Well Water vs. Municipal City Water.  What’s the difference?


Although most American homes get their water from a municipal city supply, according to EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) statistics, 15% of the U.S. population relies on a private well. Both municipal and private well water supplies have their own set of potential contamination issues, so there are some distinct differences.Well Water vs. Municipal City Water.  What’s the difference?

Quality Regulation

The most obvious difference between private well water and municipal water supplies is how the quality is regulated. Municipal supplies are monitored and regulated by the EPA. This regulation means that the water is disinfected, typically using chlorine, at a local water treatment facility. The water is continually monitored to ensure that it complies with the EPA standards for approximately 90 contaminants.

Well water, on the other hand, is not regulated by the EPA. This means that the monitoring, testing and treatment of private well water supplies is the responsibility of the property owner. The EPA recommends that private well water be tested at least once a year, but owners need to be aware of other environmental factors which could compromise the water quality throughout the year, such as flooding.

The Potential Problems

Although municipal water is regulated by the EPA, this is not a guarantee that it is completely safe and healthy. Currently, the EPA only regulates approximately 90 contaminants which have been deemed potentially harmful. Unfortunately, there are over 60,000 chemicals currently in use in the United States, which could pose a risk.

Municipal water can also be prone to a risk of contamination after it has left the local water treatment facility. The water may travel for miles of pipe work before it reaches your home, which means that a broken or old pipe could compromise your water quality.

Case in point, the disastrous situation in Flint Michigan where corrosive water has leached lead from the old pipe infrastructure potentially contaminating the entire tap drinking population.

Additionally, in recent years, there has been a great deal of controversy about the effects of chlorine that has commonly been added to water supplies. Some studies have suggested an increased risk of developing cancer and other serious illnesses to high levels of chlorine.

Well water is also faced with several potential problems. Since the water is sourced from underground, it can be contaminated by chemicals used in industrial or agricultural activity in the area. There is also an increased risk of contaminants such as iron, nitrate or sulfur in well water.

Other Differences

Where your water is sourced can also have an impact on your finances. Some mortgage lenders will not provide finance if the property relies on a private well, while others may require proof of the water quality and may stipulate the distance between the well and septic tank.

While you may enjoy the prospect of needing to pay for your water through a bill or taxation, there are costs involved in sourcing your water from a private well also. You will need to pay for electricity to pump the water from the well, and you will also need to cover the cost of ongoing maintenance and any repairs. You will only know the water quality levels if you test the water, so you will also need to consider the responsibility of regular laboratory testing.

Finally, while municipal supplies are consistent, wells can go dry, or you could be left without water in the event of a loss of power. Should a problem occur with a private well, you will be responsible for tracing and correcting the issue, while with a municipal supply the city is responsible for ensuring you have a clean, safe supply continuously.

About The Author, Terry Reeh, EcoWater Systems of Nebraska:

With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative.  Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert  advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices. EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state.  

Back to top