Officials urge caution with wells contaminated from flooding
Residents of northeastern Minnesota whose private water wells may have been contaminated by flooding should test their wells before using their well water, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). Testing kits are free and available from local public health agencies.
"People should assume their private well is contaminated with potentially hazardous, disease-causing bacteria if the well casing was under water, or the flood water came within 50 feet of the wellhead," said Aggie Leitheiser, Assistant Minnesota Commissioner of Health.
"Water from these wells should not be used for drinking or cooking until the floodwater recedes and the wells are tested," Leitheiser said. "Wells that were in direct contact with flood water should be flushed and disinfected before they are tested."
Owners of potentially contaminated wells should use bottled water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth, until the well is tested and found to be safe. As an alternative, people can boil their well water before use. To kill bacteria, bring the water to a full, rolling boil, boil for at least one additional minute, and let cool before use.
No special care is needed in using municipal or community water supplies unless a public announcement has been made indicating otherwise. The public water supply operator and MDH routinely monitor all community water supply systems carefully. If the community's water supply becomes contaminated, the community and MDH work together to eliminate the contamination and promptly notify residents of any problems.
Private wells that test positive for contamination might need disinfection and testing more than once. Well owners may want to hire a licensed well contractor to flush and disinfect a flooded well and water system and to repair a well that has been damaged.
Information on testing and disinfecting wells is available from local health departments, the MDH Northeastern District Office at 218-723-4642, and the MDH Central Office at 651-201-4600. Well testing and other flood–related information is also available on the MDH website at http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/emergency/natural/floods/index.html.
Free water test kits, including sample bottles and instructions for sending water samples to an MDH laboratory, are available from local public health agencies in counties affected by the recent flooding:
Aitkin County: 1-888-900-2138
Carlton County Planning and Zoning Office: 218-384-9176
Lake County Public Health: 218-834-8400
Pine County Health and Human Services: 320-216-4100
St. Louis County Public Health Department: 218-725-5210
Private water testing laboratories also can test water samples for bacterial contamination. State-certified labs generally are listed in the yellow pages under "laboratories-testing," and are listed on the MDH website at https://apps.health.state.mn.us/eldo/public/accreditedlabs/labsearch.seam. Total coliform bacteria tests typically cost $15-25.