Is well water safe to drink after flooding?

Nearly five years after historic levels of flooding, Iowans are again preparing for the encroachment of floodwaters from rivers in the eastern part of the state. Nancy Hall, environmental microbiology manager for the State Hygienic Laboratory, said that those who have private wells should take precautions to prevent illnesses.

"If floodwaters have been over the well, the drinking water is not safe to drink," Hall said. "This water also should not be used for teeth brushing or showering.”

Private well systems pose a potential health risk if they have been covered by floodwaters because this water may contain fecal material and other contaminants from overflowing sewage systems, agricultural run-off and industrial byproducts.

During well flooding, Hall recommends using drinking water from a safe source, such as bringing water from a city supply or buying bottled water that is intended for drinking. Hall said that common illnesses that are caused by exposure to flood waters may include skin and tissue infections following superficial cuts, scratches, abrasions or insect bites; deep tissue infections following puncture wounds or trauma; and gastrointestinal illness following ingestion of contaminated water or food.

For those in flooded areas, the following public health measures are recommended: