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What's Wrong With This Well?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Water . When you don't have it - you can find out who your true friends are. Your true friends are the ones who open the door when you are standing outside with a towel, toothbrush, razor, and clean pair of underwear in hand.

Last week I turned the tap at the kitchen sink and .... nothing happened. Plumbing is far beyond my area of expertise, so I called for professional help. The plumber poked around and decided everything from the well pump to the kitchen tap was in perfect working order. Like any good debugging session, there was only one possibility left – not enough water left in the well.

There are about 20 million people in the United States drawing water from private wells. These wells can go dry for a number of reasons. A lack of rain is one reason, but there is also overdraft (removing too much water from the ground) and the mysteries of geological change.

I had three options:

  1. Fill the well.
  2. Drill a new well.
  3. Frack the existing well.

In option 1, I call someone who can pour a truckload of water into the well. This solution is viable when there is a severe drought and the water table has dropped below the well. The standard 15 cm diameter well can hold about 1.5 gallons of water per foot of depth. I'd be hoping that heavy rains can once again raise the water table and the well will begin a natural recovery before exhausting the pumped in water. We've been dry, but it didn't sound like this was a long term solution to my problem.

In option 2, I faced a few unknowns. Nobody can tell me how deep someone will need to drill before reaching an aquifer. Wells in my area can range from 100 feet to 900 feet (30m to 270m) in depth. Since a well driller might charge anywhere from $20 to $40 a foot, there is a lot of variability in the cost.

Option 3 is something I hadn't previously heard of. In fact, when someone suggested "fracking" my well, I took it as a euphemism for "screw it - fuggetaboutit - it's dead". As it turns out, "fracking" means "hydro-fracturing" - a technology adopted from the oil and gas industries. The frackers can give you a set cost ($2k - $4k), and fracking works 97% of the time. Fracking is the option I took. Fracking uses high pressure to clean the rock fissures of sediment and create new fractures in the rock, thus allowing more water into the well.

The fracking took about 4 hours. First, the frackers have to remove the pump, hose, and cables from the well. Next, the frackers lower a packer into the well, and inflate the packer (think of a packer as a heavy-duty balloon). The frackers then fill the area under the packer with potable, chlorinated water and add pressure. Tremendous amounts of pressure – typically 1000 to 3000 psi. The frackers continue to add water and raise the pressure until the pressure drops off and stabilizes. For my well, the drop-off happened at 1500 psi. After that point, there is the reinstallation of the pump and the cleanup.

Water flows once again!

Here are two of the links I found interesting during this process.

Wellowner.org – informing consumers about ground water and water wells.

USGS – Ground Water and the Rural Homeowner