The Challenges of Rural Water Treatment - Wells, Lakes & Rivers

Rural water treatment is simply more challenging than city water treatment. Why? Simply put, rural water contamination knows no bounds. If there's anything that can be in water it might be in rural water. And on top of this, the concentration of these contaminants can range from barely detectable to massive.

City water is different - the range of potential water problems is constrained by drinking water regulations that are imposed on cities and smaller municipalities. Can city water have issues? Sure it can, and it does. But the range of those issues is much narrower so devising a water treatment plan is much easier.

The key to buying the right water treatment equipment is all about knowledge and in the case of rural water this knowledge begins with knowing what's in your water long before you start to think about buying equipment to fix it.

When we talk about rural water, we're most commonly talking about well water. But there are many seasonal property owners who use lake water, river water, and less commonly pond water. Rooftop collected water is also gaining popularity in warm areas of the world where precipitation levels are high enough to provide an adequate supply. We'll take a moment to talk about each of these major rural water sources below, and the unique issues they often present.

But before looking at the different types of rural water, it's important to underscore the importance of water testing in rural situations before making any water treatment purchase decisions. It's the only way to know what's in your water and how to properly address it. Failure to test your water often leads to the purchase of equipment that only partially works, or doesn't address the problem at all. It's th single biggest point of failure in the whole process. So - test your water! Aquatell offers a great kit called the Softener Prep Kit that will allow you to test for the most of the major mineral contaminants. And if that's not comprehensive enough there are major national testing labs like SGS, Maxxam, and ALS (SGS is our favourite for their combination of quality and affordable packages for homeowners).

Well Water

Well water is water that is pulled from the ground. Well water falls into two distinct categories, each with it's own challenges.

Shallow Wells

Shallow wells (sometimes called 'dug wells') are some version of a pit that has been dug into the ground to collect water. These pits may or may not be lined with stones or concrete. They are usually covered but not always. Shallow wells collect water primarily by infiltration from the surrounding earth but may also collect water from overland flow. Because of this, the water quality in a shallow well is highly influenced by what's going on in and around the well at ground level. Shallow wells tend to have a water quality profile that's similar to surface water. The water tends to be soft and tends to have a high organic colour load which may create an unpleasant appearance and an 'earthy' taste to the water. Shallow wells are also much more susceptible to bacterial contamination than deep wells due to the influence of surface water. If the surrounding land is swampy, shallow wells may also contain hydrogen sulphide gas which smells awful and will precipitate out in hot water tanks.

Deep Wells

Deep wells are those which are bored into the ground using a drilling rig. They are typically at least 50 feet deep and can be as deep as 300 feet. The top portion of the well bore hole is typically lined with a metal casing and the top portion of the well is sealed at ground level which prevents surface water from entering the well. Drilled wells derive their water from infiltration through the rock that the well is bored into. Water from drilled wells tend to be free from impurities that you'd expect to find in surface water sources like sediment and bacteria, but it's often high in mineral content. The specific mineral makeup of the water depends on the type of rock that the well is bored into but typically these wells supply water that is quite high in hardness (carbonates and bicarbonates of magnesium and calcium) and sometimes in iron, and less often in manganese. Hard water is easily addressed with a water softener. Iron and manganese found in high concentrations require a dedicated iron water filter. Drilled wells that are surrounded by swampy areas or marshlands can be subject to hydrogen sulphide especially during high atmospheric pressure events (when the atmospheric pressure literally pushes the hydrogen sulphide gas into the well). Hydrogen sulphide can be removed using a modified iron/manganese filtration system like this.

Lake, River, and Pond Water

These are collectively known as 'surface water' sources and can generally be examined collectively as it pertains to typical patterns of contamination and treatment. Surface water sources are under the influence of what's happening at ground level. They tend to be higher than well water sources in sediment and microbiological contamination. This can include bacteria, viruses, and cysts such as cryptosporidium and giardia. They may also be high in organics which can create unsightly colour in the water and an 'earthy' taste that may make water undesirable as a drinking water source. Surface water sources are also much more likely to change over time compared to well water. These changes can be seasonal and linked to the growth and seasonal die-off of aquatic vegetation or the changes can be over longer time periods as land use around the water source changes. Surface water sources usually need more water treatment to make them safe and reliable sources of drinking water for residential homes. Water treatment will certainly need to include sediment filtration and should also include disinfection whether or not the water source has tested positive for bacteria as sudden changes to bacterial levels are common in surface water. UV systems are the most popular form of water disinfection for their price, ease of use, and effectiveness.

Rooftop Collected Water

Water that is collected from a rooftop is much closer in composition to surface water than to well water. Since it's rainwater it typically has a very low mineral content. Any water treatment that it requires is a function of the cleanliness and nature of the rooftop material. Rooftop collected water will certainly contain dust and dirt that will require physical straining. Bird dropping, bugs, and other animal activities invariably introduce bacteria to the collected water so disinfection is a must if the water will be used for drinking purposes, and is even advisable if the water will be used only as utility water. UV systems are typically the product of choice.