Drinking Water

Abandoned Wells

Each piece of land has a long history, and it’s common for properties to have had many owners over the years. Among land use changes that may have occurred over time is the construction of one or more water wells. Out-of-service wells of any type may pose potential safety hazards and threats to groundwater if not correctly maintained or decommissioned.

There may also be liability issues to consider if an old well on your property is proved to be a conduit for contaminants that reach groundwater. The biggest problem is that old wells can be forgotten—casings may deteriorate and rust and new owners or property developers can build over the old well site or unknowingly create a hazardous land use that allows contaminants to flow directly to groundwater.

Landowners should survey their property to find any old or out-of-service wells. Look 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 (perhaps covered by lumber or metal plates)

– Out-of-use windmills/wind pumps

Other clues about the location of any abandoned wells can be found in old maps, plans, and property title documents; talking with neighbors; additions to an old home (in the past, wells were commonly constructed in basements or under porches to keep the water pumps from freezing and to ease access in the winter); and the water utility history (i.w. what was the source of water for your home before utility water was available?).

Once a well is determined to have no current or potential future use, a water well contractor should be contacted about the most appropriate method of decommissioning the well. Wells should be sealed from the bottom up. Typically, only well contractors have the right equipment to do this. Any pumps, pipes, related equipment, or blockage should be removed from the well so that it may be filled in and sealed properly.

Approved backfilling and well sealing procedures vary from state to state. They generally require the use of special sealing material, usually cement-bentonite grout or bentonite clay chips.

In most cases, homeowners are required to notify their local Department of Environmental Protection or Water Quality Division to document the decommissioning of the well. Homeowners are urged to contact these environmental agencies to learn what procedures are required in their region.

Find out more about unused wells.

— Your friends at NGWA