In rural areas, household drinking water is commonly obtained through private wells or surface water intakes (pipes drawing from streams and rivers), and is usually called a private or "domestic" water supply. The homeowner has the responsibility for maintaining the private well or intake and ensuring the water is safe to drink. Private well owners are not required to conduct sampling and testing unless there is a property transfer. However, OHA and DEQ recommend that private wells be tested regularly (every one to two years) to ensure your drinking water is safe for consumption. Additional information for private well owners is provided below and much of the recommendations also apply to private intakes on surface water bodies.
If you get your drinking water from a "public water system" (more than 3 connections), you can call the owner or operator of the system to get more information on the source of the water and whether there are any contaminants present in the water. Public water systems are required to sample and test for contamination on a regular basis, and report the results to the consumers.
Answers for private well owners
In rural areas, household drinking water is commonly obtained through private wells or surface water intakes, and is usually called a private or "domestic" water supply. Most homeowners know if they have a well on their property.
Most drinking water, particularly in urban areas, is obtained through public water systems that serve multiple homes or entire communities. These can be groundwater wells or surface water intakes (pipes drawing from streams and rivers). If a well or intake serves more than 3 homes or connections, it is regulated as a public water system in Oregon. If you get a monthly water bill, the name and telephone number of your water system operator should be on the bill. Call this number for more information on the source of your drinking water. You can also access information on the water system using the Oregon Health Authority Drinking Water Program’s online database. (See “Drinking Water Data Online” and use the water system “WS Name Lookup” feature to find your water system.)
If you're a renter and don't receive a water bill, call your landlord for the water system operator's name. Other potential sources of information about your water include DEQ’s interactive map viewer, your local county health department, your local Oregon Water Resources Department watermaster district office at 503-378-8455, or the OHA Drinking Water Program at 971-673-0405.
Private Water Wells
If your water comes from a household well (serving 1-3 households), it is considered a "private" or "domestic" well in Oregon. If you get your water from a private well, you are responsible for well maintenance, testing and operation. Basic information on household wells, water tests, water treatment and potential sources of contamination is available at from the following resources:
It is important to note that private wells are not required to conduct sampling and testing unless there is a property transfer. The homeowner has the responsibility for maintaining the private well and ensuring the well water is safe to drink. OHA and DEQ recommend that private wells be tested regularly (every one to two years) to ensure your drinking water is safe for consumption. Testing should also be done as soon as possible if anyone in the family is experiencing chronic gastrointestinal disorders (e.g., chronic diarrhea), or other unexplained health problems. OHA provides more information on testing for real estate transactions
. OSU’s Well Water program site on water tests provides more information on testing your water to make sure it is safe to drink or to diagnose a problem with taste, odor or staining.
Generally, it is a high priority to sample for microbiological contaminants and nitrates on a regular basis. In addition, both agencies are also becoming increasing concerned about arsenic. These are the most common risks for private well owners. OHA and DEQ recommend that you also call your local County Health Department for recommendations of what to sample for in the private well. You can obtain more information on health risks and contaminants in drinking water from the Oregon Health Authority's Domestic Well Safety
program, by calling the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 or from info sheets available from the Water Systems Council
OHA and DEQ do not test (or pay for testing of) private wells. Unless your well involves a specific project, no state agency is funded to provide free testing. Well owners can have their well water tested at a nearby laboratory at their own expense. Testing for the most common risks will typically cost from $20 to $40 for nitrate analysis, $25-$40 for coliform bacteria (microbiological) testing, and $20-$45 for arsenic analysis. If other contaminants are suspected, more extensive testing may be warranted. The OHA Drinking Water Program can provide a list of laboratories in your area
online or by calling 971-673-0405.
The Oregon Residential-Landlord Tenant Act (ORS 90.320) requires that all landlords maintain their rental units in a habitable condition, including providing a water supply maintained so as to provide "safe drinking water." If a renter has contaminated drinking water, the landlord is responsible for fixing or replacing the plumbing, or providing another source of safe drinking water. For mobile home parks that supply water to each home, the owner of the park is responsible for providing safe drinking water to the homes.
For more information on your individual rights, contact a private attorney or call "Legal Aid Services of Oregon" (a nonprofit assistance organization) at 1-800-228-6958.
If test results from your private well indicate contamination, call the OHA Domestic Well Safety program at 971-673-0977 for information. They can assist with information on how to disinfect your well if you have problems with microbiological contaminants, provide fact sheets for chemicals, or information on how to address other problems.
If test results show your well has toxic contaminants at concentrations above federal drinking-water standards, the responsibility for follow-up falls to DEQ, rather than OHA. In this case, report the results using DEQ's Environmental Complaints System or phone 1-888-997-7888. As DEQ's regional staff resources permit (depending on the magnitude of the problem and the number of persons affected), they may investigate alternative water supplies and seek the source(s) of contamination.
NOTE: All public water system compliance issues should be referred to the OHA Drinking Water Program, at 971-673-0405.
Resources for private well owners
- OHA's Domestic Well Safety program
OHA information about private wells, contaminants, opportunities for free well testing, well operation and maintenance, filtration options and treatment options including recommendations for arsenic removal. Also includes private well testing requirements and reporting forms to comply with the Oregon Real Estate Transaction law which requires testing the source of potable water when selling a property with a private well.
- Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Hotline
Free information on safe drinking water is available by calling 1-800-426-4791, or see EPA's recommendations for people who get water from private wells.
- Oregon State University Extension Service's Well Water Program
This program helps Oregonians protect the groundwater that supplies their drinking water.
- Private well owners with questions about wells or well water can also call the Wellcare Hotline 888-395-1033 operated by the Water Systems Council, a national organization focused on well systems not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
- For more information on DEQ's Groundwater Protection Program, please see DEQ's Groundwater Protection webpage.