Drilling a well is a rather expensive operation, often costing several thousand dollars. But if you’re going to drill your own well, the first question you’re going to need to ask yourself is: Where? Where is the best place on your property to get what is called “sweet” water, rather than highly mineralized water?
In much of the country, anywhere you drill is going to yield pretty much the same results. Groundwater tends to run in aquifers, which are layers of water trapped in porous stone or sand. But if your underlying geology is rock, it may not be porous enough to allow water to flow through the rock. In cases like that, groundwater is going to be flowing through cracks in the rock, and these cracks are a much harder target to find.
So before drilling, it’s a good idea to do some investigating. That way, you’ll have a much better chance of actually finding water when you sink that hole.
First of All, Things to Avoid
There are a few things you want to avoid in your well drilling. These things can cause you problems, both in putting in your well and in getting clean water from it.
Septic tanks and leach fields — One of the common methods of spreading disease is what is known as the anal-bocal route. Feces from people who are infected with bacterial or viral infections also contain the viruses or bacteria that have infected those people. And bacteria can travel as far as 100 feet underground. So you want to avoid any wastewater to ensure that you don’t contaminate your water supply.
Rock outcroppings — Surface rock, especially partially-buried boulders, is a great indicator of subterraneous rock as well. Often, the surface rock is merely an extension of what is to be found underground. Small rocks aren’t really much of an issue, but large ones will slow your drilling progress.
Where to Research
A lot can be determined by some good old-fashioned research. There’s actually a fair amount of information about groundwater available online. The first source to try is the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). They publish quite a bit of data about groundwater, including a groundwater atlas of the country which shows all the aquifers. There also are a number of maps that can be useful.
The USGS also has a network of several thousand test wells that they monitor on a constant basis. These wells provide data on water table levels and aquifer levels. They can provide you with information about what the exact water level is at the time of drilling and whether it is dropping.
In addition to federal information, many states also have information about groundwater availability. What exact information is available will depend on the state you live in. But many states require a permit for well drilling, which means they have a database of all wells, their depths, the water quality and the amount of water flow they produce. This information can be useful in determining what the average depth is in your area. Simply look for several wells that are nearby.
One way this data may be presented is a “water availability map” which shows how much groundwater availability there is for any one area, as well as the depth of that water. This is the type of information that a hydrologist would use in creating a study of your land.
Of course, well drilling contractors have a pretty good idea about the water conditions in your area, where water can be found, the underground geology, and how deep of a well you’ll need to reach good water. While they would rather drill the well for you, most will act as consultants for a fee.
There is an incredible amount of controversy over the subject of water dowsing, often referred to in the negative sense as water witching. This ancient practice is seen by many to be just to the left of witchcraft. But the practice has been in use for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Water dousers use a forked stick, a pair of bent wires, or a plumb bob to find where to drill a well. When using the forked stick, the stick bends towards the ground when they pass over water. With the wires, the wires cross. So there is a clear indication of where water can be found.
The idea has been studied scientifically, with surprising results. A lot depends on how the actual test was conducted. In tests where they are expected to find water in underground pipes, water dousers are unsuccessful. But when they are asked to find naturally-occurring water in the ground, their success rate is much too high to be mere coincidence.
There is a nationwide organization of water dowsers, called the American Society of Dowsers (ASD). The society has more than 4,200 members and may be the best source for finding a dowser in your area.
What is your preferred method for finding water underground for drilling a well? Share your tips in the section below: