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Private Well Owners - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

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What is a private well? What is a public water system?

In rural areas, household drinking water is commonly obtained through private wells or surface water intakes, and is usually called a private or "domestic" water supply. Most homeowners know if they have a well on their property.

Most drinking water, particularly in urban areas, is obtained through public water systems that serve multiple homes or entire communities. These can be groundwater wells or surface water intakes (pipes drawing from streams and rivers). If a well or intake serves more than 3 homes or connections, it is regulated as a public water system in Oregon.

How do I get a list of the most recent drinking water standards or health limits?

The drinking water standards are available from the Oregon Health Authority Drinking Water Program (DWP). See the Rules & Implementation Guidance section on the left sidebar.

A copy of the standards can also be obtained by calling OHA at 971-673-0405 and requesting a list of standards.

Another excellent source of information on drinking water standards/health concerns is the Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

How do I find out where my drinking water comes from?

If you get a monthly water bill, the name and telephone number of your water system operator should be on the bill. Call this number for more information on the source of your drinking water. If you are a renter and do not receive a water bill, call your landlord for the water system operator's name. Other potential sources of information about your water include your local County Health Department, the local Water Resources Department Watermaster District Office at 503-378-8455, or the OHA Drinking Water Program at 971-673-0405.

Where can I get more information on my drinking water?

Private Water Wells
If your water comes from a household well (serving 1-3 households), it is considered a "private" or "domestic" well in Oregon. If you get your water from a private well, you are responsible for well maintenance, testing and operation. Basic information on household wells, water tests, water treatment and potential sources of contamination is available at from the Oregon State University Extension Service's Well Water website or from the Water Systems Council Wellcare Program. Information on household water treatment systems can be found in OHA's technical bulletin.

It is important to note that private wells are not required to conduct sampling and testing unless there is a property transfer. The homeowner has the responsibility for maintaining the private well and ensuring the well water is safe to drink. OHA and DEQ recommend that private wells be tested regularly (every one to two years) to ensure your drinking water is safe for consumption. Testing should also be done as soon as possible if anyone in the family is experiencing chronic gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., chronic diarrhea), or other unexplained health problems. OHA provides more information on testing for real estate transactions. OSU’s Well Water program site on water tests provides more information on testing your water to make sure it is safe to drink or to diagnose a problem with taste, odor or staining.

Public Water Systems
If you get your drinking water from a "public water system" (more than 3 connections), you can call the owner or operator of the system to get more information on the source of the water and whether there are any contaminants present in the water. The name of your water provider can be found on your most recent water bill. Public water systems are required to sample and test for contamination on a regular basis, and report the results to the consumers. You can get the most recent "Consumer Confidence Report" for your water system from the water provider.

For additional assistance with understanding public water system regulations and treatment, you can call the OHA Drinking Water Program at 971-673-0405. You can find the contact person for your water system and access the most recent test results. Click on "Drinking Water Data Online" (in the right sidebar) and use the "WS Name Look Up" or "WS ID Look Up" to access system information.

What types of things do you test for in drinking water?

Generally, it is a high priority to sample for microbiological contaminants and nitrates on a regular basis. In addition, both agencies are also becoming increasing concerned about arsenic. These are the most common risks for private well owners. OHA and DEQ recommend that you also call your local County Health Department for recommendations of what to sample for in the private well. You can obtain more information on health risks and contaminants in drinking water by calling the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 or from info sheets available from the Water Systems Council.

Where can I get my water tested? Can the state do it? How much does it cost?

OHA and DEQ do not test (or pay for testing of) private wells. Unless your well involves a specific project, no state agency is funded to provide free testing. Well owners can have their well water tested at a nearby laboratory at their own expense. Testing for the most common risks will typically cost from $20 to $40 for nitrate analysis, $25-$40 for coliform bacteria (microbiological) testing, and $20-$45 for arsenic analysis. If other contaminants are suspected, more extensive testing may be warranted. The OHA Drinking Water Program can provide a list of laboratories in your area online or by calling 971-673-0405.

What happens if there are contaminants in my private well?

If test results from your private well indicate contamination, call the OHA Drinking Water Program at 971-673-0405 for information. They can assist with information on how to disinfect your well if you have problems with microbiological contaminants, provide fact sheets for chemicals, or information on how to address other problems.

If test results show your well has toxic contaminants at concentrations above federal drinking-water standards, the responsibility for follow-up falls to DEQ, rather than OHA. In this case, report the results using DEQ's Environmental Complaints System or phone 1-888-997-7888. As DEQ's regional staff resources permit (depending on the magnitude of the problem and the number of persons affected), they may investigate alternative water supplies and seek the source(s) of contamination.

NOTE: All public water system compliance issues should be referred to the OHA Drinking Water Program, at (971) 673-0405.

What are my legal rights as a renter?

The Oregon Residential Landlord Tenant Act (ORS 90.320) requires that all landlords maintain their rental units in a habitable condition, including providing a water supply maintained so as to provide "safe drinking water". If a renter has contaminated drinking water, the landlord is responsible for fixing or replacing the plumbing, or providing another source of safe drinking water. For mobile home parks that supply water to each home, the owner of park is responsible for providing safe drinking water to the homes.

For more information on your individual rights, contact a private attorney or call "Legal Aid Services of Oregon" (a nonprofit assistance organization) 1-800-228-6958.

Who do I call if I have questions?

Questions about regulations, water quality and testing

  • For private wells - well construction, maintenance and abandonment):
    Oregon Department of Water Resources at 503-986-0851
  • For private wells - water quality and testing
    Please see the Oregon State University Extension Service Website or contact the OHA Drinking Water Program at 971-673-0405 (the duty officer will assist you).
  • For public water supplies:
    OHA Drinking Water Program at 971-673-0405 (the duty officer will assist you)

Questions about protecting a well or surface water intake from contamination

  • For private wells: Please see the Oregon State University Extension Service Website or contact the OHA Drinking Water Program at 971-673-0405 (the duty officer will assist you).
  • For public water supplies:
    Sheree Stewart at DEQ, 503-229-5413 or Tom Pattee at OHA 541-726-2587 x24 as primary contacts.
  • You can also refer to the DEQ Drinking Water Protection Website. See especially the section, "Technical Assistance". There are many excellent resources, links to information and documents that can be used to assist in developing strategies for protection of your source water.
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For more information about DEQ's Drinking Water Protection Program please see the Staff Contacts and Resources.

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
Headquarters: 811 SW Sixth Ave., Portland, OR 97204-1390
Phone: 503-229-5696 or toll free in Oregon 1-800-452-4011
Oregon Telecommunications Relay Service: 1-800-735-2900  FAX: 503-229-6124

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is a regulatory agency authorized to protect Oregon's environment by
the State of Oregon and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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