Although the majority of Tennesseans are served by public water supplies, there are still more than 500,000 residents that rely on private drinking wells. While most private wells provide clean drinking water, they can become contaminated and cause countless health problems. Currently, federal and state laws do not require that water from private wells be tested, said UT Extension’s Lori Gibson, an agricultural sustainability specialist.
“It is recommended that well water be tested every few years, or anytime you suspect contamination, for coliform bacteria, nitrates and any other contaminants of concern,” Gibson elaborated. “Failing septic tanks, agricultural chemicals, animal wastes, solvents and petroleum products are all potential sources for groundwater contamination.”
Gibson recommends that those who rely on a private well for their drinking water follow these guidelines:
·        Ensure your well casing is high enough above ground (6 inches or 24 inches if in an area prone to flooding) and has a seal or cap so surface water cannot enter.
·        Don’t store or dump chemicals within 20 feet of your well.
·        Don’t dump anything in nearby sinkholes, as they can be a direct route to the groundwater. 
·        Keep animals away.
·        Don’t apply pesticides, such as for weeds and insects, near the well.
·        Do not dispose of oils, chemicals, paints and medicines to your septic system.
Just because your drinking water looks clean and tastes okay does not necessarily mean it is safe. Gibson says government regulations require public water suppliers to test the quality of their water several times a year at minimum and that the cost of testing is passed on to their customers. “So, while there is a cost associated with testing your well water, it is minimal and testing is in your family’s best interest,” she said.
To obtain a list of commercial labs approved for water quality analysis, call the Tennessee Division of Water Resources at 615-532-0191 or visit their website at
For more information you may also contact your local county UT Extension office or visit the national Extension website:
UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.


Lori Gibson, UT Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, 865-974-7111,