Sampling & testing private well water

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the Ontario Ministry of Health recommend that private water wells be tested three times a year. The water should be tested for bacteria, including total coliforms and E.coli. The Renfrew County and District Health Unit provides these tests for free.

Please visit the Renfrew County and District Health Unit website, for more detailed information on sampling, testing and what to do if your well water is contaminated

The following is the recommended routine sampling procedure for coliforms and E.coli:

  • Use the sampling bottle provided by the agency doing your testing.
  • Select a non-swivel tap, remove any attachments that may be on the tap. Run hot water for two or three minutes. Then run the cold water for at least 5 minutes.
  • Label the bottle and complete the forms that came with the bottle.
  • Remove the bottle cap, do not touch the bottle lip, the inside of the lid or inside the bottle. Do not set the lid down, hold it in your fingers with the open end facing down. Do not rinse the bottle, the material in the bottle is a preservative. (the key is to get a sample of the water, not the bacteria that may be on your hand, the sink or the counter.)
  • Fill the sample bottle to the fill line directly from the tap, do not adjust the flow.
  • Replace the cap on the bottle.
  • Refridgerate the sample until transporting it to the health unit or the laboratory. This must be done within 24 hours of taking the sample.

Water well maintenance

As a responsible well owner, you need to carry out a regular program of well maintenance. Taking care of your well is a three-step process.

  1. Protect your well water at the ground surface by avoiding, eliminating or reducing contaminants.
  2. Inspect your well regularly and keep your well in good running order.
  3. Test your well water regularly and respond to contamination problems.


The closest threat to your well is usually in your own yard. Regularly walk the yard in a 100 foot radius of your well looking for potential problems such as:

  • Poorly located and/or maintained septic systems.
  • Surface spills of fuels and oils
  • Improper disposal of household hazardous wastes such as paint, solvents, cleaners etc.
  • Road salts
  • Gardens and flowers beds should not be close to the well head. (fertilizers & herbicides)
  • Pet and livestock wastes, (don't tie the dog to the well head!)


At minimum you should inspect your well once a year:

  • Access - Regulation 903 requires the well to be accessible. As part of the maintenance routine, clear the well head of brush and other debris. Ideally there should be a maintained lawn around the well head, but no fertilizers and pesticides in this area.
  • Well Cap - Check the well cap for signs of damage. The cap should fit firmly and snugly, the screened vent should face the ground. Clean the air vent.
  • Annular seal - if the casing can be moved by hand and there is a depression in the ground around the well casing, the sealant has cracked or shrunk. A faulty annular seal requires professional repair, call an MOE-licensed contractor.
  • Well casing - Regulation 903 requires the well casing to extend a minimum 16 inches above the finished grade. This is to prevent contamination by surface water and run-off. Wellpits were common on wells contstructed before 1985, the well casing was terminated below ground and an access pit such as well tiles were placed over and around the casing with a lid. Well pits are no longer considered safe because they often fill with surface water and debris, leading to contamination. If you have a well pit you should plan on hiring a licensed contractor to extend the casing above grade.
  • Abandoned Wells - if you have an unused and unmaintained well that has not been properly plugged and sealed arrangements should be made to have it professionally done. Old wells are a health and safety hazard, especially to children. Do not seal the well on your own, it is not easily done. When completed, the plugged and sealed well must prevent the direct flow of surface water into the water table.


The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and the Ontario Ministry of Health recommend that you sample and test your well water three times a year. You should test for bacteria, including total coliforms and E.coli. Call the Renfrew County and District Health Unit at 613-735-8654 or visit their website for details on how to sample. The Health Unit provides these tests free of charge for private, domestic wells.

Drinking water from wells used for commercial, institutional or industrial purposes are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act and must submit their samples to Accredited Laboratories.