Drinking (Potable) Water
Consumers of Publicly Supplied Water
Erie County Department of Health is responsible for overseeing and regulating public drinking water supplies’ compliance with State and Federal standards. All public water supplies are required to test for a variety of contaminants. This testing information must be reported to all customers in the water system’s Annual Water Quality Report. Many municipalities and water companies put copies of their Annual Water Quality Reports on their websites. If the Annual Water Quality Report is not available on the water system’s website you should call your water system and ask for a copy. Also, the Erie County Department of Health retains copies of all Annual Water Quality Reports; if you cannot get a copy of the report from your water system please contact us at 716-961-6800.
Providers of Publicly Supplied Water
- City of Buffalo, Erie County Water Authority (covers most areas not specifically listed), Town of Colden, Town of Collins, Town of Elma, Town of Evans, Town of Grand Island, Town of Holland, Town of Tonawanda, Village of Akron, Village of Alden, Village of Angola, Village of East Aurora, Village of Farnham/Town of Brant, Village of Kenmore, Village of North Collins, Village of Orchard Park, Village of Springville
- See Erie County Towns and Villages for contact information.
Private Water Supplies (Wells)
In order to assist in protecting private water supplies, the Erie County Department of Health:
- Completes drinking water well inspections for all house property transfers.
- Completes drinking water well inspections for new house construction.
- Assists homeowners with questions regarding their private water supply including well water quality, recommended sampling and references to certified well drillers, engineers or other drinking water specialists.
During a property transfer or new home construction with a private sewage disposal system a sanitary survey of the well is completed that includes a visual inspection of the well casing, well cap, and the area surrounding the well for any potential sources of contamination that includes adequate separation from the sewage disposal system. If the well casing or cap are in poor condition repairs will be required prior to issuing a property transfer certification. If separation distances are inadequate the well location may be required to be moved. If potential sources of contamination are present the owner will be required to remediate the source of contamination prior to being issued a property transfer certification. If your home is served by an excavated (dug) well you will be required to either install a filtration and disinfection system or abandon the well and install a new drilled well prior to issuance of a property transfer certification. Also, a bacteriological sample is taken to ensure the quality of the water is acceptable. If coliform bacteria are found to be present the homeowner will be required to disinfect the water supply and a resample and retest will be conducted. If coliform bacteria are found in the resample the homeowner will be required to install permanent disinfection or retain a certified well driller to remediate the source of contamination.
Note: Individuals who suspect their water may be contaminated by disease-producing fecal contaminants should boil water (see “How do I boil water to make it safe to drink?” in FAQ section below) before use for drinking, food preparation, brushing teeth and washing dishes or use bottled water and have their water tested for coliform bacteria by a New York State Department of Health-certified environmental laboratory. If individuals suspect their water may be contaminated by other pollutants, such as herbicides, pesticides or chemicals, the water should not be used for any of the above purposes until it is verified to be safe (see “What should I have my well tested for?” in FAQ section below).
Frequently Asked Questions about Potable Water & Wells
- How do I boil water to make it safe to drink?
Bring all water to a rolling boil, let it boil for one minute, and let it cool before using. Once water has been boiled it can be stored in a sanitized container in the refrigerator for several days. It should be noted that all water used for drinking, food preparation, brushing teeth and washing dishes should be boiled prior to use if your water has bacteria present.
- What is bottled water?
See the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) article Bottled Water Everywhere: Keeping it Safe.
- Why should I hire a NYSDEC certified well driller to install my new well?
Since January of 2000, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Law requires that "No person shall engage in the business of water well drilling in the state of New York without first obtaining a certificate of registration from the Department". Registration is required where drilling activity includes "construction and reconstruction of water wells, the establishment or repair of a connection through the well casing and the repair of water wells including repairs which require the opening of the well casing". This means that contractors who perform water well drilling or service activities must register and comply with all applicable laws, rules and regulations.
If you are planning to hire a water well contractor, NYS law has established specific requirements to benefit you the consumer. These include:
- Water well contractors must be registered. Registrations can be withheld if a contractor does not comply with NYS law.
- Water well drilling activities must be supervised on-site by an exam-certified individual.
- All drilling activities are subject to the consumer protection provisions of article 36-A of the General Business Law (GBS 36-A) regarding home improvement contracts.
- All water well drilling shall be performed in accordance with the rules and regulations promulgated by the NYS Commissioner of Health.
- A copy of the DEC Well Completion Report shall be provided to the water well owner.
- How far should my well be from a private sewage disposal system or other potential sources of contaminates?
Your well should be located at least 50 feet from your septic tank and any neighboring septic tanks. In general, if your well is greater than 50 feet deep and is not located in coarse gravel, then your well should be at least 100 feet from the leaching area or sand filter of your and your neighbor’s private sewage disposal systems. This is a general guideline, however specific local conditions sometimes necessitate increased separation distances. Where the well is less than 50 feet deep, or located in coarse gravel, or seepage pits are used in the area for sewage disposal or other sources of contamination are present (such as agricultural uses) contact the Health Department at 961-6800 for additional information in regards to separation distances.
- Why would a private well need to be disinfected?
Safe drinking water must be free of harmful disease-producing organisms. These organisms can cause illnesses such as giardiasis, dysentery, and gastroenteritis. When there is damage to a well or the well has been flooded, disease causing organisms can flow into the well water. The purpose of disinfection is to kill or inactivate disease causing organisms that may be present.
- What should I have my well water tested for and how often?
It is recommended that you have your well water tested at least annually for total coliform bacteria and nitrate. If a new baby is expected in the household it is a good idea to test for nitrate and total coliform bacteria in the early months of pregnancy, before bringing an infant home, and again during the first 6 months of the baby’s life. It is important to test for nitrate when infants under 6 months of age are in the household since high levels of nitrates can cause serious illness in infants.
The chart below lists some other reasons for having your water tested and suggestions on what to test.
Conditions or Nearby Activities
What to Test for
Recurring gastrointestinal illness
Household plumbing contains lead
Lead and Copper
Nearby areas of intensive agriculture
Nitrate, coliform bacteria, pesticides
Gas drilling operations nearby
Chloride, Sodium, Barium, Strontium
Odor of gasoline or fuel oil, near gas station or buried fuel tanks, recent fuel spill on or near property
Volatile organic compounds
Salty taste or near a salt storage facility
- How do I get my well water tested?
You may contact any New York State Department of Health-certified environmental laboratory to have your water tested. For a list of certified laboratories in New York State, see Wadsworth Center Environmental Laboratory Approval Program, which includes the Erie County Public Health Laboratory. You may contact the Erie County Public Health Laboratory at 716-898-6100.
Most laboratories mail back the sample results within a week or two (some tests may take longer). If a contaminant is detected, the results will include the concentration found and an indication of whether this level exceeds a drinking water health standard. If you would like assistance in interpreting the results of your water samples please contact the Erie County Department of Health at 716-961-6800 If a standard is exceeded in your sample, retest the water supply immediately. You may contact the Erie County Department of Health for assistance with what actions to take at 716-961-6800.
- What should I do if tests indicate coliform bacteria are present in my well water?
The presence of coliform bacteria in your water indicates the potential for human fecal contamination. First disinfect your well (see “How do I disinfect a well” in FAQ section below) per the directions below. Once disinfection is complete resample the water for total coliform. If the repeat sample is positive for coliform bacteria it is recommended that you install permanent disinfection on your water system or hire a certified well driller to locate and remediate the source of the problem.
- How do I disinfect a well?
Well disinfection can be conducted by a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation certified well driller. If you decide to disinfect your well, you should follow this procedure carefully. If further information is needed, please call the Erie County Department of Health at (716) 961-6800.
Steps to disinfect a well (PDF version)
- Mix two quarts of chlorine bleach (containing at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite - see label on bottle), such as Clorox™* in ten gallons of water.
- Pour the solution into the well or spring, then turn the power to the pump off. Once the chlorine solution has been poured into the well the following items are recommended:
- If you have a steel pressure tank:
- Drain all the water from the pressure tank by opening the drain valve found at the pressure tank “tee” fitting. Turn the power to the pump back on and refill the tank with the highly chlorinated water from the well. Bleed all the air out of the top of the tank (open the valve or remove the plug), so that the entire tank is filled with the chlorine solution. When the entire pressure tank is filled with chlorine solution, shut off the pump and reseal the tank.
- Allow the well or spring to stand idle for at least six hours (preferably twelve to twenty-four hours). Then pump it to waste away from grass and shrubbery. This should be done through a hose attached to a hose bib. NEVER FLUSH THE CHLORINE SOLUTION FROM THE WELL INTO THE SEPTIC SYSTEM.
- After the well disinfection procedure is finished and the chlorine solution has been flushed from the well, turn off the power to the pump, and drain the chlorine from the pressure tank as per the instructions above. Turn the pump back on and refill the pressure tank with fresh clean water from the well. This will restore the 50% air to water volume you need.
- If you have a bladder pressure tank:
- Drain all the water from the pressure tank by opening the drain valve found at the pressure tank “tee” fitting. Turn the power to the pump back on and refill the tank with highly chlorinated water from the well.
- After you are finished and the chlorine has been flushed from the well, turn off the power to the pump and drain the tank as per the instructions above. Turn the power back on and let the tank fill up to the normal pressure.
- Bypass all water treatment units.
- Cartridge filter: Remove the filter cartridge and put the unit back together and disinfect the housing. Replace the cartridge with a new one once the chlorine has been flushed from the system.
- Water Softeners: Disinfect the water softener either just before or immediately after the water system has been disinfected. To disinfect the softener add ¼ to ½ cup of bleach (containing at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite – see bottle label) to the small fill tube in the large brine tank and do a manual recharge (if you are unsure how to do this, please contact your water treatment equipment supplier).
- Hot water tanks:
- While the power to the pump is off and you are draining the pressure tank, if you can, turn off the heater and drain and flush the sediment from the hot water tank.
- Bring the highly chlorinated water from the well into the water heater.
- After the chlorine has been flushed from the well and while you are draining the pressure tank, turn off and drain the chlorine solution from the hot water tank. Refill the water heater with fresh water and turn it back on.
- If you have a steel pressure tank:
- Mix two more quarts of bleach (containing at least 5.25% sodium hypochlorite – see bottle label) in ten gallons of water and pour this chlorine solution into the well or spring.
- Pour the solution into the well or spring while it is being pumped. Keep pumping until chlorine odor appears at all taps. Then close the taps and stop the pump.
- Allow the water system to stand idle for at least six hours (preferably twelve to twenty-four hours). Then flush the system to waste, away from grass and shrubbery. Flush through a hose attached to an outdoor hose bib until the chlorine odor is no longer detectable. NEVER FLUSH THE CHLORINE SOLUTION FROM THE WELL INTO THE SEPTIC SYSTEM. After flushing from a hose bib, you should then flush the remaining taps in the house until the chlorine odor is no longer detectable.
*Clorox™ and other bleaches containing 5.25% available chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) can be purchased in most drug stores, grocery stores and supermarkets.
NOTE: This procedure is to remove bacteriological contamination in the well casing and/or piping in the house; the disinfection procedure is no assurance that the water entering the well or spring is free of pollution.
If further information is needed, please call the Erie County Department of Health at (716) 961-6800.
Additional Information & Resources
- CDC drinking water
- EPA ground and drinking water
- EPA private wells
- NYSDOH Drinking Water Protection Program
- Cornell University Water Quality Information for Consumers
Environmental Health Division
503 Kensington Ave
Buffalo, NY 14214
Phone: (716) 961-6800
Fax: (716) 961-6880
For Emergencies after regular business hours: 716- 961-7898