Well Water – Comparative Study of Open and Closed Well Water (Borehole)

Well Water – Comparative Study of Open and Closed Well Water (Borehole)

Well water is water obtained from either a hand dug or machine drilled pit. A dug well is a larger – diameter hole that is usually more than 2 feet wide and often constructed by hand. Dug wells are usually shallow and poorly protected from surface water runoff. Driven – point {sand- point} wells, which pose a moderated to high risk, are constructed by driving lengths of pipe into the ground.

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These wells are normally around 2 inches in diameter and less than 25 feet deep and can only be installed in areas with soils such as sand. Most other types of wells are drilled wells which, for residential use are commonly  4-8 inches in diameter is usually sealed or closed otherwise called bore hole (Hawiis population prevention information (HAPPI, 2000). Because the water table in most area of Abakaliki is very deep, most of the wells are drilled wells. But there are also many of the dug wells because most of the people in the area are poor. Many wells are being drilled in Abakaliki each year with the goal of supplying safe and accessible drinking water and for domestic use. Some the people get most of their water from these wells. However, improperly constructed or poorly maintained wells can allow for fertilizers, bacteria, parasites, pesticides or other materials to enter the water supply. Also backflow of contaminated water into water supply can occur if system undergoes sudden pressure loss. Pressure loss can occur if the well pump fails, usually occurs in closed well (borehole) (HAPPI, 2000).

Potable water is water which is fit for consumption by human and other animals; it is generally called drinking water in reference to its intended use (Onifade and Ilori, 2008). The availability of clean drinking water is a basic right for all people. Unfortunately, many of these wells offer water which is either unsafe for human consumption or has such aesthetic quality that no one will consume it. Despite the potential magnitude of this problem, very little data has been gathered to prevent the senseless poisoning of villagers and the wasting of millions of dollars constructing wells that yield water of inferior quality .surface fresh water is widely used as source of drinking water worldwide. Over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water, increasing the vulnerability to diarrhoea and parasitic diseases. On a global scale 25,000 people die each day a result of poor water quality and water related diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea. Typhoid represents the simple largest cause of human morbidity and mortality (Schram, 1972; Pruess et al.,1999; WHO, 1999; Stewart- tulle, 2001).

Like many developing nations, Nigeria has a high population density (120 million) with relative poor infrastructure especially in urban centers. Available sanitary facilities cannot sustain the population and reckless waste disposed could lead to contamination of surface water with faucal materials. Worldwide, contaminated water causes an estimated 6 to 60 billon cases of gastrointestinal illness annually, majority of which occur in rural areas of developing nations where water supply is polluted with a variety of micro organisms, and adequate sanitary is unavailable  (Laurie  et  al., 2004).

In Nigeria and other developing countries, the vulnerability of surface water bodies to pollution {by animals, wastes, sewage and form water runoffs, which contain decomposable organic matter and pathogenic agents} is high. Diarrhoea is still one of the leading causes of death among children under five in developing countries. Cholera caused severe pandemic in developing countries due to poor sanitation, water shortage and (Stewart-till, 2001; Hunter, 2003). Cholera outbreak usually occurs each year in Abakaliki. Guinea worm occurs largely within communities where faecal contamination of wells is high. The report of classical cholera in Nigeria was the 1970 and 1971 epidemic cholera affecting Lagos, the mid – west states Kano and Zaria (Schram, 1972). More recently epidemics are frequently reported in overcrowded Nigeria cities like Lagos, Kano and urban areas like Abakaliki due to water shortage, deterioration of sanitary condition and ingestion of contaminated water or food (Agbogu,  2004).

Nigeria has a high population density with a relatively poor infrastructure; available sanitary facilities cannot sustain population leading to waste being scattered all around and could be washed in well as runoff. Many out breaks have been reported as a result of this. Significant risk to human may occur from exposure to pathogens in well water from which drinking water is derived (Adeyeba and Akinbo, 2003).

Water provides a habitat for a wide variety of organisms including microorganisms of medical significance. Faecal pollution of water supplies may lead to the introduction a variety of intestinal pathogens or enterobateria that cause water borne diseases (Maharigan et  al., 2000). Coliforms are  well recognised indicator of  bacteria for faecal contamination. Microbiological potability standards for drinking water in most developed countries rely on the detection of total coliform and E .coli as maker for human pathogens.

The coliform test can therefore, best serve as an indicator of treatment efficiency or the integrity of a distribution system. E. coli the most, and discrimination marker for faecal contamination, and is therefore, the microbiological indicator for drinking water potability and safety. Drinking water safety dictates that no E. coli should be present (WHO, 1999).

Intestinal bacteria pathogens are widely distributed throughout the world. Those known to have occurred in contaminated drinking water include strains of salmonelle, shigella, enterotoxigenic E. coli, vibrio cholera, yersinia enterocolitica and campylobacter fetus. These organisms may cause diseases that vary in se verity form mild gastroenteritis to severe and sometime fatal dysentery, cholera or typhoid. Potable water use for drinking and bathing, if it contains excessive numbers of organisms such as Pseudomonas, Flavobacterium, Acinebacter, klebsiella and serratia, may produce a variety of infections involving the skin and mucous membrane of the eye, ear, nose and throat (WHO.

There are many wells in Abakaliki but the facilities for its portability and for excreta disposal is woefully inadequate. In Abakaliki much of the poor health of the people in the state can be due to lack of safe and potable drinking water. The incidence of water borne diseases in the state is high. An outbreak of typhoid, V. cholera and amoebic dysentery occurs quite frequently and parasitic infection like guinea worm is common. Sanitation is poor resulting in the faecal matters entering or draining into the well after it rains.

Indicator Organism

A wide range of viral, bacterial and protozoan diseases results from the contamination of water with human and animal faecal wastes. Although many of these pathogens can be detected directly, environmental microbiologists have generally used indicator organisms as an index of possible water contamination by human pathogens. Researchers are still searching for the “ideal’’ indicator organism to use in sanitary microbiology.




Criteria for Indicator Organism

  1. The indicator bacteria should be suitable for the analysis of all types of water; tap, river, ground impounded, recreational, estuary, sea, and waste.
  2. The indicator bacterium should be preset, whenever enteric pathogens are present.
  3. The indicator bacterium should survive longer than the hardiest enteric pathogen.
  4. The indicator bacterium should not reproduce in the contaminated water and produce an inflated value.
  5. The assay procedure for the indicator should have great specificity, in other words, other bacteria should have high sensitivity and detect low level of the indicator.
  6. The testing method should be easy to perform.
  7. The indicator should be harmless to humans.
  8. The level of the indicator bacterium in contaminated water should have some direct relationship to the degree of faucal pollution (Willey et al., 2008).


These are member of enterbacteriaceae including Escherichia coli. They made up of approximately 10% of the intestinal microorganisms of humans and other animals and are used as indicator organism. They lose viability in fresh water at slower rates than most of the major intestinal bacterial pathogens. When such “foreign” enteric indicator bacterial are not detectable in a specific volume (100ml), of water, the water is considered potable or suitable for human consumption (Willey et al., 2008).

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this work is to compare the potability of open well and closed well (Borehole) water in Abakaliki metropolis. Abakaliki is one of the local governments in Ebonyi state, where many people make use of well daily because of water scarcity in the area. Although, there is water board but the percentage of people that get the supply is too low, yet the supply is limited and sometime not for weeks or months. So, the aim is summarized as follows;

  1. To determine the potability of open and closed well.
  2. To compare their potability.
  3. To determine the species of bacteria, if any is found as contaminant.


There are many handful of chronic health problem linked to the ingestion of contaminated water. Contaminants injected into water supply perpetuate many diseases.  Example of such contaminant [bacteria] are; salmonella spp, sligella spp, vibrio cholera, E. Coli (Jeanine et  al., 2007) and the diseases they cause are; salmonella typhi which is commonly found in food and water contaminant with faecal of ruminants and reptiles causes typhoid fever, shigellosis basically dysentery is caused by shigella bacteria, vibrio cholera causes cholera. Some of these organisms are normal flora in health men e.g. E. coli but can cause urinary tract infection (UTI) and Gastroenteritis in young and elderly people due to their low immune status (Wheeler et al., 2002).

Water borne pathogens are usually passed out through farce or urine of an infected person (Jewetz et al., 2002).

In 1949 to 1954 after cholera outbreak in Britain, the physician Jone snow set out be find the source of the disease outbreak and by late 1954, discovered that water was responsible, for the people got their water from the thane’s river below locations where Londoners discarded their sewage. Therefore, it is necessary that such research is carried out in Abakaliki, where a lot of people make use of well water for domestic activities and drinking and cholera outbreak do occur each year.


Potable  water  is transparent liquid without colour, taste or odour, but when infected with organisms like fungi, virus and bacteria these qualities are lost and such water become harmful to both human and animals. Water is a chemical compound with ratio by volume of hydrogen to oxygen in reaction at constant temperature and pressure 2:1.  Priestly in 1780 discovered that the explanation of hydrogen and oxygen gas mixture yield water.

Vapour                  2H2(g)                +OH2O(g)

Water is the elixir for life (A major liquid that is believed to cure illnesses or to make people live forever). Adequate supply of potable safe water is absolutely essential and is the basic need for all human being on earth. Due to rapid industrialization and subsequent contamination of surface and ground water source, water conservation and quality management has nowadays assumed a very complex shape (Sinha DK and Ritest Saxence, 2006; Palanissmy et al., 2007). Attention on water contamination and its management has become a need of the hour because of its far reaching impact on human health.


Diarrhoeal diseases, arising mainly from unhygienic drinking water and unsanitary conditions of the water environment, account for nearly 1/3 of all child death. Diseases arising from the ingestion of pathogens in contaminated water have the greatest impact word wide. In the national context, the under 5 years mortality rate was 118.3 per 100 live births among them 1279 deaths (102%ifs) under 5 years of age were only from diarrhoeal disease (Maharian et al., 2001).

Many factors such as individual, social, economic epidemiological environmental and so on, complicate the issues. Globally, more than 1000 million people are without ready access to adequate supplies of safe water and water borne disease is a major cause of illness and premature death, especially among children in developing countries.  Due to the absence of adequate sanitation, reliable water supply and sanitation services, more than 15 million children ages o to 4 die each year, (Dold, 2001).

About one in every thousand E. coli bacterial is found in an adult’s intestine. In a new born babies intestine this type of bacteria is more abundant.  E. coli forms part of a group of rod-shaped bacteria know as coliform organism. They are important in water quality testing because simple means to detect their presence in water have been developed over the years. As mentioned earlier, coliform bacteria are found numerous in our small intestine and are easier to detect than pathogenic microorganisms. In other words, if tests show that coliform bacteria are in the water then there is a pretty good possibility that there are also microorganisms in that water that cause disease ( Maharjan M and Joshi D, 2003).

Disease Causing Microbes in Water

          Evidence that some coliform may multiply in water has been reported far back by a number of workers, including Caldwell and Parr (1933), Leahy(1932) and Mallmann (1928). In each instance, the increase occurred in the presence of organic matter.

In a work done by Harold VL and Milcleskey CS, in 1953 on Bacteria pollution in surface water indicated that total count of organism was consistently high in well compared with other water sources like rivers, and lake suggestive of gross pollution.

In an investigation carried out by Yahaya  et al  on  February to June 2007 on public health implications of using water from wells located near municipal waste dump sites in parts of Zaria, found out that during the wet season, many waste materials from the surrounding waste are washed  into wells as runoffs or sipping without any available mechanism for run off control to protect well there by increasing the coli form and aerobic plate counts. The average coliform count in the study ranged from 2.2 x 103 to 7.3×103cfu/ml
n the dry season and from 1.38 x 103to 1.38×105cfu/ml in the wet season. Values that far exceed the WHO standard number of coliform per 100ml of potable drinking water   (WHO, 2000).

One factor that is thought to contribute to occurrence of elevated number of coli from bacteria and other pathogens is bottom sediment. (LeJeune et al., 2001) have implicated cattle and animal faeces as the main source of contamination of water especially open well, and have ascribed the high presence of  Escherichia coli 057 in surface water to human, cattle and other domestic animals. Contamination of wells with faeces could lead to greater number of salmonella and other indicator microorganisms being isolated ( Goyal et al., 1977).

Bacteria of faecal origin have been shown to survive greater period of time in sediments than in overlaying water ( Okafor et al., 2003 ). Previous studies have reported moderate to strong correlations between coliphage and faecal coliform densities in sewage and treated water (Wentsel et al., 1982 ) and surface waters  (Castillo et al.,1988 ) and consistently high levels of coliphages in domestic wastewater (Calci et al., 1998).

DISVI (1990) carried out microbiological tests of drinking water in seven rural areas in illam and found that water samples from springs, aquifers (lagers of rock or soil that can absorb and hold water ) and rivers had unacceptable levels of faecal coliform bacteria ranging from 2 to 2400. Cells/100ml. In other studies (DISVI 1990) investigated the bacteriological quality, of water reports from 21 localities, which were found to be faecally contaminated, similar results were obtained. In another study carried out in Baluwa and Gevarne VDC, out of 16 water samples analyzed enteric, pathogenic bacteria E. coli was detected from all with total coliform counts ranging from 150 to 1100 cells /100ml sample tested. Among them 30% of the samples contained an average coliform of more than 100 cells / 100ml.

During a bacteriological study of drinking water sources carried out in Kathmandu, Nepal by Dr. Duga Daft Joshi and Mahindra maharijan in 2003 revealed that 93% of total water sample tested by H2S methods showed positive result, of which a maximum number of tube wells 54 out of 60, tested showed microbiological not safe for drinking purpose, similarly 19 deep wells of 22 showed the same type of result. This indicates that most of the ground water sources and surface water sources are not safe for drinking. Hence people who are using such water sources are at high risk. Regarding the total coliform and E. coli densities in  the water sources, a maximum number of the of the sources detected bacterial densities in between 100-500 cells per 100ml of the water samples tested and below 100, cells per 100ml sample tested.

Safe Drinking Water

Access to safe drinking water is a basic human need that remains umet for millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1.4 billion people around the world consume water that is unsafe because of contamination with potentially harmful microorganisms or toxic substances.

Therefore, potable water is water that is free from the major infestation of bacteria pathogen, containing no harmful physical agent. Each year diseases associated with dirty water are responsible for 2 million deaths. Human can acquire bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases through direct body contact with contaminated water as well as drinking the water. To maintain good health therefore, water supply such as well must be constructed and kept safe for human use (Cheesbrough, 2000). Not only should water be potable, it should also be available in sufficient quantity for man’s activities (WHO, 2000) more often than not, water is neither potable nor accessible. This is usually due to the increase in population, lack of capital to invest into water treatment and insufficient investigation.

Contamination of Water

Water from closed wells may become contaminated because of inadequately maintained pipes, low pressure intermittent delivery and lack of chlorination. Whereas  open well contamination may be due to the (fetcher) the bucket and the rope handled by people after visiting toilet or keeping the fetcher on the ground and birds dropping into the well. Contamination of this water may also occur during house hold storage, which was noted in surveys conducted by WHO in the 1960’s. They discovered that drinking water taken from the pipe supply was stored for cooling in earthen jars that were faecally contaminated. Various studies conducted showed faecal coliform concentrations were generally and sometimes dramatically, higher in store than in source water. The use of treated wastewater for irrigation was found to constitute serious public health risk (Umoh et al, 2001; okafor et al, 2003).

Routes of Transmission of Water Related Infection Agents Classifications

          Mara and Feachm (1999) classified water and excreta related communicable disease into seven categories, which are;

a)    Feco-Oral water borne disease

b)    Water washed disease

c)     Geohelminthiasis

d)    Non feco-oral water washed (skin and eye)

e)     Water- based disease (Bacterial and fungi as well as helminthic)

f)      Insect vector diseases

g)    Rodent-vector related diseases.

Water and Health

          World health organization estimated up to 80% of ill health in developing countries is water and sanitation related, since the international drinking water and sanitation decade (1981-1990) when significant progress was made in water supply and sanitation coverage (Cheesbough 2000). Water which is not safe to drink affect health , as a disease carrier people who consume this water will be ill and there is a risk of death. Unfortunately, even in areas, where the water is known to be unsafe, people may drink it anyway, out of desperation, Ochie and Kolhatka (2004). Many of these public health issues impact the poor more than anyone else. Because water quality is important, many nations strive to protect the safety of their water and increase access to potable water. The proportion of people with access to adequate water and sanitation has not increased due to population growth (Cheesbrough, 2000). Only 61% of people in developing countries are estimated to have assess to a water supply, greater in urban than rural area (WHO, 1998). Many water sources in developing countries are unhealthy because they contain harmful physical, chemical and biological agent checsbrough, (2000). To maintain good health however, sources of water in communities must be protected from pollution to make it safe for drinking .

Water Purification and Sanitary Analysis

Water purification is a critical link in controlling disease transmission in water. Water purification can involve a variety of steps, developing on the type of impurities in the raw water source. Usually municipal water supplies are purified by a process that consists of at least three or four steps. If the raw water contains a great deal of suspended material, it is often routed to a sedimentation basin and held so that sand and other large particles can settle out.


The partially clarified water is then mixed with chemical such as alum and line and moved to a setting basin where more material precipitations out. It also removes microorganism, organic matter, toxic contaminant and suspended fine particles.


After the above steps, the water is further purified by passing it through rapid sand filter, which physically trap fine particles, and flocs. This removes 99% of the remaining bacteria. After filtration the water is treated with a disinfectant which may be chlorination or ozonisation and the water becomes safe for drinking. This purification process removes or inactivates disease causing bacteria and indicator organism (coliform) (Willey et al.,2008)

Water Supply Surveillance

          WHO defined water supply surveillance as keeping a careful watch at all time from the public health point of views, over the safety and acceptability of drinking water supplies it involves two complementary activities (Cheesbrough, 2000).

–         Sanitary Insepection

–         Water quality analysis.

(a). Sanitary inspection: This is a systematic view of monitoring and detection of indicator and disease causing microorganisms in water supply due to contamination and pollution (Willey et al., 2008). An inspection can check the proximity of a water supply to the source of pollution e.g. source to latrine or refuge collection point( Gelcheriech  et al., 1979).

(b). Water Quality Analysis: Bacteriological analysis of water can a certain whether a water supply has been faecally contaminated in piped water distribution. It is also a useful way of keeping communities interested in their water supplies and justifying requests to health authorities for improvements in water quality.  Testing for the presence of no presence of mornal faecal organisms in water determines whether the water supply has been faecally polluted or not. Faecal coliforms (especially E . coli) are most appropriate indicator of faecal pollution, than a test for presence of total coliform, whose presence are not directly related to faecal contamination, thus are of less health risk (Baker et al., 2000).

Water quality analysis techniques include the following; (a)  Most probable Number technique (MPN) for proper detection and quantification of coliform loads MPN technique used series of tests; presumptive, confirmatory and completed tests are used in selective and differential media to isolate the coliform and proper identification of isolate (Willey et al., 2008).

(b)   Membrane filter technique: Membrane filter (MP) of specific pore size are used for drinking water analysis, it make the plate count easy, allow for sampling of large volume. Enumerate bacteria in very microbial growth or metal indicators that could bind to the filters and closing their spores (Lausing et al., 2002).

(c)   Pour plate method: This method was first used by Koch in 1854 to obtain pure cultures of bacteria from single cells. This method is cheaper, gives the frequency of the water treatment process, but physiological stress is most likely to occur on the organism due to the agar temperature of about 40 – 430c when pouring the agar into the plate (Baker et al.,2000 ). The Nigeria based NAFDAC in relation to the WHO, recommended that potable water for human consumption should not contain any microorganism that is known to be pathogen and the coliform number per 100ml of water must be zero. However, it may contain 3 coliform per 100ml of water sample in occasional samples (WHO, 1984).

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This article was extracted from a Project Research Work/Material Topic “COMPARATIVE STUDY OF OPEN AND CLOSED WELL (BOREHOLE) WATER IN ABAKALIKI.”

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