Water shortages: safety information for well owners

In the summer and fall, Nova Scotians may experience water shortages because of unusually warm and dry conditions. During a shortage, you may need to take extra steps to make sure you have safe drinking water.

During a water shortage, everyone should do their part to conserve water (PDF) and make sure drinking water is safe.

What to do when your well has run dry

If your well runs dry, you need to make sure you have safe drinking water. To ensure your safety, you should:

  • avoid filling your well with water from other sources – this  can introduce bacteria or other pollutants, and also affect your water chemistry and metal levels
  • safely lower the well intake valve to access more of the water in the well, if you can
  • stop using your well and let it refill over time or after significant rainfall, if you can
  • make sure any water you buy has been tested and is safe for consumption, and the storage vessel is clean - learn  more: Safe Water in an Emergency (PDF) and Safe Water Collection
  • prepare for the next dry season by installing a new drilled well or deepening a dug well
  • upgrade your well, some municipalities have lending programs

To find out more about your well, check the Nova Scotia Well Logs Database for construction details and information. The Drought mapping resources section shows local water level, climatic, historical and predictive conditions in your area.

Alternate water sources

You should only fill cisterns with water from a municipal water supply or registered public drinking water supply. Don’t use water from lakes, rivers, streams and other surface water sources, including natural and roadside springs. These are not safe, reliable water sources. They could be contaminated.

Don’t add water from other sources into your well. It will drain into the ground. It could also damage the well and cause contamination.

Safe water collection

The containers you use to store drinking water should be cleaned and sanitized before you use them.

To clean and sanitize your containers:

  1. Clean thoroughly using dish soap and warm water and rinse.
  2. Mix 1 teaspoon of household liquid bleach to 1 litre of water. Use bleach without added scent or fabric softener.
  3. Pour the solution into the cleaned storage container and shake well, making sure that the bleach solution coats the entire inside of the container.
  4. Let sit at least 30 seconds and then empty.
  5. Let the container air dry. Keep it covered until you use it, so it stays clean.

Before you start up your well again

After a water shortage, well water levels may take weeks or months to return to normal. Check that your well has enough water in it before you start using it again. The level should be close to normal.
Before you restart your well, you need enough water that:

  • the water level is 1–2 metres above the pump intake valve, or close to normal water levels
  • the pumping of water doesn’t disturb silt or mud at the bottom of the well — this can cause dirty water
  • the water volume meets your minimum daily household use, so the well and pump don’t immediately go dry again

Consider hiring a professional. A certified well contractor can:

  • inspect your well and plumbing system
  • check for damage related to the well going dry
  • help return the well to service

Find a Nova Scotia certified well contractor in your area.

How to return your well to service

  • Make sure the pumping system is working properly and has no air in the system (from the well intake valve to the house pressure tank). If you have a water treatment device, it may need maintenance to ensure proper operation.
  • Follow the disinfection procedures (PDF) to disinfect the well, the pumping system and all plumbing.
  • Test your well water for bacteria. If you’ve noticed recent changes in water conditions, you should also test for general and metals chemistry.

Test your well water

Be sure to test your well water for safety before drinking it. You can’t tell by taste or smell whether the water is safe to drink. At minimum, you should test for bacteria. Pumps and plumbing are more susceptible to contamination from bacteria when exposed to air.

Well water should be tested every 6 months for bacteria and every 2 years for chemicals. This makes sure it’s safe to drink.

You can pick up sterile sample bottles from a Nova Scotia lab that tests drinking water. Find a complete list of certified well water testing labs in Nova Scotia.

Evaluate your test results

You can evaluate the results of your water quality testing using the online Drinking Water Interpretation Tool. Private well owners can get additional information from the “Your Well Water” series of booklets (PDF).

Municipal well upgrade programs

Some municipalities have lending programs to help qualifying homeowners upgrade their wells. If your municipality isn’t listed below, you can contact contact your local municipality to see if they have a program.

Hours of operation Phone number
County of Annapolis: C3 Water Supply Program Information: 902-532-2335
Enforcement of By-Laws: 902-584-3922
Argyle Council: Water Supply Lending Program Information: 902-648-2311
Barrington: Water Supply Upgrade – Lending Program By-Law Information: 902-637-2015
Chester: Water Supply Upgrade Lending Program Information: 902-275-4116
Halifax: By-Law C-1000, Charges for Water Supply Improvement Information: 1-800-835-6428
Victoria: Water Supply Upgrade Lending Program Information: alix.redden@countyvictoria.ns.ca
Yarmouth: Water Supply Upgrade Lending Program By-Law Information: 902-742-9691

Support for farmers

The Department of Agriculture has regional staff who provide advice about programs and services, including how to access funding supports.
Access contact information on the website or call toll-free 1-800-279-0825 for the staff contact in your area.

Drought mapping resources

Mapping tools can help you assess drought conditions and potential impacts to groundwater levels across the province.

NS Groundwater Atlas - map with information on water wells and groundwater resources in the province

Potential Impact of Drought to Private Wells - map showing areas where private well owners are more likely to experience water shortages (especially owners of shallow wells)

NS Real-Time Shallow Aquifer Monitoring Network  - map showing water levels in shallow aquifers that may help people with dug wells (less than 8 m deep)

NS Groundwater Observation Well Network - database, map and graphs with water level data from 40 drilled wells in the provincial ambient drilled well observation network

NS Groundwater Levels Timeline Map - map showing the relative changes in groundwater observation network well water levels across the province since 2012

Real-Time Hydrometric Map - map showing the hydrometric monitoring network (river monitoring) throughout Nova Scotia

AgroClimate Interactive Maps  - Interactive tool that displays valuable precipitation information over user-defined time periods

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