Pennsylvania is home to more than one million private water wells, and more than 20,000 new wells are drilled each year.

Pennsylvania is also one of only three states that have no guidelines on the location, construction, and maintenance of private wells, so all aspects of private-well management are voluntary and up to the respective well owner.

School researchers are collaborating with the Pennsylvania Water Resources Research Center to determine the characteristics and management of private wells and to gather opinions of homeowners with wells. Bryan Swistock, water resources specialist for Penn State Cooperative Extension, is inviting well owners to complete an online survey.

Previous studies have shown that about half of all private wells sampled fail to meet at least one drinking-water standard. Especially common problems in wells are bacteria, low pH, lead, and iron. As more and more wells are drilled around the state, the concern is that poorly constructed and managed wells will become a bigger problem.

The survey is just part of the research. Investigators also are testing the water quality in 700 wells across the state. The well-testing segment of the study is being funded by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. By comparing survey answers and actual
water quality, a clearer picture of drinking-water safety should emerge.

Because all aspects of private well location, construction, and management are voluntary, little is known about these water supplies and how they perform for homeowners, Mr. Swistock points out. "This makes it difficult to create educational programs to meet the needs of existing and future well owners," he says. "We are trying to get a handle on the quality of Pennsylvania's private wells and educate homeowners about the need for proper care."