  • Have contact information for a licensed well contractor, health department, and certified laboratory on hand.
  • New Mexico Department of Health Environmental Health Epidemiology on-call service: (505) 827-0006 or doh-eheb@state.nm.us
  • If water is likely to flow towards the well head, sandbags should be used to divert the flowing water away from the well head.
  • All capped wells are vented to allow proper functioning of the pump. Consider wrapping this vent with a tarp and duct tape or some other similar removable "seal" to keep water from flowing through the vent.
  • Well heads in pits are difficult to protect. The pit should be protected using plywood, sheet plastic/tarps, and sandbags.
  • When flooding is imminent and/or evacuations are likely to occur, prepare by turning off the main power switch.

After a flood

If a flood has occurred and you have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your health and respond safely:

  • Stay away from the well pump while flooded to avoid electric shock.
  • Do not drink or wash from the flooded well to avoid becoming sick.
  • Get assistance from a well or pump contractor to clean and disinfect your well before turning on the pump.
  • After the pump is turned back on, pump the well until the water runs clear to rid the well of flood water.
  • Get the water tested for bacteria before resuming use for drinking water even if the well did not get overtopped.
  • If any part of the electrical system or control box has been submerged, avoid risk of electrocution and do not attempt to restart the well by yourself, call a professional well contractor.

Private Wells in an Area Likely to Have to Snow, Ice, or Freezing Temperatures

If you live in area likely to experience extreme winter weather (including snow, ice, or freezing temperatures) and have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should severe weather occur:

  • Know your private well and take pictures of storage or pressure tanks, pump, treatment system (including any filters), well documents, and electrical components to reference later if there is damage.
  • Store all well documents in an easily accessible location.
  • Check for and repair any leaking plumbing fixtures such as: toilets, sinks, showers, and water-heaters.
  • If you live in an area that experiences deep snow, consider marking your well head with a flag or post to prevent it from being hit by vehicles or other machinery.
  • If you have outdoor well components (including in a well house) do the following: insulate above ground components and piping; wrap outdoor pipes with heat tape or heat cables in a single layer; cover the well head with a well house; and place a heating source such as a small heater or heat lamp near the well head.
  • If power outages are common, consider having a small portable gas or diesel generator to power the well pump in the event of a power outage.

A well contractor can assist with other protective measures including:

  • Installing shut-off valves before and after the pressure tank to prevent contaminated water from entering the tank. This also allows the shut off of the water line before any water storage or treatment devices.
  • Installing backflow prevention valves on outside taps.
  • Install insulated pipes or add insulation to well components to protect from freezing.
  • Consider installing a water storage tank (typically 120-gallons) to provide enough water for 1-2 days in the event of a power outage.

Before extreme winter weather

  • Buy or store safe water, like bottled water, to use for drinking, cooking, and bathing.
  • Have contact information for a licensed well contractor, health department, and water testing laboratory.
  • Disconnect and store garden hoses.
  • Close the shutoff valve and/or cover outdoor faucets.

During winter weather

  • Use a safe source of water for drinking, cooking, and bathing if your pipes freeze or there is a power outage.
  • Use warm water if the system starts to freeze. It is not necessary to leave water running all the time. A good way to keep warm water circulating is to spread out your laundry and dishwasher schedule using warm water.
  • If needed, use a generator to power your well pump during a power outage.
  • If the power is out, keep some faucets open to a trickle until power comes back on.
  • If gone for more than a week, make sure your house is heated and someone runs warm water regularly and open any cabinets with pipes to let in the heat.
  • If leaving the home vacant for several months, consider shutting off the home's water supply and opening the faucets to drain them.

After winter weather

  • If any components of your well freeze, call a well contractor to assist. Do not use additives, run hot water continuously, or start a fire near the well head.
  • If parts of the well freeze, or repairs are done, call a well contractor to flush the well system.
  • Also have the well water tested for coliform bacteria (including E. coli) and nitrate of freezing occurred to parts of the well.