This story is produced and presented by Vermont Department of Health

When Tropical Storm Irene caused widespread flooding in Vermont in 2011, many homeowners with private wells called the Vermont Department of Health, wondering whether their water was safe to drink.

The department’s Drinking Water Program was able to help, by advising those with flooded wells to stop using the water, to disinfect their well, and then to test the water.

But it’s not just tropical storms that put your water at risk. According to the Health Department, any flood or major storm event that generates significant runoff could contaminate your water. Because neither the State of Vermont nor the Environmental Protection Agency regulate private well water, it’s up to you to have your well water tested.

“You should always assess your well after a major flood event,” said Sille Larsen, senior drinking water engineer for the Health Department. “During and after flooding, water can become contaminated with microorganisms such as bacteria, sewage, heating oil, agricultural or industrial waste, chemicals, and other substances that can cause serious illness.”

You can determine whether your water is safe from the most common contaminants by ordering the Health Department’s recommended homeowner’s drinking water test kits. The three kits cost $159, and can be ordered from the Health Department Laboratory by calling 1-855-472-6979.

The Health Department encourages homeowners to have their water tested every five years using all three kits, and testing for coliform bacteria annually.

If you already test your well water regularly and just want to confirm that your well is free from contaminants after a storm, you can order a total coliform bacteria and E. coli test kit from the lab for $14.

Larsen said wells are vulnerable during a storm. “If the rainwater runoff has nowhere to flow, the water can enter a well if it is not constructed or maintained properly,” she said. “That’s when bacteria can get into the well water.”

“You should definitely have your water tested if it changes color, smell or odor,” she said, noting that springs and dug wells are particularly vulnerable to contamination after a flood. “If you believe your well has been contaminated, stop using your well water for drinking and cooking.”

You can contact the Health Department’s Drinking Water Program for more information on treating your well at 800-439-8550. You can also ask for guidance if you suspect contamination from chemicals not covered in the homeowner’s test kits.

“Having your well water tested after a flood, and on a regular basis, is the best way to protect your family’s health,” Larsen said.