Drinking Water

Test Your Tap

About three out of 10 Vermont households drink water from private residential wells. Drinking water primarily comes from deeper bedrock wells, but can also come from shallow dug wells and springs. The water contains naturally occurring chemicals like calcium that can cause hard water and iron that can cause rusty red stains on your laundry. However, most of the chemicals in your water you cannot see, smell or taste, and they can affect your health. Private wells that supply residential houses for household use are not currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the State of Vermont. Private well owners are responsible for testing the quality of their own drinking water and maintaining their own wells. 

It is important to test your private well for contaminants on a regular basis. The Health Department can provide you with guidance and technical advice about private drinking water sources and contaminants, what to test for and when, how to treat your water, how to disinfect your water source, and what to do before and after a flood.

For questions about the health effects of contaminants and treatment options, call the Private Drinking Water Program at:
802-863-7220 or 800-439-8550 (toll-free in Vermont) or AHS.VDHEnvHealth@Vermont.gov

To order drinking water test kits, call the Vermont Department of Health Lab at:
802-338-4736 or 800-660-9997 (toll-free in Vermont) or go to the lab's wepage.

Recommended contaminants to test for and testing schedule
Drinking Water Guidance (for contaminant levels)
Results for the lead in school drinking water initiative

tips for private well owners

What you should know about coliform bacteria in your well water.

Coliform bacteria in your drinking water? It can happen. You should have your well water tested for these bacteria every year, because the amount of bacteria in our environment can change quickly.

Learn more about health concerns, testing and treatment options for bacteria
Learn how to disinfect your well

Arsenic in your well water can cause serious health effects.

Arsenic is a known to cause cancer: it is toxic, it occurs naturally, and it could be in your drinking water. That’s why the Health Department recommends that all private well users test their water for arsenic, along with other contaminants, every five years.

Learn more about health concerns, testing and treatment options for arsenic

Want to be sure your drinking water is safe from lead? Get it tested.

The exposure of thousands of residents of Flint, Mich., to high levels of lead in their drinking water in 2016 has caused many to wonder: Could my family also be at risk?

Here in Vermont, if you have private well water and want to know if it contains lead, you have to get your water tested. Since you can’t see, taste or smell lead dissolved in water, testing is the only sure way of telling whether there are harmful levels of lead in your drinking water.

Learn more about health concerns, testing and treatment options for lead

Do you know about nitrate in drinking water and blue baby syndrome?

You've probably heard about the big three contaminants that could be in your well water: arsenic, lead and E. coli bacteria. But what about lesser-known contaminants, such as nitrates?

Babies who drink formula made with nitrate-contaminated water are at risk for blue baby syndrome, a condition where the baby’s blood is less able to carry oxygen resulting in suffocation. Testing is the only way to know if it’s in your drinking water.

Learn more about health concerns, testing and treatment options for nitrates

Gross alpha radiation could be contaminating your well water.

Radiation can affect your health, which is why you should have your well water tested. The natural radioactive elements uranium and thorium have been present since Earth was formed.

Uranium and thorium—along with their radioactive daughters such as radium—can be found in bedrock in many parts of Vermont. The type of bedrock, location of the aquifer, and depth of the well can affect whether these elements make their way into your well water.

Learn more about health concerns, testing and treatment options for radioactive elements

Buying or selling a home? Have the well water tested.

Why? As a home buyer, you’ll know your water will be safe to drink, and as a seller, you can avoid delays and problems with selling your home. The best time to have the water tested is before a home even goes on the market. It will give you a heads up on potential issues with the water, and allows time to remediate the water before the sale.

You often can’t see, taste or smell contaminants in water, so don’t assume you can tell if there is a problem with the water. Contaminated water can cause a variety of health risks, from short-term intestinal problems to cancer if consumed over a long period of time. Once you buy a home with a well, test your drinking water regularly.

You can sample your private well water by ordering the recommended homeowner’s drinking water test kits for $159 from the Health Department Laboratory. The kits test for the most common contaminants including lead, arsenic, E. coli and more, and come with instructions on how to sample water from your tap.

Real estate agents can help buyers and sellers get the information they need to make sure a home’s well water is safe. If results show the water is free from contaminants, that can be an added bonus for sellers and peace of mind for the buyers.

If test results show your water is contaminated, call the Drinking Water Program at 800-439-8550 for help with water treatment options.

Order the homeowner’s drinking water test kits

Think having your well water tested is complicated?

It's not! All you need to do is fill a sample bottle with water from your kitchen faucet and return it to the Health Department Laboratory.

Start by ordering the homeowner’s drinking water test kits from the Health Department Laboratory. The kits will be shipped to you, including sample bottles, instructions and a form for you to complete for each kit. The kits also come with a styrofoam cooler and ice packs to keep samples cold when you return them. The instructions have step-by-step details you should be sure to follow. Water samples should be returned to the lab as soon as possible. The lab test for coliform bacteria must be completed within 30 hours after you took the sample, and the other two tests within 48 hours. The lab is open between 7:45 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and closed on state holidays.

You’ll receive results by mail shortly after analysis is finished. Testing is completed between one and 21 days after the lab has received the samples.

Order the homeowner’s drinking water test kits
Watch a step-by-step video on how to test your drinking water

If you are a tenant or landlord, you should know this.

Landlords in Vermont have a number of responsibilities for maintaining safe rental properties—including providing clean drinking water to tenants. If the rental housing you own is supplied by well water, you should have the water tested.

Neither the State of Vermont nor the Environmental Protection Agency regulate private well water as they do for public water systems, which means the water quality of these wells might go unmonitored. However, state law does require that private water provided to tenants be free from harmful levels of contaminants.

The Health Department recommends a set of three water test kits for landlords and private homeowners whose properties have wells. The kits test for the most common drinking water contaminants, including E. coli, lead and arsenic. The Health Department recommends testing with all three kits every five years, and with the kit for coliform bacteria annually. The kits cost $159 and come with detailed sampling directions and information about how to return the samples.

Landlords who test their well water using the recommended schedule are more likely to catch contaminants before they cause harm. Drinking contaminated water can cause a range of negative health effects from intestinal conditions to cancer.

Tenants who want their well water tested can ask their landlord to do it, or can order a test kit and sample the water from their kitchen faucet themselves.

If water does contain high levels of contaminants, state law requires that the water be treated. You can call the Drinking Water Program at 800-439-8550 to learn about treatment options.

Order the recommended drinking water test kits
Watch a step-by-step video on how to test your drinking water
Learn more about testing your private well water
Information about Vermont’s rental housing code requirements

Flooding and storm runoff could make your well water unsafe to drink.

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

Learn how to disinfect your well
Order coliform bacteria drinking water test kits
Watch a step-by-step video on how to test your drinking water
Learn more about health concerns, testing and treatment options for coliform bacteria

Vermonters should protect their wells to keep drinking water safe.

The private wells and springs that supply your drinking water are vulnerable to a host of contaminants: bacteria and viruses from septic waste and disposal, naturally occurring chemicals like arsenic and manganese, petroleum products, pesticides and radiation.

If you don’t know what’s in your water, you won’t be able to take the steps necessary to protect your family’s health. In addition to testing, you can help keep contaminants from getting into your drinking water by making sure your well or spring is properly constructed and maintained.

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation sets standards for location, construction and water quality testing of drilled wells, dug wells and springs. It also requires all well drillers in Vermont to be licensed through its Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Program.

Storage and disposal of household and lawn care chemicals, and changing engine or transmission oils or other car fluids should be done as far from your water supply as possible. If old vehicles are kept on the property, they should be carefully drained of fluids so they don’t leak into the ground over time. Check with your town or state programs for the best ways to recycle or dispose of waste products.

Learn more about drilled wells, dug wells and springs
Learn more about testing your private well water

What you can do if your well water is contaminated.

If you get your drinking water from a private well or spring, you should have it tested on a regular basis. And if results show your water is contaminated, you’ll need to treat the water.

How to treat the water will depend on the type of contamination. If the contamination is bacterial, you may need to disinfect your well and plumbing using chlorine. Shock chlorination is often enough to clear the contamination, and won’t cost more than your time and effort and $5 for a gallon of chlorine bleach. If you need help, contact a well driller or water treatment specialist.

If your water is contaminated with a naturally occurring chemical such as arsenic, or with lead from your plumbing, you may need to install a specialized water treatment system. You can learn about water treatment options for a specific contaminant by clicking on the relevant link at the bottom of this page. You can also contact the Drinking Water Program at 800-439-8550 or a water treatment specialist for advice.

Find a licensed well driller
Find a water treatment specialist
Learn how to disinfect your well

Watch this step-by-step video on how to use your drinking water test kits.

Submitting Drinking Water Test Results to the State

Act 163 took effect January 1, 2013 and is related to the testing of potable water supplies. Under Act 163, a laboratory certified to conduct water testing from a potable water supply is required to submit the test results to the Health Department and Agency of Natural Resources in the format required by the Health Department.

What do certified drinking water labs need to do?

The Data Elements and File Format Guide provides all of the requirements and instructions for submitting drinking water test results to the State.

Currently, the Health Department Information Technology group is developing an electronic private drinking water database to house all private drinking water test results, which should be complete and ready to receive data by Spring 2017. While database development is in process, laboratories are encouraged. to implement these new results submission criteria as soon as possible by sending Comma Separated Value (CSV) files in the correct format to the Health Department via email AHS.VDHPrivateWellTestResults@vermont.gov.

Summary of Important Guidelines for Preparing and Submitting Your CSV File

Using the Data Elements and File Format Guide:

  • Labs are required to produce and submit a Comma Separated Value (CSV) file that meets all of the specifications
  • The headers in your CSV file must match exactly as they are shown in the “Field” column
  • The columns in your CSV file can be in any order
  • Data are not case sensitive
  • There are format requirements for certain fields, such as time and date, result type, zip code and water source (see “Format and limited responses”)
  • Each file submitted to the State must have a unique file name. To ensure the file name is unique, the naming convention should start with your VT State Lab ID followed by the file creation date (e.g. VTStateLabIDyyyymmdd).
  • Batched files are acceptable
  • Required fields are noted with an R and R1

For Questions about:

  • The Data Elements and File Format Guide or the data submission process, call the Environmental Health Division at 802-863-7220 or 800-439-8550 (toll-free in Vermont).
  • Laboratory certification, contact the Laboratory Certification Officer, George Mills, at the Health Department Laboratory at 802-338-4746 or 800-660-9997 (toll-free in Vermont).

In This Section

If your water does not come from a town or city water system, you are using a private drinking water source.

Untreated surface water in rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds is not safe to drink unless it is treated to remove bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

Water that is contaminated with fecal coliform, or E.coli bacteria, can cause health problems if ingested and should be disinfected before use.

Water may not be safe to drink, cook or clean with after an emergency such as a flood.

Arsenic is a natural element found in some rocks and soils in Vermont and may get into groundwater.

Coliform bacteria are one of the most common water contamination problems in private water systems in Vermont and throughout the U.S.

Copper piping and fittings are commonly used in home plumbing systems. When well water is acidic, copper from the home’s pipes and fittings dissolve into the drinking water.

The Health Department recommends testing your private water source for gross alpha radiation and uranium every five years.

Hydrogen sulfide gas can occur in wells anywhere in Vermont and gives the water a characteristic "rotten egg" taste or smell.

Lead is a toxic metal that gets into drinking water from lead or galvanized iron pipes and fittings, lead solder, and brass or chrome fixtures.