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Public Policy

Public Policy Mission Statement

To do What is Right and Just...

Position Statements

Insuring the Safety of Drinking Water in Bored Wells
Abandonment of Shallow Bored Wells
Hand-dug and Bored Wells Near Agricultural Operations
Surficial Aquifer
Groundwater Decline
Puddingland Dump Site
Artesian Aquifer Decline
Biosolids / Sewage Sludge



Public Policy Mission Statement

To do what is right and just - Proverbs 21:3
SAIF Water Wells, Inc.
Public Policy Mission Statement

The public policy mission of SAIF Water Wells is

1. to monitor and take responsible action on legislation and regulations which will affect the quality and availability of drinking water;
2. to improve the safety of private residential wells;
3. and to support research, education and planning for our water supply.


A. To monitor:

We will monitor key policy making bodies and keep the public and government officials informed of current and developing policy actions such as those of:
The State Water Control Board
The State Water Commission
The Groundwater Protection Steering Committee
Water Supply programs of the Department of Environmental Quality
And others as appropriate.

B. To acquire needed resources for research:

1. We believe completion of the Surprise Hill Observation Well Station in the Northern Neck is urgent and work on at least three other stations in the Northern Neck are necessary.
2. We are committed to encouraging state–sponsored research on the aquifers of the Northern Neck.
3. We will develop and seek resources to fund a research agenda on groundwater sustainability and related issues.

C. To provide a legal base for water use:

We maintain that the Eastern Virginia Ground Water Management Area must be extended to the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula to establish a legal basis for protection and sustainability of our water supply and to facilitate much needed scientific research.

D. To minimize contamination of water wells:

1. We support more extensive buffer zones for land application of biosolids near water wells. The current 100 foot buffer for land application of biosolids near water wells is inadequate for the vast number of large-bore wells which tap the surficial aquifer in rural areas.
2. We encourage better construction standards for bored wells.
3. We encourage the use of water treatment for private wells tapping the surficial aquifer.

E. To identify diverse sources of water:

1. We will encourage safe ways to use the surficial aquifer (also called the water table and the unconfined aquifer) for drinking water .
2. We will explore and promote a variety of alternative water sources such as desalinization, conservation, and reuse.

F. To cooperate with other regions:

We will encourage a regional approach to water planning and issue resolution. To that end, we will develop relationships with other areas of Virginia and other states who share the same aquifers. We will network with scientific organizations such as the United States Geological Survey, the National Ground Water Association and Water Systems Council.


Insuring the Safety of Drinking Water in Bored Wells

As the result of hundreds of laboratory analyses and several studies of hand dug and bored* wells in the surficial** aquifers of the Northern Neck of Virginia, SAIF Water Wells, Inc. encourages the following:

Every bored well should be screened for coliform bacteria.

If the well fails three coliform bacteria analyses over a period of two months, consider the following options:

1. Assess and remove environmental hazards near the well.
2. Secure the structure of the well by sealing leaks and using a good cap.
3. Thoroughly disinfect both the well and the plumbing.
4. Install water treatment equipment designed for bacteria.
5. Use another source of drinking water.
6. Replace the well.

The bacteria level in a bored well may vary greatly from day to day and be especially high after a heavy rain. Because shallow wells are fed by rain, anything on the ground may impact the well. Therefore, the homeowner cannot be reasonably certain about the safety of their water without frequent testing.

When to take a Water Sample
The Centers for Disease Control recommends three samples over a two month period for following up wells that have been flooded. They also advise that one of the samples be taken within a few days after heavy rains. The samples should not be taken within two weeks after the completion of a chlorination process. (The disinfection process includes draining the well to allow fresh, unchlorinated water to come into the well).

Interpretation of coliform Bacteria Results
Usually, state certified laboratories report only the presence or absence of coliform bacteria. It is easy to accidently contaminate the sample, therefore the need for more than one. The presence of coliform bacteria is only a general screening device. Failure does not mean a disease causing bacteria (pathogen) is present, but only that it is possible. The presence of E. coli bacteria does indicate a human or animal waste source of the contamination.

The above SAIF Water recommendation is more stringent than the current requirement of the Virginia Department of Health.

Treatment Devices for Bacteria
Some choices of treatment equipment that address bacteria include 1. ultra-violet, 2. distillation, and 3. reverse osmosis.

1. A whole house ultra-violet filter can be installed on the incoming water line which kills bacteria for all of the water coming into the house. The water should be retested after installation of treatment equipment as there may be a contamination problem remaining in the plumbing. This type of treatment is most effective where the water is clear. If the water is cloudy or contains a high level of iron, the method is less effective.

2. Distillation equipment is available, but usually only practical to treat drinking and cooking water. It is a good choice where there are other concerns such as nitrate.

3. Reverse osmosis normally involves installing a special faucet on the kitchen sink for drinking and cooking. Whole house equipment is available, but costly.

Drinking bottled water may be a cost effective alternative, but does not address the issue of bathing in water with high levels of bacteria.

Other Types of Water Quality Issues
Problems with odor, taste, hardness or iron require other types of equipment. Natural deposits in the soil can cause a rusty looking film called “iron bacteria” which will continue to grow in the system.

*Bored wells are dug by a well rig which scoops dirt out of the ground and sinks casing or curbs to the depth where the soil is sufficiently saturated and water can be pumped from it. They are usually less than 100 feet deep and average 24-48 inches in diameter. They are often called shallow wells.

**The surficial aquifer is also referred to as the “unconfined” aquifer. It is fed by rain and snow melt. It is the point at which the ground below surface is saturated so that water can be pumped out of it.

Abandonment of Shallow Bored Wells

SAIF Water Wells, Inc. does not support the indiscriminant abandonment of hand dug and bored* wells which draw water from the surficial** aquifers of the Northern Neck.

1. Our records include many passing bacteria analyses on well water and extensive chemical analyses that show excellent water quality from the surficial aquifers in many parts of our community.

2. Public water is expected to undergo many forms of treatment and testing to comply with the National Drinking Water Standards. The water from bored wells should also be judged following treatment and with several samples taken by trained personnel.

3. When a water sample fails coliform bacteria analyses, efforts should be made to determine whether the contamination is in the well itself or the plumbing/distribution system.

4. Current policy by Virginia’s housing agencies dictates the abandonment of a shallow well on the basis of a single water sample taken by an inexperienced homeowner. The result is the loss of a renewal source of water and thousands of dollars of homeowner and taxpayer funds spent on unnecessary replacement wells.

5. Current policy by Virginia’s Health Department automatically issues a permit requiring the abandonment of a shallow well when the owner desires an artesian well. The permit fee is waived if a shallow well is abandoned. Homeowners are often not aware that they have a choice to save the shallow well. Health Department abandonment requirements are costly. The shallow well in our area is preferable for gardening and provides accessible water during power outages.

*Bored wells are dug by a well rig which scoops dirt out of the ground and sinks casing or curbs to the depth where the soil is sufficiently saturated that water can be pumped from it. They are usually less than 100 feet deep and average 24-48 inches in diameter. They are often called shallow wells.

**The surficial aquifer is also referred to as the “unconfined” aquifer. It is fed by rain and snow melt. It is the point at which the ground below surface is saturated so that water can be pumped out of it.

*”bored” – refers to the process of using a well rig which scoops dirt out of the ground and sinking large cement curbs in the hole. They average 24-48 inches in diameter.

**”surficial” – The surficial aquifer is also referred to as the “unconfined” aquifer. It is near the surface and is fed by rain and snow melt. It is the point at which the ground below surface is saturated so that water can be pumped out of it.


Hand-dug and Bored Wells Near Agricultural Operations

1. SAIF Water Wells, Inc. does not recommend the use of hand dug and bored wells (drawing from the surficial aquifer/groundwater table aquifer) near agricultural operations.

2. Treatment Equipment. Because agricultural chemicals can remain in the soil for 30 years, treatment equipment for existing shallow wells near farming is also not recommended because of the difficulty in determining what may be in the water.

3. Preferred Solution. In Lancaster and Northumberland Counties of Virginia, the preferred solution is replacement with an artesian well which has the natural protection of layers of clay to prevent contamination from the ground surface.

4. Limited solution. Physicians for Social Responsibility recommend distillation as a good means of dealing with nitrate. However, distillation equipment is normally only practical for a limited amount of drinking water and does not extend to bathing and utility water.

5. Abandonment. Each case must be evaluated individually to determine whether there is a need to abandon the shallow well when it is replaced. In general, we suggest preservation of the shallow well for use in emergencies.

Shallow wells are not likely to cause contamination of artesian wells.

Shallow wells are easily contaminated by:

1. Bacteria
A. Antique wells can be repaired to bring them to the standard for swimming. But they will probably need treatment systems to keep them sanitary enough for drinking.

B. Modern bored wells might do the job if they are sealed under caps, around plumbing and in between seams.

2. Road run off and farm chemicals
The exact content of road run off and farm chemicals is not known. Therefore it is difficult to test for contaminates or determine whether a treatment system will work. Wells near these sources of contamination should be replaced with artesian wells.

3. Iron bacteria
Many sections of our counties have iron in the soil and therefore in the groundwater that supplies the well. No repairs to the well and the plumbing will solve the problem. Iron bacteria can be controlled with frequent clorination. Homeowner efforts can reduce the iron bacteria, but a professionally designed treatment system is recommended for existing wells using both chlorination and dechlorination. New shallow bored wells should not be installed in these areas.

4. Biosolids.
a. Precautions should be taken to keep it a reasonable distance from shallow wells.
b. Practical methods are needed to determine buffer zones.


Biofilms are slim layers formed by mixed cultures of microorganisms that coat the linings of wells and pipes. The slime layer is excreted by bacteria and is composed of complex carbohydrates that serve to anchor the bacteria to solid surfaces. The bacteria imbedded in the slime are then able receive their nutrients from the water. Shortly after formation of the biofilm layer particulate matter and other microorganisms including indicators organisms and pathogens carried in the water may also become imbedded in the slime layer. The nature of a biofilm is to constantly grow and the layers in contact with the water constantly slough off into the passing water. At that point the biofilm can become a reservoir of unwanted and harmful microorganisms. Depending on its composition and thickness the biofilm matrix becomes resistant to disinfection procedures and high pressure washing and physical scrubbing are often the only way to completely remove the biofilm.

Factors Contributing to Biofilm Growth

Constant recharging with bacteria
Inorganic and organic particulates
Rough and pitted surfaces
Pipes in heated structures coupled
Difficulty in cleaning
Long periods, sometimes lasting decades without disinfection all add to biofilm growth.
Maintenance, cleaning and disinfection procedures disrupt the biofilm and result in the release of bacteria into the system.

Where do We Find Biofilms

Biofilms are a part of our lives and can be found in virtually all water systems and constantly wet surfaces. They are found in public wells and water systems, shallow and artesian wells and home plumbing systems. We live our lives with biofilms present in our drinking water plumbing, and we don’t normally need to pay any attention to them.

Biofilms and Shallow Wells

Shallow wells present a special problem because they tend to have all the factors present that contribute to biofilm growth. Constant recharging with bacteria, particulates, and nutrients such as farm fertilizers are more likely to be a problem with shallow wells.

Biofilms and Well Test Results

Once a biofilm is well established it becomes a barrier to disinfection and serves as a reservoir of microorganisms that result in errant drinking water tests.

A Glossary of Microbiological Terms and Concepts

Microorganisms: microscopic animals or vegetables such as a protozoan, bacteria or virus.

Scientific Names: Each microorganism has a scientific name, species name, that is a Latin binomial. It is composed of two words that are italicized or underlined along with the name or names of the scientists who first published a description and classification of the organism. Often times the scientific name is abbreviated and the italics and authors names are eliminated in order to save writing time and space. An example is Escherichia coli (Migula) Castellani and Chalmers that would be shortened to E. coli.

Bacterial Species: a name given to a group of closely related organisms. As it was originally applied a species was considered to be one kind of microorganism with its own unique set of distinguishing characteristics. A species is now considered to be a closely related group of bacteria that shares a single binomial name and some common characteristics. A species of bacteria may now have numerous subgroups and hundreds of subspecies. Some of which may be highly pathogenic and other members that may be completely benign.

Serotype: a subspecies of bacteria that have similar immunological characteristics.

Strains: A colony or cultures of microorganisms composed of the descendents of a single isolation or individual.

Pathogen: a disease producing microorganism such as a bacterium.

Virulence: The degree of pathogenicity or disease producing ability of a group of microorganisms. Different subspecies, serotypes, and strains may differ greatly in their pathogenicity and virulence. A healthy human or animal gut has a mixture of nonpathogenic bacteria that are essential to processing the food that we eat.

Indicator Organisms: Nonpathogenic microorganisms that are routinely found growing in human and animal digestive tracts but are not found growing outside the gut environment in large numbers. Pathogenic microorganisms are not easily or safely cultured in the laboratory so indicator bacteria that are easy to grow and safe to culture are used as a signal that the water supply is contaminated with feces and may contain pathogenic microorganisms. The concept of indicator organisms was introduced in 1892.

Trace back: Environmental studies of bacteria have revealed that the traditional indicator microorganisms are found throughout nature, and this discovery has limited the usefulness of indicator organisms as predictors of human health risks. New testing techniques are being developed that are more specific to human or animal microorganisms that may be causing the pollution. Methods being developed include:

Genetic fingerprinting
Multiple antibiotic resistance
Direct monitoring of human pathogens
Indicator chemical compounds
Microbiological methods that include:
Quantitative ratios of indicator organisms
Bacteriophage types
Coliphage types
Human enteric viruses


Surficial Aquifer

The Surficial Aquifers of the Northern Neck

Amount of Water Available

The potential water supply in the surficial aquifer (water table aquifer) is enormous. In Northumberland County, for example, there are approximately 77 million gallons of water available and continually being renewed by rain and snow melt.

In one acre, assuming 12 inches of our average rainfall of 42 inches per year recharges, our surficial aquifer receives approximately 326,000 gallons of recharge each year or 892 gallons per day.

Water Quality

Studies conducted by SAIF Water Wells, Inc. in Lancaster and Northumberland Counties utilizing hundreds of laboratory analyses indicate that the surficial aquifer has, for the most part, good quality water.

Factors Effecting Potability

The potability of this water supply is primarily affected by inadequate design, construction, care of wells and water distribution systems.

Efforts are underway to develop technology which would enable the “shallow”, large-bore well to be constructed, as Health Department regulations require, in a manner which leaves them sealed. Current construction methods simply stack cement curbs on top of each other with no attempt at sealing. Plumbing lines are often installed without sealing. And concrete well caps have no provision for adequate sealing.

The primary concern is for an effective means of preventing or controlling bacteria.

Potentially a Cost-Effective Alternative

With improved technology, and treatment systems where needed for specific issues, we have the potential of a water supply that will be particularly valuable in the many outlying areas where pipelines from central water supplies would be costly.


Groundwater Decline

Groundwater Supply at Risk of Depletion

Frank W. Fletcher, PhD, PG, Hydrogeologist, Reedville
Northumberland Echo, June 6, 2007, p.2.

In his recent editorial (The Parched East, May 30, 2007), John R. Wennersten forcefully drew attention to the water problems facing the people of the Atlantic seaboard, but his focus on surface water supplies failed to stress the importance of groundwater in any plan for the water needs of the future.

Today, groundwater furnishes all the water used by the households and public water systems of the Northern Neck. Yet, Dr. Lynton Land of NAPS, the Rev. Gayl Fowler of SAIF Water Wells, and I have emphasized on numerous occasions that this heavy dependence on groundwater is unsustainable and will be ending within the lifetime of our grandchildren.

Groundwater is being withdrawn by the inhabitants of the Northern Neck at a rate of nearly 1,600 million gallons a year (4.4 mgd) and, more significantly, by water users in adjacent regions (Middle Peninsula and southern Maryland) at a rate of more than 25,000 mgy (68.5 mgd). Future population growth and commercial and industrial development will certainly increase the annual rate of withdrawal.

As a result of this pumpage, regional artesian water levels are declining at a rate of approximately 1.5 feet a year. Over the past century artesian water levels have fallen more than 80 feet across the Northern Neck. In the vicinity of major pumping centers (e.g. West Point, Virginia and Lexington Park, Maryland) water levels are falling at rates of 2.5 to 3.0 feet a year.

At this time there is no means to gauge accurately the total volume of groundwater that is stored in the artesian aquifers of the Northern Neck nor is there a means to determine confidently the quantitative relationship between pumping rates and aquifer depletion (although sophisticated computer models may show promise). Nevertheless, it is clear from the continued decline of water levels that groundwater is being removed from the artesian aquifers faster than it is being replenished, and the amount of groundwater stored in these aquifers is inexorably decreasing. Estimates of future population and economic growth on the coastal plain of Virginia and Maryland point to a time, possibly by the middle of the 21st Century but certainly by the end of the century, when groundwater will no longer be the readily available and relatively inexpensive resource it is now.

While there is little risk of exhausting the artesian aquifer, it is certain that within the next few decades groundwater will become increasingly costly. New wells will have to be drilled into deeper and deeper aquifers. Many existing water wells will have to be redrilled. Furthermore, geologic evidence suggests that we will be extracting water of lower quality than that presently used. Consequently, labor, equipment, and energy costs of drilling, pumping, and treating water will rise.

A diversified water supply system will have to evolve as groundwater becomes less abundant and more costly. Elements of the new water supply system will likely include surface-water reservoirs, desalinization facilities, inter-basin pipelines, and wastewater recycling, in addition to groundwater wells. Greater use of water from the surficial aquifer, which is renewable, and from rainwater collection is desirable and likely. In this new era strict water conservation measures will be mandated in land use ordinances and building codes.


Puddingland Dump Site

The following letter appeared in the Rappahannock Record (April 5, 2007) and the Northumberland Echo (April 4, 2007) detailing our evaluation of the EPA work of cleaning up a site in Lancaster County. The following correction should be noted: Puddingland is not a "super fund" site in the usual sense of that word. While money was used from the superfund, it was actually a fairly minor clean up which will not appear on the list of national priorities.

April 2, 2007, Letter to the Editor

Water wells were among the concerns raised at the EPA briefing this week on the Puddingland Superfund Site. The EPA staff reached the conclusion that there is no need to test neighboring water wells because the materials in the dumpsite have not moved from the site or affected the groundwater under and around it.

The EPA staff presenting the information were well-trained scientists, not simply government administrators. While it may be difficult to understand why they could reach their conclusion without testing any wells, the chemicals found at Puddingland are common to petroleum products. They could easily be found in a shallow well for many reasons such as old cars parked near the well or someone having changed motor oil near the well.

Artesian wells are protected from surface contaminants because they draw water from hundreds of feet down with many layers of clay to prevent contamination.

There are many ways shallow wells can be contaminated, but these are issues that are entirely unrelated to the Puddingland incident. Bacteria are the most common problem. Kits to test for bacteria are available at the Health Department for homeowners to send water samples to a private lab. These do not check for chemicals such as found at Puddingland, but they are a good screening tool to tell whether there may be disease-causing organisms in the water.

It has been a very upsetting ordeal for people who live in the neighborhoods near Puddingland. Thank God we have some well documented answers that can give us peace of mind.

Gayl Fowler
PO Box 839
Burgess, VA 22432
804 580-2079

A laboratory test alone is not adequate to evaluate a shallow well.

A good routine for homeowners is to
1) check the well for leaks above and below ground;
2) make sure the cap fits tightly with no holes for bugs and leaves;
3) make sure the environment immediately around the well is free of trash and debris;
4) do not park cars near the well; and
5) chlorinate the well water anytime work is done on the well or the plumbing.
6)A lab test for bacteria is appropriate annually and anytime there is a change in the taste or appearance of the water.

If the well fails a bacteria test it can be disinfected with chlorine. The chlorine is flushed out of the well afterwards so the well water will not taste like city water. Directions for chlorinating a well can be obtained at the Health Departments, Cooperative Extension Service offices, and SAIF Water wells.


Artesian Aquifer Decline

Resolution: Artesian Aquifer Decline

SAIF Water extends a heartfelt thanks to Dr. Frank Fletcher for his excellent research on artesian aquifers. SAIF Water resolves to extend efforts to:

1.educate the public on the declining water pressure levels for the artesian aquifers and

2. research alternatives, partners, and channels to expedite local and regional efforts to solve the problem.

3. SAIF Water recommends the development of diversified sources of water including low cost and low tech alternatives.

4. SAIF Water applauds the efforts of Dr. Lynton Land to bring public attention to the need for reservoirs. We view reservoirs as an essential component of diversified water supply planning for our communities.

5. Institutional measures for conservation of water are essential as well as personal conservation by individuals.

Adopted May 26, 2005

The SAIF Water Board recommends that you visit Dr. Frank Fletcher's website, Groundwater Virginia, for detailed information on this issue.

Biosolids / Sewage Sludge


1. SAIF Water’s concern with biosolids/sewage sludge is limited to the protection of drinking water wells and the groundwater which supplies them.

2. We recognize biosolids/sewage sludge as only one of the agricultural practices which have potential impact on our water.

3. We recognize the need for research on all potential contaminants of our rural water supplies.

4. We applaud the response industry and the Health Department have made to our requests for special buffer zones for wells which draw their water from the surficial aquifer.

5. We encourage efforts to develop scientific investigations of reports of health incidents near land application sites.

6. We will continue to alert the state Health Department and land application companies of potential hazards, both to water supplies, and persons with existing health problems, as permits are requested for future land application sites. We appreciate the cooperation we have received in the past.

Adopted May 26, 2005