Homestead Water Sources and Options

Mystified by water pumps and the prospect of digging a well to provide drinking water and more? Wade through your options for finding clean water and making it flow.


| August/September 2012



Homestead Illustration

There are several homestead water sources you can consider, including digging a well, accessing groundwater supplies and collecting rainwater.


ILLUSTRATION: ELAYNE SEARS

Water is an essential commodity no matter where you live, and for those who live in the country, developing a homestead water source and keeping it flowing is usually a personal responsibility. While the process may seem daunting at first, the details behind success are simple. I’ve developed homestead water sources and kept water flowing on my family homestead without professional help for more than 20 years. I’ve also helped friends and neighbors do the same. Except perhaps for drilling or digging the well itself, everything else about rural water is something you can likely handle on your own.

Before you call a piece of land your own, you need to ask the right people the right questions. Less-than-honest folks can hide issues such as insufficient, bad-tasting or contaminated water until your name is on the deed. Asking questions beyond the real estate agent or the seller may be the most important water-related skill you exercise. How deep do wells have to go to find abundant water in the area? Will sulphur water, natural gas or other facets of the local geology cause problems with water quality? If you’re looking at a property with an existing well, what kind of well is it and how deep is it? How far from the surface is the water, and how much reserve water does the well actually hold? In addition to asking neighbors and your local health department and extension office agents, you can go to the Water Systems Council website to find your state’s well-construction codes.

Water in the country can be found in three main locations, and wells are only one of them. Surface sources (springs, lakes, rivers, etc.) are often options, as is rainwater collection (learn more in A Better Rainwater Harvesting System). Of all these possibilities, wells are by far the most important. According to the National Groundwater Association, more than 13 million year-round households in the United States rely on groundwater exclusively, with 500,000 new residential water wells created annually using one of four main techniques.

Homestead Water Sources: Types of Wells

Wells can be deep or shallow, drilled, dug, bored or driven. Drilled wells are typically at least 25 feet deep, small in diameter (4 to 8 inches), and the only option for getting water from bedrock. Drilled wells include a metal tube (called a “casing”) pushed partway down into the hole and extending several feet above the surface to keep out surface water and dirt (see an illustration in the Image Gallery).

Traditionally, dug wells were made by hand and lined with stones, but today the work of digging a well is usually done by a backhoe or excavator. Dug wells can only be created in soil — they’re typically 24 to 36 inches in diameter and usually less than 30 feet deep. Tubular concrete well tiles keep soil and surface water out of the hole.

Bored wells are similar to dug wells, except they’re created by specialized equipment that augers a round hole into the soil. This lets bored wells extend from 30 all the way to 100 feet deep, and the boring operation is less disruptive to the surrounding landscape. Bored wells also use concrete well tiles to keep surface water, dirt and critters out of the hole.

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