City of Amarillo looking to establish rules for water wells

City of Amarillo looking to establish rules for water wells

AMARILLO - A national association is urging private water well owners to test their water for contaminants every year. There are no laws that require it, but tighter rules could be on their way to Amarillo.

Right now private water wells are exempt from almost all regulations in Texas, but Amarillo is looking to lay down some rules if you're going to drill within city limits. "We want to set up a system for checking them for any sign of contamination or cross connection," Director of Utilities Emmett Autrey said.

Autrey wants all wells in Amarillo to register with the city and be subject to check-ups from city inspectors. "Maybe annually, maybe every other year," he said. Since it's not required to register wells with the city right now, it's unclear how many private wells are in Amarillo, but Autrey says there is an increase in drilling.

More wells in the city, he says, could help preserve the city water system. But on the other hand... "On the other side is the potential for contamination," Autrey said.

As a life-long well owner, Phillip Smith says contamination shouldn't be the only concern when considering drilling a water well. "You're not going to save that much money," Smith said.

"My well was drilled about 10 years ago and it cost $8,000 to $9,000, now they cost about $12,000 to $15,000." Though he's not required to by law, Smith tests his water wells every year for contamination, something the National Ground Water Association recommends every well owner do. But the only reason Smith tests his water so frequently is because he's neighbors with the Pantex nuclear facility.

More regulation for well owners in general, he says, isn't necessary. "I would say that it's not necessary to test your water more than once every four or five years, unless you had suspect," he said.

The NGWA disagrees though, saying every "household well owners test their water at least annually for bacteria, nitrate, and any contaminants of local concern."

They say people with any of the following criteria, should test more frequently:

-There is a change in the taste, odor, or appearance of the well water, or if a problem occurs such as a broken well cap, inundation by floodwaters, or a new contamination source.

-The well has a history of bacterial contamination

-The septic system has recently malfunctioned

-Family members or house guests have recurrent incidents of gastrointestinal illness

-An infant is living in the home

-One wishes to monitor the efficiency and performance of home water treatment equipment.

The potential city ordinance on the way though, would not require lab testing. It would only require city inspectors do regular checks to see if further testing is necessary. That ordinance won't be presented to the city commission until sometime next year.