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    What Lies Beneath | Spring 2007 Out Here Magazine

    Because well water comes from deep beneath the surface, it’s crucial to be aware of potential contamination sources.

    Know your property inside and out before siting a water well

    By Renee Elder

    Illustrations courtesy of
    The National Ground Water Association

    Getting pure water directly from their own well is an advantage that 12 million U.S. households enjoy. But before you drill your own, know how to choose a proper site so your water stays pure.

    Becoming a successful well owner starts by picking the right site, says Cliff Treyens, director of Public Awareness for the National Ground Water Association.

    "There are below-the-ground considerations — the geology, basically — and there are above-the-ground considerations. Those include the contours of the land and any potential sources of contamination," Treyens says.

    Wells draw water from underground aquifers. Once a hole is drilled into the aquifer, a pipe, called the casing, is sunk into the hole to carry water to the surface.

    Determining the best spot to sink the hole starts by knowing what lies beneath the topsoil, Treyens says.

    "Some areas are more challenging than others," he says. "Bedrock, for example, is impermeable. Wells drilled in bedrock are drawing water from fissures or cracks in the rock, and that can be harder to find than a well drilled into a different type of a geology, such as sandy soils, which hold water like a big old sponge."

    Also consider the land's contours. If a well goes in at a low spot, heavy rains could pool and that surface water, which may contain bacteria, herbicides, and pesticides, could contaminate the underground source, Treyens says.

    "The space between the hole and the casing is filled with a special kind of grout," he explains. "If water pools around the well head, it increases the chances that — if there are any problems with the grout — water could get down into the aquifer."

    Under normal conditions, contaminants are filtered out naturally as water seeps slowly through the earth and into the aquifer.

    An ideal well site would be 200 yards or more from potential contamination sources.

    "If you are in an agricultural area, you wouldn't want your well to be close to a feed lot or animal enclosure, because of the potential for water with bacteria due to animal waste," Treyens says.

    Also steer clear of garbage dumps, septic fields, or agricultural fields that contain pesticides or fertilizers.

    Contact your local health department to determine whether industrial wastes or other chemicals have ever been disposed of near your property, Treyens advises.

    Finally, your ideal well site should remain easily accessible.

    "If you put a well head somewhere that it is very difficult to get to, a drill rig may not be able to get in and out if you ever need to have work done on the well," Treyens says.

    Treyens strongly urges landowners to contact a professional water well contractor as the first step in exploring options for a well.

    Local contractors are likely to know the history and geography of your area, along with governmental rules and restrictions concerning water wells.