Ground water quality: What you need to know

If your drinking water comes from a well, some information can help you ensure quality drinking water for your household, according to the National Ground Water Association.

Water quality is affected not only by human activities but also by a combination of natural processes. Following are some of the more common ones.

Hard water

The most common problem associated with ground water may be hardness, caused by an abundance of calcium or magnesium. Hard water causes no health problems, but it can be a nuisance as it may cause soap curds to form on pipes and other plumbing fixtures.

Calcium and magnesium in ground water come from dissolved limestone. The installation of a water softener usually solves this problem.


A “rusty” taste in water is the result of iron in ground water. It not only gives a noticeable taste, but it also can stain pipes and clothing. Iron occurs naturally, so most ground water has some in it. Iron comes from minerals contained in the earth such as limestone, shale and coal.

There are several treatment methods, including the installation of a water softener. Aeration—the addition of oxygen to the water—also can remove iron from the water.


Most nitrogen in ground water comes from the atmosphere. Some plants can “attach” nitrogen from the atmosphere onto their roots. The nitrogen not used by the plants is then released into the soil.

Nitrogen compounds also can work their way into ground water through fertilizers, manure and urine from farm animals, sewage and landfills. The most common forms in ground water are ammonia, nitrate and nitrite. Nitrates can be especially toxic to children under 6 months of age.

There are a variety of treatment methods to correct this problem, including reverse osmosis systems with water softeners.


Silica comes from the weathering of silicate minerals in the ground. It causes no harmful effects to humans, but large amounts can cause scaling in pipes that restricts water flow.


A “rotten egg” smell is often associated with sulfur. Along with creating an unpleasant odor and taste, sulfides cause corrosion to plumbing and darken water.

There are two varieties of sulfur: sulfides and sulfates. Sulfides usually are found in marshes and manure pits, while sulfates often come from the dissolving of minerals such as gypsum and anhydrite.

There are several methods of treating sulfur. Aeration is effective against hydrogen sulfide gas. Chlorination, a reverse osmosis system, or a negative ion-exchanger also can be effective in combating sulfur.

Total dissolved solids

TDS, as they commonly are known, are the concentration of all dissolved minerals in water. TDS levels above 1,000milligrams per liter usually will yield poor-tasting water. Levels above 2,000 milligrams per liter are defined as undrinkable.

Water softeners with a reverse osmosis system are effective in lowering the TDS to satisfactory levels.

To find out more

The National Ground Water Association recommends water well owners have wells checked by a professional contractor every year. For more info on ground water quality, contact a local ground water contractor, or find one using the “Contractor Look-up” feature at

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