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possibly iron-eating bacteria in our artesian well

 
pioneer
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Location: Douglas County, WI zone 4a 105 acres
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100?-yr-old artesian well went bad 4 years ago. Reddish-brown sludge mats in the sump in the basement. Was state-tested extensively - found no e.coli, but wouldn't name any other bacteria.
Home was abandoned shortly thereafter.
It's only 2 miles away, and we are having quite the drought where we now live. Our well/pump here is kinda iffy - old pump and risky lining. Don't want to pump water for garden.
Been using totes filled by house sump-pump ... no rain = very little water going into totes.
Easy fix can be going to fill totes with our dump-truck.
Anybody have thoughts about safety of this water for garden?? TYVM
 
gardener
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Location: Ontario - Currently in Zone 4b
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I assume you've tried shocking the well with bleach? If it was my well, I'd be tempted to shock it, wait a day, pump it dry, shock it when it refilled and pump some water out to disinfect the pump, add more bleach, then wait a few days and take a look at the water. You'd need to make sure that all of the components were bleached to kill the bacteria.

I have no idea about the safety of using the water if it's contaminated with iron bacteria. A quick google says the bacteria themselves aren't harmful but can lead to poor water quality, and based on the description I'd suspect my aunt's well is full of iron bacteria as well.
 
Mary Beth Alexander
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So, Catie George - thanks for helping. Our old family home is in the process of being sold - clearing it out before closing about 30 more days. They never tried bleach when anybody was still living there.
Property is so close to our new place, will be relatively easy to take water from that well and bring it here for the garden - not for drinking here - only garden.
Just wondering if that water is "safe" for garden.
We don't know what happened 5-6 years ago to cause this "bloom". The family used it for over 70 years with no problem, and it was used earlier for a moonshine still! The road is named Artesian Lane.
I'm just so desperate to water my garden .. we're nearly 7-in short this year, and all rain events are completely missing us!  
 
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Maybe try a test patch?
Or,  build a tote sized slow sand filter and run the irrigation water through that?
 
Catie George
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Yeah, we are in a drought here too. May was dry, June has been worse, the grass already looks like August grass (brown and dead). I can see why you would be wanting to use the well.

I personally wouldn't worry too much about food safety if you are using it on things you aren't eating in the next few weeks. I would probably still shock it though. Could you drain it (to get rid of whatever sludge there is), then shock, and use it? No idea what your recharge rate is, but if it's artesian, I would expect fast. My dad's artesian well can be emptied in a few hours, and recharges within another few hours. YMMV. It might be a 2 or 3 day process, but it would get you water that doesn't stink... It looks like the concern with iron bacteria is it infecting other wells, so if, as you say, your personal well has a poor casing, I'd prefer to use disinfected water to make sure you don't contaminate your own well... You don't have to drain the water to shock it, but if there is sludge, the chlorine won't get to the bacteria as effectively.

Alternatively, you might be able to disinfect the totes of water, but I have no idea what affect bleachy water would have on plants!


Here's instructions on how to shock a well if you go that route... https://www.phsd.ca/health-topics-programs/water/drinking-water/shocking-well


(also, just asked my mom, who has had many wells. She says she shocked a well for iron bacteria about 25+ years ago, and it worked well).
 
pollinator
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Seconding both the test patch and the slow sand filter ideas.
 
pollinator
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As an Australian I know very little about wells.
I am an advocate for rainfall collection.
I have about 18 inches of rain at my location.
But I am fascinated by the extensive use of wells and I ask where did the comment of 'Iron bacteria', come from?
 
John C Daley
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Ok, I found where the iron reference came from.
[url=Orange/brown slime is caused by harmless bacteria that form slimy or fluffy deposits. These deposits %27rust%27 when iron (in the bacteria) and oxygen (in the air) come together. This slime is most commonly found near springs, where, iron-rich groundwater comes to the surface.]Iron bacteria[/url]


Biology of slime in wells

Control [From Wikiapedia]
Treatment techniques that may be successful in removing or reducing iron bacteria include physical removal, pasteurization, and chemical treatment. Treatment of heavily infected wells may be difficult, expensive, and only partially successful. Recent application of ultrasonic devices that destroy and prevent the formation of biofilm in wells has been proven to prevent iron bacteria infection and the associated clogging very successful.[citation needed]

Physical removal is typically done as a first step. Small diameter pipes are sometimes cleaned with a wire brush, while larger lines can be scrubbed and flushed clean with a sewer jetter. The pumping equipment in the well must also be removed and cleaned.

Iron filters have been used to treat iron bacteria. Iron filters are similar in appearance and size to conventional water softeners but contain beds of media that have mild oxidizing power. As the iron-bearing water is passed through the bed, any soluble ferrous iron is converted to the insoluble ferric state and then filtered from the water. Any previously precipitated iron is removed by simple mechanical filtration. Several different filter media may be used in these iron filters, including manganese greensand, Birm, MTM, multi-media, sand, and other synthetic materials. In most cases, the higher oxides of manganese produce the desired oxidizing action. Iron filters do have limitations. Since the oxidizing action is relatively mild, it will not work well when organic matter, either combined with the iron or completely separate, is present in the water and iron bacteria will not be killed. Extremely high iron concentrations may require inconvenient frequent backwashing and/or regeneration. Finally, iron filter media requires high flow rates for proper backwashing and such water flows are not always available.

Wildfires may release iron-containing compounds from the soil into small wildland streams and cause a rapid but usually temporary proliferation of iron-oxidizing bacteria complete with orange coloration, the gelatinous mats, and sulphurous odors.
 
pollinator
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I have iron in my well. Enough that the 3-stage "heavy iron" filter I put in when I moved in lasted 10 days before the cartridges needed to be replaced (instead I junked it, oh well). Enough that untreated I thought I was sucking sediment. Nope, pure iron sludge. I have shocked my well a couple times, it is easy and works great but it isn't permanent, at least in my case. I ended up getting a greensand filter, luckily used since they are expensive. It works great.

To your question: I wouldn't hesitate to use the water. If it's safe to drink my feeling is it's ok for the plants.  
 
Mary Beth Alexander
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Thanks everyone for advice! Whatever the bacteria is doesn't sound scary for garden purposes.
The artesian well is on our property 2 miles away - not where we are living.
We'll be able to draw water from there until we close on the sale in a few weeks.
Hope this drought ends by then!! Regards, and best of luck to all.
 
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