Contaminated Drinking Water: A Hidden Problem

The Problem:

More than 70% of Oregonians get some of their drinking water from wells, and 23% of Oregonians rely on privately owned wells as their primary source of water. Yet in many parts of the state, this water is polluted. Thousands of Oregonians may be unknowingly drinking water that could lead to cancer, miscarriage and other serious health risks.

The most common contaminants in well water are nitrate, bacteria, arsenic and pesticides. This contamination can come from failing septic tanks, fertilizers, livestock waste, and poorly constructed or maintained wells on a homeowner’s property or property nearby.

Well water contamination is common in many parts of our state, from coastal communities to the Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Central and Eastern Oregon. While water from public systems is tested for safety, domestic well water may not be.

The Solution:

Oregonians need to know whether the water they are drinking is safe so they can act to protect their families. Our state needs to do a better job of monitoring groundwater quality and reducing sources of contamination.

Ensure that more well owners test.

The Safe Well Water Bill supports local well testing education programs and establishes financial assistance to help low- income property owners repair wells or install water treatment systems when necessary. It also requires certain landlords to test wells and share the test results with tenants.

Identify groundwater quality hot spots.

Analyze well test results to identify areas with groundwater contamination problems and make sure the community is informed.

The Safe Water Bill Would:

  • Direct the Oregon Health Authority to use real estate transaction well data to identify areas where groundwater contamination threats are greatest, and to target voluntary education and outreach to those areas.
  • Provide funding to help low-income property owners repair drinking water wells or install water quality treatment if necessary.
  • Provide funding for county health departments and other local organizations to establish voluntary well testing programs and public education.
  • Require landlords to provide tenants with recent well test results for arsenic, bacteria and nitrates; and to re-test drinking water wells annually if contamination is present.

Common Contaminants in Oregon Wells:

Frequently Asked Questions:

Can the state shut down contaminated wells?

No. Water quality in domestic wells is not regulated under
law. It is up to well owners to determine whether their water meets drinking water quality standards, and whether or not they want to drink it. The state cannot shut down wells that have contaminated water.

How much does a well test cost?

A test for arsenic, bacteria and nitrate costs between $25-$50 per contaminant.

How much does it cost to treat contaminated well water?

Under-sink reverse osmosis systems to treat one drinking water faucet cost a few hundred dollars. Systems to treat a whole home can cost a few thousand dollars—well out of reach for many renters and low-income property owners.

For more information, contact:

Morgan Gratz-Weiser
Oregon Environmental Council
Legislative Director
Office: 503-222-1963 x103 | Mobile: 707-672-2618

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3 Replies to "Contaminated Drinking Water: A Hidden Problem"

  • Heidi Hunziker
    February 1, 2019 (4:41 am)

    My question now is: how many low income well property owners exist whose water is used to supply the counties and where?

    • Chris Hagerbaumer
      February 4, 2019 (6:03 pm)

      Thanks for your question, Heidi. Neither the state nor counties track where private wells are located or any aspects of ownership. But we do know from free well water testing events in different counties that some families, including those with young children, have unknowingly been exposed to high concentrations of nitrate, arsenic, and bacteria. This bill will build off of the data collected to date to help target outreach and education efforts where most needed.

  • Kimberly Youravish
    September 23, 2019 (8:56 pm)

    A 92 year old man in Coos county had an unnecessary well put in by his caretakers because of a property dispute were his water came from another source, he was told there was Cyanide in it. Is there an agency that can investigate this for his wellbeing?