Well rules will
mirror state regs
By Scott Nicholson
New well rules are helping guarantee safer water supplies, but they add an extra layer of building regulation and permitting.
The Appalachian District Health Department announced its current “Rules Regulating the Construction, Repair and Abandonment of Wells” will expire on June 30. The health department will then be adopting the North Carolina “State Private Well Rules” set forth in North Carolina Administrative Codes.
Andy Blethen, environmental health supervisor for the health department, said in January 2007 the department adopted a district well ordinance, coming up with rules and regulations to cover its three-county area. In 2005, the state announced forthcoming well rules would be enacted and Blethen said the Appalachian Health District wanted to get training and rules already in place so it could implement the rules and be ready for the coming changes.
“The district codes are more or less a mirror of what the state will be using,” Blethen said. “We won’t miss a beat when the state rules take over for the rules we’ve been using for a year and a half.”
While the regulatory rules add another step in the building process, it’s more of a public-safety issue than a permitting concern. “These rules are designed to protect our groundwater to make sure standards are being enforced and wells are being properly placed and kept away from septic tanks, feed lots and underground storage lots,” Blethen said.
A private well that serves one house must be 100 feet from a septic system and 50 feet from above-ground storage tanks and 100 feet off animal feed lots. There are a few adjustments to setbacks, with variations for shared or community wells, depending on factors specific to the site. Wells must be 25 feet from any kind of structural foundation that could contain treated lumber, pesticides or other potentially toxic materials associated with construction. “We still say to stay as far away as feasibly possible,” Blethen said.
People typically apply for the permits as part of the regular permitting and inspections process, so there should be little hold-up in construction. The health department added staff to help address development growth, though Blethen noted the national housing downturn hasn’t affected Watauga County, with the number of permits remaining about the same this year as last.
However, the drought has led to the need for new private water supplies. “We’ve had a lot of dry wells and we do ‘repair’ permits if the well driller goes in for a deeper well or goes in for a deeper vein of water,” Blethen said. “We don’t charge for a repaired well. It’s in the best interest of the public to get them water as quickly as possible.”
The department also consults on new additions that could infringe on the water source. For new construction, the permit fee will increase from $225 to $300 on July 1.
“The program overall has been successful,” Blethen said. “It was kind of awkward when we first got started working with builders, well drillers and the public, but over the last five months we’ve made it a pretty smooth process. We are required to take a bacterial sample as part of the permitting and inspection process.”
The tests can also be taken voluntarily for existing wells, checking for potential contamination that can often be treated. The permitting fees ensure the well is properly located and constructed, and also two samples are taken to ensure water safety.
Blethen said well and septic tank inspections can typically be made during the same visit. In Watauga County, it takes between seven to nine weeks from application to approval, depending on factors such as staff levels, weather and number of applications.
Copies of the new well rules are available at Watauga County Health Department, 126 Poplar Grove Connector, Boone, NC 28607. Copies are also available at the County Manager’s Office and at Apphealth.com. Written comments can be submitted to: 126 Poplar Grove Connector, Boone, NC 28607 by 4 p.m.