Shocking the Well

catch-and-release called mooseI love the fall. It has to be my favorite time of year, although I like all seasons. However, in the fall, my allergies are not active, there are few or no bugs to bother me, I go hunting with good friends, and of course there are the fall colors, crisp mornings and beautiful skies.

Fall is also a melancholy time of year. We put our garden to bed, winterize the lawnmowers and garden equipment, get the snow clearing equipment ready for work, and check our log house for possible air leaks, etc.

One of the regular things we do this time of year (and also in the spring) is shock chlorinate our water well. What? you say. I have a problem with a polluted well? No, not really.

Living in the country is great. My wife and I have been doing it for nearly 30 years now. However, there are things we must do that most city dwellers would not understand. Our potable water comes from a 110 foot well. The water is good quality but it does come from a rock layer, or aquifer that is probably charged with water from somewhere in the Rocky Mountains to our west. Water passing through rock does not remain unaffected by that rock. It picks up minerals and ions; and if it goes through a layer of coal, it may pick up a bacteria that concentrates sulphur. The bacteria does not affect human health, but it does cause the water to have a slight sulphur odor and the bacteria, if left undisturbed, can eat through copper pipes (by excreting an acid) and fixtures. Therefore, we have to treat our well every six months to remove and set back the accumulation of the bacteria in the well,  pump, pressure tank and water distribution system. Shock chlorination is how it is done. This procedure is also effective against iron bacteria, which concentrates iron in a water system. We had trouble with that bacteria early on (it usually comes from a not clean drill bit used by the well drilling company), but our first shock chlorination cleaned that up and we have never seen it again.

In shock chlorination, many litres of household bleach are poured down the well, pumped through the pressure and distribution system and let sit in that system for up to 48 hours. The longer you leave the bleach in the system, the better the effect against the bacteria. We just did that yesterday, and are now waiting out the 48 hour period. Of course, before we shocked the well, we stored water for daily use.

So, now, we have to remind ourselves not to flush toilets (“if it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down”), instead of using the taps, use the buckets by the sinks, and to sponge bathe. Where did we learn about all this? The Alberta Government, on its web site, has instructions that we have modified for our own situation. The government recommends regular shock chlorination for all water wells. It’s a pain but at least we are keeping our equipment and water clean.

If you think living in the country means not having to pay such things as water and sewage services, well, you are right. We don’t have to pay someone else to do those services, but we do have to pay to provide those services ourselves.

So, what’s wrong with that?

P.S. Brown Water
One of the reasons why people are coming to this post is that after shock-chlorinating  their wells, the water turns brown. The brown is the iron in the water that has oxidized as a result of the chlorination. Normally, the iron in water is in ion form and does not display itself until it combines with oxygen and forms common rust which turns the water reddish-brown. If you have a particulate in-line filtre (mine is just passed the pressure tank) or a water softener, the filtre or conditioner will take out the rust. But if you don’t have such a filtre, the brown water will remain until the oxidized-iron water is eventually replaced with water where the iron has not yet oxidized.

About Don Meredith

I am a writer and biologist living in British Columbia, Canada, having moved from Alberta Canada in 2020. I wrote a monthly column for the Alberta Outdoorsmen magazine, and have published articles for several other magazines.
This entry was posted in Alberta, Country Living, General and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Shocking the Well

  1. Don Meredith says:

    On Saturday, we pumped the chlorine out of the well and water system, and revitalized our water softener. The water is now as pristine as it’s going to get between now and spring, when we do the chlorination treatment all over again.


  2. Pingback: Water–to filter or distill « Don Meredith Outdoors

  3. Greg says:

    Rubber gloves, goggles, and a fresh water supply handy in case of spills, or contamination. Wear old clothes. remove the well cap and insert a hose past the elecal wires several feet into the casing… for my casing a garden hose would not fit. Use a funnel or even better, siphon, from the water source. THEN add the clorine bleach to the siphon supply and allow it to drain into the well casing. Replace the well cap and Let stand for 24 hours.

    draw water into the home system too. As soon as you can smell the clorine at the sink faucet, shut the faucet off and go to the next one. Do not let a lot of water into the septic system. Let it stand another 24 hours, then drain from an outside hose, preferably away from grass.

    Make sure you have enough water saved in advance for drinking, etc.

  4. Don Meredith says:

    Full instructions are available from the Alberta Government:

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  7. Don Meredith says:

    Not sure I understand your question, Mayra. I learned about shocking the well from the Alberta government. I posted it on my blog because I knew that a lot of people who have wells are not sure whether or not they should shock them, or indeed how to shock them.

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  11. Kieran says:

    We had what we think was an iron bacteria problem, the water came out clear but quickly turned orange then stringy bits would sink to the bottom and a slick would appear on the surface. We shocked the well, in the morning the water no longer smelled of chlorine and now the water turns brown but does not settle. Any advice?

    • Don Meredith says:

      Did you read my PS at the bottom of the post? It explains that the reddish brown water is most likely due to the oxidation of iron ions as a result of the chlorination. An in-line filtre will usually solve this problem. An iron filtre or water softener will take the iron ions out of the water. Consult a water-specialist as to which you should get.

      • Kieran says:

        Thank you very much for your fat reply. I did read the PS but I thought you meant that it would come out brown at first, just with the chlorinated water. So my water will always be like this unless filtered? We have another borehole which is only about 150′ from this one and have never had a problem with water from that one turning brown. I have noticed that there is a slight slick still on the surface, could it be that the bacteria are not all dead? There was literally no chlorine smell after it sitting in the pipes all night, perhaps I did not add enough but when I first ran it through it was smelling so strong I could hardly breath, it seems very strange that is was all just gone by the morning.

  12. Don Meredith says:

    You might have a heavy infection of bacteria. Go to the link I provided (3rd to last paragraph, not counting PS) to the Alberta government page on shock chlorination (or your own government’s page on the issue). There you will see how to calculate how much bleach to use for your particular well. We have found that a full 48 hour shocking works best for getting at the bacteria in the aquifer. The longer the bleach solution remains in the well, the better the penetration into the aquifer, which is where the bacteria most likely resides. That’s why this treatment has to be done once or twice a year, because the bacteria eventually returns from the aquifer.

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