North Carolinians can take action to better prepare private wells for a flood ahead of Hurricane Dorian, even if you are making plans to evacuate. The Division of Public Health has issued guidance to help keep your well safe before and after a flood.
NCDHHS recommends the following steps to prepare and protect your private well ahead of adverse weather:
- Store adequate bottled water for drinking and cooking. You won't be able to drink, brush teeth or cook with well water until it is tested and found suitable.
- Fill up the pressure tank as much as possible.
- Turn off the electricity to the well.
- If you have an aerobic septic system, turn off the electricity for the system. No special preparations are recommended for conventional septic systems.
- If your wellhead does not have a watertight seal, clean off the well casing, cover with a heavy-duty trash bag and secure with waterproof tape.
- If you have the log or well report completed when the well was established, store a copy in a safe place that will be accessible if you evacuate.
Excessive rains and flooding can cause water in your private well to become contaminated, meaning the water can cause adverse health effects if it is consumed or comes into contact with the skin. After Hurricane Florence in 2018, nearly 45 percent of wells tested by the State Public Health Lab were found to have bacterial contamination. More than 13 percent of these wells had detectable E. coli.
After a flood, the following steps can help ensure that your well is safe for use:
- Do not turn on the electricity to your pump until flood waters recede.
- If extensive flooding has occurred, do not drink the water. Use your water reserves and bottled water until your well water has been tested.
- Contact a driller if you think your well needs to be serviced. You can find a list of certified well contractors at https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/north-carolina-well-contractors-certification/find-certified-contractor
- If you haven't already, find a nearby water testing lab to obtain sample collection bottles and instructions for bacterial contamination. You cannot see, taste or smell bacterial contamination in your well. Often, your local health department can test your water. If there is not a health department near you, your County Extension Agent can help you find a lab.
- If you live near animal feeding operations, agricultural fields where pesticides are applied or industrial chemical factories, you should contact your local health department for additional testing, especially if you smell fuel or chemicals in your water.
If there is bacterial contamination, do not use contaminated water for drinking, cooking, making ice, bathing in any form or washing clothes or dishes. Use an alternative water source until bacteria is no longer detected in your water. Alternative sources include bottled water, a source you know isn't contaminated or boiling your water for five minutes before use.
It is strongly recommended to call your local health department or licensed well driller to shock chlorinate the well if it has been flooded. A water well driller will have access to more effective products and will have equipment and experience that a typical well owner will not have.
DHHS has also created a webpage for Hurricane Dorian at http://www.ncdhhs.gov/dorian. The page will be updated regularly as new information is available.