Bill introduced to regulate private water wells

WORCESTER, Mass. – More than half a million Massachusetts residents get their water from a private well, but some state lawmakers are concerned about what else might be flowing through their faucets.

State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Middlesex/Worcester) introduced legislation that would allow the Department of Environmental Protection to set home water quality standards and provide financial support for testing to low-income homeowners.

what you need to know

  • The state legislature is considering a bill to regulate the quality of private drinking water
  • More than 500,000 Massachusetts residents get their water from a private well
  • In more than 500 tests conducted since 2020, 32% of private wells had contaminants that exceeded state health standards
  • Other states have enacted similar laws

“Right now we all pay state income taxes, and yet many rural communities, most of which have private wells, don’t get the same protections as more suburban or urban communities,” Eldridge said. “So it’s really about fairer access and a level playing field.”

Since 2020, the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts (HFCM) has helped fund more than 500 water quality tests in Massachusetts cities with a high concentration of private wells. The tests found that about 32% of the wells had levels of contaminants that exceeded government health standards, and in some cases the results indicated potential health risks.

“The longer we wait, the longer the risk of people drinking contaminated private well water,” said Amie Shei, President and CEO of HFCM. “Many people are unaware that their drinking water can be contaminated with PFAs, E. coli and arsenic, there are a number of contaminants that can have really detrimental health effects.”

Eldridge said when homeowners dig their wells, they often don’t get tested for pollutants. The recently formed Safe Drinking Water Coalition, which includes HFCM, Community Action Works and RCAP Solutions, is also pushing for more testing standards.

“Too many homeowners assume their water is safe and clean,” said Brian Scales, president of RCAP Solutions. “Water is all around us, we bathe in it, cook with it and drink it every day. The only way to make sure all of that water is clean and safe is to get it tested.”

“The state regulates the sewage that leaves a home, but it doesn’t regulate the water from private wells that enters a home and is consumed,” Shei said. “This legislation closes an important gap in access to clean drinking water.”

Similar legislation to regulate private drinking water was introduced in the last legislative period, but failed to gain acceptance. Other states have passed bills regulating private wells, including Oregon, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

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