For the nearly 40 million Americans who own wells, there is no better time to act to protect drinking water quality than on Protect Your Groundwater Day, according to the National Ground Water Association. This annual event will take place on September 5 this year.
Two key actions well owners can take to protect groundwater are to make sure (1) there is a proper well cap on top of the well, and (2) that any abandoned wells or boreholes on their property are properly plugged (i.e., decommissioned) — the subject of the Association’s recently produced Cap It, Plug It! video.
If an active water well is not capped properly — or if an abandoned well is not plugged properly — it can be a direct pathway for contamination from above the ground to the groundwater used by well owners for drinking.
Private well owners are responsible for monitoring the ongoing quality of their drinking water.
What makes a properly capped water well?
Not just any covering will do on top of the well casing, that vertical pipe that extends above the ground in a water well. A proper well cap should:
- Be in good condition
- Have a rubber seal to prevent anything from infiltrating the well where the cap is joined to the well casing
- Be bolted or locked, so that it cannot be easily removed.
A well cap that lacks a rubber seal, or is cracked or otherwise broken, can allow bugs, vermin, bacteria, or other types of contaminants above the ground surface into the well. A tight-fitting well cap that is not bolted or locked can be jarred loose or removed by someone other than the well owner.
Well caps should be installed by a water well system professional, and any well cap maintenance or replacement should also be done by a professional. In addition, a well system should be disinfected when a well cap is installed, repaired, or replaced.
How do I properly plug an abandoned well?
The challenge is sometimes to find abandoned wells on one’s property. Some abandoned wells are obvious while others are not. Survey the property for:
- Pipes sticking out of the ground
- Small buildings that may have been a well house
- Depressions in the ground
- The presence of concrete vaults or pits
- Out-of-use windmills.
Other tips for finding old, abandoned wells can be found in:
- Old maps, property plans, or property title documents
- Additions to an old home, which may be covering an abandoned well
- The knowledge of the neighbors.
A water well system professional may do additional checking — including a records check — for more information about abandoned wells.
A water well system professional should always plug an abandoned well using proper techniques, equipment, and materials. The professional should:
- Remove all material from the well that may hinder proper plugging
- Disinfect the well
- Plug the well using a specialized grout that (1) keeps surface water from working its way into the borehole, and (2) prevents water from different levels in the subsurface from mixing.
The cost to plug a well depends on factors including the:
- Depth and diameter of the well
- Geology of the area
- Accessibility to the well
- Condition of the well.
Visit WellOwner.org to get more information about protecting groundwater and water well maintenance.