Some good advice for restarting your well water after the High Park Fire

Two years ago the staff of GNC Water Well watched as the homes of Boulder customers burned during the Fourmile Canyon fire. Now we watch as our High Park customers lose their homes. There are many worries and concerns during and following a forest fire. We’d like to answer the basic questions you may have about your well and hopefully make things just a little bit easier.

Once the firefighters leave, a massive cleanup effort will begin. How can you tell if your pump is functioning? In the days following the Fourmile fire, we began to realize that much of the underground facilities, from the well and pump to the offset pipe and wire, were unharmed. However, the wiring at the top of the well and the junction box often were burned.

Regardless of the state of your home, it may be weeks before power is restored to the area. A generator will be needed to run the well pump. After the Fourmile fire, we saw several pumping systems damaged due to undersized generators. The following Franklin Electric table indicates what size generator you’ll need to power your pump. Remember, this is the minimum required for the pump; you won’t be able to run lights or other appliances off the same generator unless it is sized properly. Also, be certain the generator you use is rated for your altitude.

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Note: For best starting of 2-wire motors, the minimum generator rating is 50 percent higher than shown.

Warning: To prevent accidental electrocution, automatic or manual transfer switches must be used any time a generator is used as standby or back up on power lines. Contact power company for use and approval.

If there is no damage to your home or the surrounding area and your pumping system is intact, we recommend chlorinating the well to destroy any possible bacterial contamination. Remove the cap at the well head and pour plain bleach (non-thickened or scented) into the well. Use 5 cups of bleach per 100 feet of water in the well. Turn on all the faucets in your house until chlorinated water runs out of them. Allow the water to sit in the lines overnight and then flush it from your system.

If the outside of your home or yard area burned, you should have a licensed well company inspect the system. The pump may be functioning; however burned wires not visible from the surface may cause damage to the system.

If you have lost your house and are beginning the rebuilding process, you may want water prior to any construction. There’s a relatively good chance the well, submersible pump and buried piping are unharmed. However, the pressure tank and controls will need to be replaced. You might have to install a temporary system with a yard hydrant at the well to provide construction water. Hire a licensed well company and request an estimate prior to work.

Why use a licensed company? The State of Colorado has a rigorous testing and continuing education program for licensed water well contractors. Prior to obtaining a pump installation license, a contractor must have a minimum of two years of field experience and pass both written and oral exams. The state also requires a minimum of eight hours of continuing education each year. This knowledge really benefits the homeowner. We’ve run into systems installed by unlicensed contractors that have the wrong components and aren’t functioning properly. There is quite a cost savings when the appropriate equipment is used the first time. Also, unlicensed contractors may not know the regulations concerning well disinfection and you run the risk of contaminating your water.

Once your pumping system is working again, you may want to test for water quality. There is some evidence to indicate an increase in heavy metals in water following a fire. A 2010 study performed by Metropolitan State College of Denver students found increased concentrations of calcium, chlorine, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, potassium, aluminum, iron, boron, bromine, barium, antimony and strontium. The research indicated the increase was due to the fire, changes in geology and also possibly the use of flame retardant. A licensed well or water treatment company will be able to test for these contaminants.

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