9 Questions To Ask Before Drilling A Water Well

Drilling a water well Drilling a water well is hard dirty work.Truck Mounted Drill RigDrilling a Water Well Truck Mounted Drill Rig

Whether you are thinking about drilling a water well on your property or considering buying land and would like to know the potential for success for drilling on that property, there are many questions you need to answer. There are no simple solutions, no detailed maps of ground-water presence, and no guarantees. Drilling can be very expensive and the potential for success varies.  Also, regulations and permitting is different from state to state and even county to county.  But information is available that can be helpful when making a decision about whether to drill, or where to drill.

Recently I followed the well drilling progress of Brett Rye in Tonto Basin, Arizona.  Brett has a fruit orchard and irrigates using drip irrigation. He also wants to use the water to irrigate his landscape and use the water domestically. On average Tonto Basin receives about 17 inches of rain per year.  Below are the answers Brett arrived at before he drilled his well.

Why drill a well?

Drilling a well gives me control over my water supply.  There is a very good supply of water in my area due to a natural riverbed feeding a chain of lakes in central Arizona.  Unfortunately the local water company is known to have equipment issues which can prevent them from supplying all the water I need.  I believe access to water will become more difficult in the future so I want to secure my source now.  Potentially in the long run the water from my well could be less expensive than what I would purchase.

How did you select a drilling company or person to drill the well?

I spoke with several well drillers and contractors in the area.  I decided on Jim Barton with Midway Trading Company.  He has a lot of experience and came highly recommended.  He also uses a cable tool rig which is what I wanted.

What technique will you use to drill?   

There are different methods of drilling but the two most commonly used in my area are cable tool rigs and rotary drill rigs.  A cable tool rig raises a large drill tool weighing approximately 1,500 pounds and drops it continually on the same spot, pulverizing whatever is in its path.  After a few feet the tool is hoisted out of the way and a bailer is dropped down the hole to remove the debris.  A rotary drill uses high pressure and continually drills without having to bail the hole.  The debris is washed out while drilling.  I decided on a cable tool rig because I don’t expect to have a large supply of water and it is easier for the driller to identify a small amount of water seeping into the well when using a cable tool rig.

What is water witching?  Did you consider trying it?

Witching is a method of locating water underground by using a stick or divining rod.  According to people who do believe in witching, they can feel the stick bend toward the ground when it is over water.  I don’t have any faith in witching.

What permits do you need to drill a well?

An application for Intent to Drill had to be filed with the Arizona Department of Water Resources.  An inspection of the property was also done by the local health department to verify there were no hazards such as septic fields within 100 feet of the well location.  The fees were $100 for each.

Do you have to pay someone for the water? 

There are no fees for the water and my well will not be metered.

How much water will you be able to draw?

For an “exempt” well on my residence, I can pump up to 35 gallons per minute with a total draw of 10 acre feet per year.  That’s over 3 million gallons a year, far more than I could ever use.

How will you pump the water to the surface?

That depends on how deep I have to go and how much water is available.  I am considering solar power, a windmill, and direct power from my home to run a pump.

What is the maintenance required after you drill the well?

Once the well is dug and water is located it must be cased to prevent the hole from caving in.  Casing can be steel or PVC depending on if you are drilling through rock or clay.  The bore hole for my well is 8 inches and will be cased with 6 inch PVC pipe at a cost of around $7 a foot.  At that point I will have to decide which method to use to pump the water.  The maintenance then depends on the system.  Electric pumps and seals on windmill pumps can fail after a few years and must be replaced.  There is usually a minimal amount of actual well hole maintenance unless it plugs up due to sand or other debris.

As water becomes more scare we will see more people investigating the potential to secure water for their landscape and domestic use.  The process is complicated and like most complicated processes the more and better questions you can ask before you invest your money the higher the probability for success and lower the cost.  These are just a few questions I suggest.  I’m sure our readers will have more of their own and I look forward to reading them in the comments section.


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Richard Restuccia

Richard Restuccia is a water management evangelist. He believes passionately in water efficiency and sees the financial and social benefits far too often to keep a secret. As the Director for Water Management Solutions at ValleyCrest, Richard is our spokesperson at industry events and on the Hill to provide direction and insight on landscape water management best practices. Richard puts his words into action through service on various boards and committees. Currently he serves on the Irrigation Association’s Board of Directors. As a board member, Richard serves in a variety of capacities, including government/public affairs. He is the liaison between the board and its marketing committee on the best ways to promote water efficiency and educate industry professionals on new technologies, products and services. Richard is also a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.


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