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 email@example.com
- 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