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Drilling a Water Well

In areas without piped water, homeowners rely on wells to provide them with fresh water. If water is 50 feet or less below the surface and you are going through soil rather than rock, less expensive methods than drilling can be used. You can have a contractor drive a small diameter pipe to the required depth, or you can dig a well by shovel (like the old fashioned ones you sometimes see lined with brick or stone). One problem with these shallow wells is that the water is prone to contamination, making it unsuitable for human consumption. Another is that the water table drops deeper into the ground during dry periods and times of high use, causing shallow wells to sometimes run dry. If the well has to be of any real depth to reach the water source, it is a job best left to a professional with the right equipment.

Drilling a well involves a lot of uncertainty, although an experienced driller in your area can be better at estimated the work than others. Before signing, be sure you understand what the driller will do for what price, who assumes the cost of a dry or poorly performing well, and the maximum depth and ground conditions the driller will work with. The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) is a professional association that certifies contractors in this field. Professional designations include Certified Well Driller (CWD) and Certified Pump Installer (CPI or CWD/PI), both of which require examinations, continuing education, and clean legal records. The Master Ground Water Contractor (MGWC) is the highest professional designation in this field, and requires at least 5 years of experience in the industry plus demonstration of superior knowledge.

The precise methods used to drill a well will be dictated by several factors, including the depth of the aquifer (underground water source) and the type of ground (rocky or soft soil) that must be penetrated to reach it. Needless to say, the deeper the aquifer and the rockier the ground, the more expensive the process will be.

When contracting for a well, remember that there is more to it than just drilling the hole:

  • The well must be lined with a “casing” to prevent soil from collapsing into the borehole and to create an unobstructed conduit for the water to be brought to the surface. This casing normally is either a steel or plastic (PVC) pipe, but sometimes concrete, cement, or fiberglass. The pipe must be strong enough to withstand being driven down the borehole, with the stresses on the pipe increasing as the depth of the well increases. The casing must also prevent the invasion of potentially contaminated groundwater into your well. Steel casing is the norm for wells through hard rock. Steel is stronger and resists heat better, but it can corrode and attract mineral deposits. PVC is lightweight, easier to install, corrosion-resistant, and cheaper.
  • The well must be capped. Well caps include an air vent that balances the air pressure between the inside of the casing and the outside atmosphere. They also allow the venting of unpleasant or explosive gases. If explosive gases are at all likely to be present, the vent must be outdoors, not indoors. The vent also should be properly screened to prevent foreign objects, insects, etc., from entering the well. The casing and cap must extend at least 6-8 inches above the ground (and possibly much higher if the area is prone to flooding) to prevent contamination of the well.
  • The disinfection of the well.

When the well is complete, you can verify the depth by tying a weight on a string or tape and lowering it in. The well's yield is normally expressed in gallons per minute (gpm). Ask the

contractor how many gpm were withdrawn during testing, how far the water level dropped, and how long it took to recover. These facts will give you an idea of how intensively you can use your well.

Be sure that you get a copy of the well record from the driller and keep this with your deed. When buying a house with a well, be sure that you see their well record..

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