With Louisiana facing an above-average hurricane season, the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) is advising residents who own private water wells to make preparations to protect their well system.
Private wells are not regulated in Louisiana, leaving well owners responsible for all facets of disaster preparedness, protection and maintenance of their well. Left unchecked, wells are vulnerable to damage and contamination possibly leading to negative health effects.
More than 90,000 private water wells exist in Louisiana, of which an estimated 1,075 were impacted by flooding caused by Hurricane Ida. Another 34,196 private wells were impacted by hurricane-force winds during the 2021 hurricane season impacting coastal areas of Southeast Louisiana.
“Louisiana is no stranger to natural disasters and is regularly affected by active hurricane seasons, storms and spring flooding. Faced with emergency events, there are often concerns regarding the impact to private water well systems,” said State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter. “Louisianans who rely on private water wells should take action now to protect the health of themselves and their families by ensuring the safety of their water supply in the event of a disaster.”
Before a natural disaster
Before a storm hits, it’s important to cover the wellhead and pump to protect the equipment from flying debris. If a well is located in a flood-prone area, it should be fitted with a flood-proof well cap. These caps are watertight to prevent floodwaters from contaminating the well.
Because hurricanes often cause power outages, the pump should be turned off at the circuit breaker just before the storm hits. Power outages can cause spikes and surges through the electrical lines, and this can damage the electrical components of the pump. Power should not be turned back on until any floodwaters recede.
The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources maintains a listing of licensed well professionals to assist well owners with any maintenance needs. Residents should also prepare an alternate source of water to sustain them through a storm event. LDH recommends purchasing enough water in advance for cooking, bathing and drinking for all household members and pets.
After a natural disaster
Private water well owners whose wells flood, sustain damage or experience prolonged power loss should assume their well water is contaminated until screened. Affected water wells must be first disinfected then thoroughly flushed before a sample of water is collected for analysis by the laboratory.
OPH laboratories offer bacteriological testing (total coliforms and E. coli) to private drinking water well owners. Testing kits are available at public health units across the state or can be ordered online.
Until the water is confirmed to be negative for coliform bacteria, it should not be used for drinking purposes. Before receiving results from the laboratory, use bottled water or some other safe supply of water.
LDH’s Private Well Owner Network (LA PWON) provides guidance on locating licensed well professionals, well maintenance, testing, video tutorials, recovery and much more. For more information, visit ldh.la.gov/pwi or call 1-888-293-7020.