What you need to know about well water

Property Transfer Well Inspections

What every REALTOR® needs to know about new DNR well water testing regulations.

By: Liesa Lehmann
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A fourth of Wisconsin’s citizens drink water drawn from private wells. Wells can be safe, dependable sources of drinking water if sited properly and built correctly. Since protection and maintenance of a private well is the responsibility of the well owner, buyers may want to know the well’s condition or the drinking water quality when a property is for sale. State law does not require a well inspection or any water testing for a property transfer. However, if a well and pressure system inspection is part of the real estate transaction, several regulations do apply.

What’s required for the well inspection?

NR 812, the state’s well code, provides the regulations that apply to property transfer well and pressure system inspections effective October 1, 2014. If a well inspection is done as part of a property transfer, it must be done by an individual who is a licensed well driller or a licensed pump installer. The inspector will visit the property to conduct a visual inspection of the well and pressure system, looking for features that do not comply with state well code. The inspector will not remove the cap or otherwise enter the well, so the results will be based on what is observed. The inspector is required to take samples of the well water and have them analyzed for bacteria, nitrates and arsenic by a certified laboratory. The inspector is also required to search the property for any unused wells that may not be properly filled and sealed.

Inspection results

The inspector is required to provide results on a DNR form that clearly indicates whether the well and pressure system are in compliance with state well construction standards. If the inspector notes on the form that a well or pressure system has one or more known noncomplying features, this means the inspector believes there is a component of the system that does not comply with standards. Since the DNR does not have a role in the property transfer transaction, any decision on whether to bring the system in compliance is between the buyer and the seller.
The inspector can provide advice on how to bring the system into compliance. An inspector may also attach inspection notes, well construction reports or other documents to provide additional information to their client, such as the well performance or pump yield.

Sampling results

The certified laboratory will send the water sample test results to the person requesting the inspection. If a lab reports a well water sample as bacteriologically unsafe or at-risk, or reports nitrates levels above greater than 10 parts per million (ppm), or arsenic levels above 10 parts per billion (ppb), the well owner is encouraged to consider not drinking the water until they assess the health risks. A licensed well driller or pump installer can provide advice on options to treat the water, or determine whether a new well could provide safer water for the long term. DNR brochures provide more detail on contamination sources, health risks and options for well owners:

  • Bacterial Contamination of Drinking Water Wells. 
  • Nitrate in Drinking Water. 
  • Arsenic in Drinking Water. 

To view these publications, visit dnr.wi.gov/topic.drinkingwater.

Why is testing for nitrates and arsenic now required?

Nitrate, along with bacteria, is considered an acute health risk. Testing for bacteria and nitrates are the most commonly required drinking water tests for public and private systems nationally. Nitrates are a growing groundwater contamination issue in Wisconsin.
Arsenic is considered a chronic health risk. Once thought to only be in eastern Wisconsin, arsenic has recently been found in groundwater in other counties throughout the state. The Education Subcommittee of Wisconsin’s Groundwater Coordinating Council (GCC) — a group with representatives from state agencies, the UW System, and the Governor’s office — identified the importance of more widespread arsenic testing several years ago, and forwarded this information to the GCC for consideration. Requirements for both nitrates and arsenic sampling were recommended and added through the formal rule revision process, to provide buyers and sellers with more information about the quality of private well water.

Additional tips

If a well inspection contingency is part of your transaction, here are a few tips to help with the property transfer:

  • Schedule the well inspection early to allow time for inspection and sample analysis in advance of closing.
  • Make sure the inspector is a licensed well driller or licensed pump installer and reports results on the required DNR form. 
  • If the inspected well has a noncomplying feature, ask the inspector for recommendations on how to bring the well into compliance with state code.
  • Find out if the lender has requirements that go beyond DNR regulations.
  • Share information about private well ownership and drinking water quality with buyers and sellers.

For more information

Other records such as well construction reports and groundwater quality data are available using search tools on the DNR’s website. If a buyer requests a well inspection as a condition of purchase, the WRA has resources available to help you ensure the inspection meets requirements.
Visit the DNR’s Web pages for more details on the following topics:

Liesa Lehmann is the Private Water Supply Section Chief for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater. She can be reached at 608-267-7649 or Liesa.LehmannKerler@wisconsin.gov.

Published: November 05, 2014
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