Private well owners need to know what’s in their water

More than 1 million people in Minnesota rely on private wells as their source of drinking water, but too many of them are not tested on a regular basis for things that can make people sick, such as bacteria, arsenic, or nitrate. While wells can provide high-quality drinking water, state health officials estimate that at any given time as many as 25 percent of private wells in Minnesota have detectable levels of total coliform bacteria, an indication that surface contamination has entered the well or water system.

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends that private wells be tested:
• once a year for total coliform bacteria.
• once every two or three years for nitrate, more often if nitrate has been detected previously in the well or if an infant under the age of six months will be consuming the water
• at least once during the well’s lifetime for arsenic.

Getting a well tested is a relatively simple process. Local county health departments may provide or arrange for testing services.

Commercial (or private) laboratories providing water testing services are usually listed in the Yellow Pages under “Laboratories - Testing.”

Well owners should check to make sure the laboratory is certified to perform tests they want.

The laboratory will provide directions for collecting and submitting water samples for testing. The costs for analysis are usually in the range of $20 to $40 per test, depending on what is tested. More information on well testing can be found at:

County information is available on the following websites; search on “well water testing”:
• Dakota County also offers tests for PFC contamination and for pesticides: or call 952-891-7000
• Ramsey County: or call 651-266-1321
• Washington County also offers a test for PFC contamination: or call 651-430-6655

People with questions about well water contaminants or other well-related issues – can obtain advice from MDH, their local health department, or local MDH-licensed well contractors. Well specialists are available to answer questions at the Twin Cities office at 651-201-4600.


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