Turn on the tap and water comes out, probably without you ever thinking about where that water has come from. This is especially true for residents on municipal water, which is piped from the Nanaimo Lakes, passed through various filtration systems and otherwise prepared for the consumption of thirsty Nanaimoites. But for some homeowners in the Greater Nanaimo area the water that comes out of the faucet doesn’t come from far away, but from the well in the back yard.

While in ever shrinking numbers there are still a number of households within city boundaries that rely on well water. In the Regional District of Nanaimo there are many more locations drawing their drinking water from wells. The Municipal District of Lantzville for example services all of its residents with well water, via municipal wells connected to modern filtration systems.

Under City of Nanaimo regulations a property serviced by a well cannot connect that well to a city line as there would be no way to remove contaminants. There are some circumstances in the community where a household is on city water, and also has a well. In a case such as that the well water is not used for drinking but typically for irrigation, gardening or other uses.

But what are the concerns of using well water (groundwater) as a source of household supply? The biggest risk of all is the potential for illness. The Nanaimo area was founded on coal, with coal mines and even slag heaps still existing in some more remote areas. Leaching contaminants from abandoned mines is one possible health concern. The same could be true of well water drawn from areas routinely used for agricultural purposes. Farm runoff, pesticide and herbicide usage, animal wastes and other potential toxins can percolate into the ground and enter the water table.

Wells that have the potential of contamination due to wildlife and the rise of an abnormally high fecal coliform count are another potential health risk for homeowners. The so-called “Beaver Fever” or intestinal illness caused by drinking tainted water occurs randomly across the province and is not unknown in the Nanaimo area. Similar in nature to the farm waste contaminated water, wildlife contaminated water can be the source of any number of unpleasant and potentially harmful illnesses.

Another concern for someone interested in purchasing a property that relies on a well for potable water is a general uncertainty of supply. A well that produces a plentiful supply in the winter and spring could potentially dry up in the summer. Two years ago Vancouver Island experiences a rare Stage Two Drought, which definitely impacted the region’s water table. During the high summer water flow from a well can drop dramatically or dry up completely. Waters sources too close to the tide level can become brackish, and other factors can occur if the water table becomes too stressed.

So should you purchase a home that uses a well? Certainly, as long as you are prepared for the extra challenges being off the water grid requires. This would include the annual testing of well water to ensure its safety. It also might require some planning during the dryer seasons, such as having a ready supply of bottled water for immediate consumption and a rain water cistern for gardening and other non potable uses.

The use of a modern pump and filtration system to remove impurities prior to use is another essential part of the process. Check with the City, ask for advice and talk with water quality experts to ensure the system you have is adequate for your needs. A home on a well can be as plentifully and as safely provided with drinking water as any urban home – if you take the time to plan it out beforehand.