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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Starting Off on the Right Foot: Basic Seasonal System Startup

As summer draws near a lot of small, seasonal water system operators are showing up, blowing off the cobwebs, and getting the show on the road. Every state has slightly different regulations and requirements for small system startup, and it’s important to know what your state requires. The Revised Total Coliform Rule requires seasonal systems to certify that they've completed state-approved startup and sampling procedures, so be sure to check anything we say here against your state's guidance. Having said that, it doesn't hurt to have a few reminders as you work through your startup routine. Here, we summarize the most common considerations for small seasonal system startup.

Inspect

The first thing you need to do is inspect your system. Even if everything was ship-shape when you closed your system down, life has happened while you were away. There could be storm damage, animals could have gotten into your well house or your well, or Murphy’s Law could have paid your system a visit. Each system is slightly different and will need to be checked for slightly different things. The Connecticut Department of Public Health has a great guidance document with detailed instructions for inspecting and repairing drilled wells with the wellhead at the surface or in a pit, old dug wells, and well houses or pump houses.

Regardless of your well construction, here are a few basic inspection tips to keep in mind:

  1. Clear the area around your well head. Remove trash, brush, debris, and any other potential sources of contamination to at least the recommended setback distance around your well. Make sure to store chemicals (including pesticides, fertilizer, gasoline, etc.) in another location away from your wellhead. If you have a generator, make sure that it has backup containment for possible fuel spills. Make sure the ground is sloped so that water can’t puddle up around your well.
  2. Remove any animals from inside the well, including bugs and spiders, which can introduce bacteria to the well. Bugs and spiders can be removed with a shop vac. Replace the sanitary seal or repair the dug well cover so that animals cannot enter the well.
  3. Any system component that has a vent should also have a secure vent screen, and the vent opening should point downward. Make sure the vents are clear and unobstructed.
  4. Check your wiring, conduits, and electrical systems to make sure that they’re in good shape. This is important with any form of well construction, but pay particular attention in a well house or pump house, as rodents like to live in these structures and may damage your wiring. If there are rodents living in your well house, be sure to clear them out.
  5. If you have a chlorinator, properly dispose of your old chlorine and purchase new. Make sure that your chlorine residual test kit is working properly, is properly calibrated, and the reagents are not expired. Inspect the chlorinator itself to make sure that it is in working order.
  6. Storage and pressure tanks will need to be drained, any sediment removed, and disinfected. Storage tanks may need to be re-lined or otherwise repaired before they can be used. This is particularly true if they have never been serviced before. These repairs are best done by a professional. If you choose to re-line a tank yourself, make sure to have proper safety and ventilation equipment in place before you begin.

Turn it on

Once you’ve gotten a good look at your system and done any preliminary repairs, it’s time to turn it on. Different states will have different requirements on what samples and readings need to be taken during this process; be sure you know what’s required where you’re working. Run water through the system by opening hydrants, blow-offs, and faucets. Check that your pressure tank is maintaining correct pressure and the pressure relief valve is working properly. Check the pressure throughout your system. Walk your distribution lines to make sure they are not exposed or leaking. (Leaking distribution pipes, in addition to wasting water, can also let bacteria into your system.) Chlorinate the system (we like this guide) and let it sit overnight or 24 hours. If your system has a water softener, high chlorine levels can damage the resin, so bypass the softener and disinfect it separately according to manufacturer instructions. Don't let anyone use the water during this time, both so that the chlorine has enough time to disinfect the pipes, and so that your users are not harmed by the highly chlorinated water.

Flush

Once the chlorine has had a good long time to work on the bacteria that grew while you were away, flush the highly chlorinated water out of your system. Don’t flush the water into the septic system. This will kill the good bacteria that help the septic system work. Also try to avoid vegetation and surface water that could be damaged by the chlorine.

Sample

This is the point where the Revised Total Coliform Rule sampling kicks in. Be sure to refer to your state's sampling requirements and your sample site plan in order to keep your system in compliance. Wait until you have the lab results back and have confirmed the water is safe to drink before you allow anyone to use the system for drinking water. If you chlorinate, this is also a good time to check that you have the correct chlorine residual in your system, and to adjust the chlorine feed if necessary.

If you’re concerned that your system may need additional water quality tests, don’t be afraid to request them! It’s always good to know what you’re dealing with.

Put your house in order

Though these are the basic steps to getting your system up and running, there is more that goes into running a seasonal system.

Valve exercising is an important part of distribution maintenance for any system. Take some time to systematically turn the valves in your system on and off as you’re bringing it online. Then you’ll know they’re working if an emergency comes up later in the season.

Backflow prevention is just as important in a small system as in a big one. Make sure your hose bibs all have vacuum breakers installed. If your system has RV sewer dump stations, make sure they’re isolated from the drinking water system by backflow assemblies (or that the water lines don’t reach the stations at all). Have a professional inspect any testable backflow assemblies you have on your system.

As you go through the process of starting up your system for the season, take some time to make sure your manuals and emergency contacts are up-to-date, your instruments are properly calibrated, and your chemicals are all up-to-date and properly stored. Taking some time to put your (well) house in order at the beginning of the season gives you a great starting point for the coming months of small system operation.

Good luck, and don’t forget to lock your pump house!