Water Well Drilling: How Our Well Works, Part 1

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Kongs
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The Small Home, Big Decisions series follows Jennifer and her husband, Tyler, as they build a self-reliant homestead on a piece of country property in northeastern Kansas. The series will delve into questions that arise during their building process and the decisions they make along the way. The posts are a work in progress, written as their homestead-building adventure unfolds.

For several months, we were oscillating between drilling a water well and hooking up to the rural water system. We knew abundant water (that we were told was clean, just a little salty) was available underground, and we liked the idea of not paying a water bill ever again (who doesn’t?). We weren’t at all familiar with the maintenance of a well or the process for pumping the water from underground into our house. Could we drink that water? How deep would the well need to be? Would it need to be treated? So many questions!

Our decision was made much easier when we looked into the details of connecting to the rural water line. The line was located across the road (which is a small state highway) from our property, meaning we would have to pay for the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) — or a state-approved subcontractor — to drill a line under the highway (!) and onto our property. The cost of getting the line to reach our land was as much as the entire cost of drilling a well, connecting the water lines from the well to our house, and plumbing throughout the house combined.

We decided to go for the well option, and figure out the details of how it all worked as we went along. We were afforded this more lax approach because our contractor, Jeff Wooster, is familiar with water well installation and living with a well, and we found a certified well installer we trusted and who was familiar with the region (phew). We also reviewed the EPA’s documents on well water for household use and drinking.

Our first step was to call a professional who was familiar with the water in the area to set a location that would work for our house and our future outdoor water pumps and use. We considered witching for water, but the well installer assured us we’d have no trouble. To prevent groundwater contamination, the EPA recommends wells be placed a minimum distance of 50 feet from septic tanks, leach fields and livestock yards; 100 feet from petroleum tanks, liquid-tight manure storage and fertilizer storage and handling; and 250 feet from manure stacks. Well owners must be aware when storing chemicals, manure, fertilizer, etc., as what gets put on the ground will end up in the groundwater — and thus — the household water.

The installer drilled the well (see the image above) 150 feet deep, which got the line well into the bedrock. The cap sticks up a couple of feet from the ground, and the ground immediately surrounding the cap and exposed pipe slopes away from the well. He then installed a submersible pump (which runs on electricity).  He buried a water line to the house beneath the frost line. Another line was dug to a pump he installed at the corner of our soon-to-be hog pen (more on this porcine project later). We will take a sample of the water to be tested to find out what, if any, treatment we need to do to ensure we have safe, potable water.

Our well maintenance plan, in addition to proper installation, pumping and inspecting our septic system in a timely and regular manner, and care of our watershed, includes the following checks:

– Monthly: Check visible parts of the system fro cracks, corrosion, broken or missing pieces, or settling and cracking (especially of the well cap and surface seals).

– Annually: Have the water tested for bacteria, nitrates, and other contaminants.

– Ongoing: Keep accurate records, including construction reports, maintenance records, any chemicals used and water-testing results.

What happens once the water gets inside the house is the subject of the next post. We are going to extend the well posts to be a three-part write-up, instead of the original two, because getting water tested, and the resulting treatment process, deserves its own post. Stay tuned!

Next in the series: Native Wildflowers and Prairie Grass Identification: Learning Our Land

Previously in the series:
Septic System Installation (with Photos!)


Jennifer Kongs
 is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can connect directly with Jennifer and Tyler by leaving a comment below!