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Who’s Responsible for Private Water Wells?

October 21, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Myers: Today we're talking about who is responsible for private water wells. Hello. I'm Amy Myers, and welcome to Farm and Family. Today we're speaking with Dr. Jason Barrett, Mississippi State University Assistant Extension Professor.

Dr. Barrett, there's been some discussion about some issues that folks are having around the state with their well water or their well water systems. How does a private well differ from a public water supply system?

Jason Barrett: Great question, and you are correct. We are seeing questions come out about private supplies. The biggest difference is the fact that if the well only serves your house, and it's on your property, and the casing is smaller than six inches in diameter, you're going to fall into the private well category. But if you receive a water bill from a utility such as a water association, utility district, or municipality, you're going to be on a community water system or public water supply.

Amy Myers: Many people may find issues with their well water or the well water system, and they don't know exactly who is responsible for it or who to call. Can you clarify exactly where the responsibility falls?

Jason Barrett: Sure. Private well owners are the sole responsible official for their well. They are the owner. They are the person responsible for their water quality. They are the person responsible for paying the bills to keep it maintained. There are no state or federal regulations that have oversight over those private wells. The homeowner themselves is the responsible official.

Amy Myers: Now that we've established that if you are on a private well, that you are responsible for keeping it working. But is there ever a possibility that something someone else does away from your property that can affect your own water well, even if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing to keep your own well working?

Jason Barrett: Sure, and it is very possible that something outside your control or off your property that can affect your water supply, because don't lose sight of the fact that you're actually pumping water out of the ground. I would say one of the biggest issues off property that you may find is if somebody has an improperly installed or improperly working septic system, septic tank. It could be discharging improperly. That, as a result, can cause you issues because it is being absorbed in the ground or it's running off in close proximity to you.

But one of the biggest issues we see with private water well quality is a lot of the things that the homeowners themselves are doing, just not paying attention to their wellhead area, not having good practices around it, not making sure that their wellhead area is clean from any type of pesticide, paints, solvents, things of that nature. Just make sure that your wellhead area is protected, you don't have anything that you wouldn't want to be drinking around that wellhead area.

Amy Myers: Yes, it could be something that someone else is doing, but ultimately it is the private well owner's responsibility. Regarding a situation where some folks might contact their elected officials or county supervisors and whatnot, let's just say that I'm an elected official and I've got constituents that are contacting me about their well water problems. What would my responsibilities be?

Jason Barrett: If we're going to classify community leaders, whether that's with city government, county government, the responsible ultimately lies with the private well owner. If you are a elected official, community leader, and you have people that have issues, I would tell you initially reach out to Mississippi State Department of Health Division of On-Site Wastewater, or reach out to us here at MSU Extension. We may be able to assist you in getting some answers.

Amy Myers: Who do we call if we have any questions or if we have a problem with the quality of our water well and the water that we drink from it?

Jason Barrett: The Mississippi State Department of Health has a division called the Division of On-Site Wastewater, and their phone number is 601-576-7150. They are a great resource for anyone on a septic tank or anyone on a private well. You can actually have your water screened through them. There's an online portal. There's a call center. But again, Mississippi State Department of Health Division of On-Site Wastewater. They're a phenomenal resource.

Or you could call us with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. We have a network called the Mississippi Well Owner Network. Phone number there is 662-325-1788. We have a lot of knowledge we can relay. Also, we have workshops around the state people can attend as well. Again, those two are probably your best resources in the state right now for private well assistance.

Amy Myers: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Jason Barrett, Assistant Extension Professor. I'm Amy Myers, and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Department: Ext Ctr for Government & Comm Devel

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