Performance Comparison of Large Diameter Residential Drinking Water Wells
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Published scientific work indicates that residential large diameter drinking water wells are at a higher risk of contamination from surface water impacts than drilled wells. The possibility of a higher incidence of contamination of large diameter wells is attributed to site selection and construction problems such as leaking joints in the well casing, ineffective annular sealant placed between the well casing and the formation, a poorly fitted cover with an access lid that promotes contaminant entry and air entry without adequate air filtration, well location down gradient of septic effluent sources, and depth limitations due to improper equipment used to advance the well which results in shallow wells often situated in topographical lows. In some situations, flaws in the well design were actually deliberate measures intended to capture surface water at sites with low groundwater yield. Historically, residential drinking water well performance studies have focussed on existing wells; however, uncertainty in the actual well construction methods and materials, well age and maintenance efforts have been problematic. A field and laboratory study was completed to assess the performance of several design changes that were thought to improve the integrity of large diameter drinking water wells, and to determine whether one design is more prone to atmospheric and/or surface water contamination than the other. Four large diameter residential wells were installed at a study site in Lindsay, Ontario. Three of these wells are constructed with enhanced construction methods (two using a cement tile casing and one using a galvanized steel casing) and annular sealants, while the fourth was constructed using conventional methods for cement cased wells. The enhanced test wells utilized a sealant between the casing sections, various annular sealants between the formation and the well casing, sanitary waterline connections, and ventilation with air filtration. The well constructed using outdated methods did not have any of these advanced features. An automated water extraction system removed about 875 L/day from each well to mimic residential usage. Routine monitoring, and laboratory and field testing were used to collect pertinent data required for this performance assessment. Routine monitoring involved the visual inspection of the wells, collection of well water elevation, collection of soil temperature profile data, collection and analysis of water samples, and collection of cumulative water volumes purged from the test wells. A biofilm cleaning study and analysis of cement-bentonite grout was conducted in the laboratory while smoke and aqueous tracer tests were conducted in the field. The biofilm cleaning study entailed growing a biofilm on different large diameter well casing materials and applying cleaning methods thought to be practical for cleaning the interior walls of large diameter wells. Different mixtures of cement-bentonite grout were subjected to volume measurements, vertical load bearing capacity analysis, and hydraulic conductivity analysis to determine their suitability as a potential annular sealant. The tracer tests were developed to determine whether pathways for either airborne contaminants or surface water to enter the test wells exist. The test wells were filled with smoke and monitored for potential atmospheric pathways. A tracer solution was infiltrated around the test wells and the interior of the tests wells were monitored for potential pathways for surface water to enter. Bacteriological indicators were detected in all test wells. The smoke tracer tests demonstrated that pathways for airborne contaminants to enter the test wells exist with more pathways observed in the winter than the summer. The aqueous tracer tests highlighted several areas where surface water could enter the test wells if ponding occurred around the well casing. As expected the enhanced test wells performed much better than the conventional test well for both of these tracer tests. The results of the biofilm cleaning study indicated that galvanized steel or fibreglass casing materials were the only materials able to be cleaned effectively. The best method in this study to remove biofilm from casing materials was pressure washing. The results from the cement-bentonite grout investigation indicated that cement-bentonite grout with 5% bentonite would make the most suitable annular sealant as its volume changed the least during curing, it was strong enough to support the load from maintenance efforts, and was the most impervious. The results of this study indicate that large diameter wells constructed with a proper annular sealant, sealant between casing sections and a sanitary waterline connection are less prone to contamination. Monitoring of the test wells should continue as they mature to determine whether this plays a significant role in their ability to prevent contamination of large diameter wells. Smoke tracer tests should be conducted again during the winter to determine if temperature was the cause of increased atmospheric pathways. A field-scale method to remove biofilm from the interior casing wall of large diameter wells should be developed and tested. A field-scale investigation of cement-bentonite grout for use as an annular sealant should be completed. Fibreglass casings can be fabricated as a continuous piece with no seams or joints and hence another well should be constructed and studied using corrugated fibreglass (NSF ANSI 61) casing.