What Every Realtor Should Know About Private Drinking Water Wells
If you are a real estate agent representing a buyer or seller of a property with a drinking water well you may have questions about how you can best inform your client about private well water issues during a property transaction.
Water, our most precious commodity, never wears out; but it can become contaminated. The safety of the water we use – for drinking, cooking and bathing – cannot be taken for granted. Water may look safe, taste good and smell fine – yet be unsafe to drink.
Water quality is based on guidelines established under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Primary Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) are the maximum level of a contaminant in water that is considered safe for human consumption. Any level of a contaminant that exceeds the MCL is considered unsafe for human consumption. Municipal and Community supplied drinking water providers are required to test water they provide to the users to demonstrate that contaminants do not exceed the MCLs. Private water well contaminant levels are not enforceable by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but must meet MCLs for some parameters as required by state, county and lender specifications.
Knowledge is Power
An educated buyer/seller that understands the importance of well water quality is better able to make an informed decision about a property that replies on well water for the drinking water supply.
Information about well water quality is available from many sources. The Maryland Department of Environment Water Supply Program oversees drinking water supplies in Maryland. Their website address is: www.mde.maryland.gov/programs/ResearchCenter/FactSheets/WaterFactSheet/Pages/MDGroundwaterAwarenessWeek.aspx. A guide entitled Drinking Water from Household Wells is available from the EPA to help answer questions and provide links to additional information. The booklet can be viewed at www.epa.gov/safewater/ pwells1.html. Information is also available from local county health departments. Another informative website for well owners is www.wellowner.org.
Having the well water tested as soon as you have a ratified contract can ensure a smoother ride to the settlement table. It can help to avoid delays in selling the home if there are water quality issues that need to be addressed and remedied. The buyer’s lending institution will most likely require testing and the testing required will vary depending on the type of loan that is being obtained. Lenders will have a time limit on how long the results are valid, often they are only good for 30 days. If the well has been tested and fails, appropriate treatment can be installed. A failed bacteria test may only require a chlorination treatment to the well or it may require the installation of a permanent disinfection system such as a UV light. Elevated nitrate levels may require the installation of an RO system, elevated turbidity may require installation of a sediment filter and an elevated lead may require the installation of an acid neutralizer and so on. There truly is some sort of treatment available to remedy almost any water quality issue.
What tests should be conducted?
The buyer’s lending institution will most likely require that the well pass a water quality test prior to settlement. Most lenders require, at a minimum, testing for bacteria. Some lenders may require additional tests. Checking the lender’s testing requirements for each loan can help to avoid delays at settlement.
Keep in mind that these tests are intended to ensure that the lender is not making a loan on a property with a faulty system in case they have to repossess the property. The testing is not necessarily required to protect the health of the residents.
What are the MCLs for drinking water?
Coliform bacteria/E.coli <1/100 ml or absent (the < sign stands for less than and means not detected)
Coliform bacteria are present in soils and E.coli in human and animal feces. The presence of these bacteria may indicate surface water intrusion contamination or contamination from a septic system. EPA considers them to be the indicator organisms for “safe” drinking water.
Nitrate 10 mg/L.
Nitrite 1 mg/L
Major sources of nitrates or nitrites in drinking water include fertilizer, sewage and feedlots. Infants who drink water containing nitrates in excess of MCL may develop shortness of breath and blue baby syndrome.
pH Recommended range for pH is 6.5 to 8.0; a pH of 7.0 is neutral
pH is a measure of how acid or alkaline the water is. Low numbers indicate acidic water and can be associated with corrosion problems, pin hole plumbing leaks and can contribute to high lead and copper levels.
Lead 0.015 mg/L
Lead enters drinking water primarily as a result of the corrosion of materials containing lead that are in the household plumbing such as lead based solder, brass and brass and chrome plated brass faucets. High levels may cause delays in physical and mental development in children. In adults it may contribute to kidney problems and high blood pressure.
Copper 1.3 mg/L
Water can be a significant source of copper intake depending on the pH of the water, the temperature of the water and the presence of copper pipes. Copper has toxic effects at high dose levels and may cause kidney or liver damage but it is an essential element at lower levels.
Turbidity 10 NTU
Turbidity refers to the degree of cloudiness in water due to suspended particles. If turbidity increases after a rain, it can indicate that surface water intrusion is occurring in the well. High turbidity levels are sometimes associated with disease-causing microorganisms such as viruses, parasites and bacteria.
Contact Fredericktowne Labs for information about other potential contaminants or specific concerns.