Private Water Wells: Drilling For Answers

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As the Rim country’s water concerns increase with each passing drought, some homeowners might consider drilling a private water well right on their own yard.

Buzz Walker, the public works director for the town of Payson, is most definitely not one of them.

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Based on the ever-increasing number of private wells that are being drilled into Rim country soil, it is a near certainty that some local folks are leaping before they look at all of the considerations which should go into their creation.

“I absolutely wouldn’t drill a well on my property, and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone go out and establish a new well,” said Walker before launching into a lengthy litany of reasons.

“You can easily sink over $5,000 in a well. It won’t be ideally located like the town wells are. They’re subject to drought. They’re influenced by neighboring wells. Depending on where they’re placed they may be subject to contamination. And if you’ve just built a new house, and you’re either adjacent to an existing public water line or within 500 feet of one, you’ll have to pay that water-development fee even if you have your own well.

“But here’s the really big thing,” Walker adds. “When you go that route, you’re on your own when you have a problem and you may not know that you have a problem, because well-owners are not required by law to perform the kind of periodic testing that has to be done to public water supplies.”

Also, Walker explains, a well is a mechanical device, “and if there’s a problem with the device, it can’t be serviced by the owner. They’re subject to outages from being hit by lightning, age, mechanical failure, and if they’re not installed properly they can be contaminated by nearby septic tanks.”

The best example of that sort of contamination, Walker said, were the many private wells that once operated in the Main Street/Aero Drive area.

“That groundwater was contaminated for probably 20 years (by a long-defunct dry cleaning business that dumped its used chemicals onto the ground) before we had the new town well.”

The owners of those private wells didn’t perform the expensive tests that the town does, so they didn’t know what they were drinking.”

Yet another unfortunate drawback, Walker said, is that “a lot of properties aren’t ideally suited for a longer-term water supply. You may drill down and hit what’s called ‘first water,’ which is not connected to an aquifer and is really subject to the annual precipitation. It’s just a little pocket on hard rock. Or you can also spend a whole lot of money and end up with nothing, or end up with a dry or barely wet hole.”

That, Walker said, is the ultimate test.

“Anybody can say, ‘I can find it.’ But until you’ve spent that money to drill the hole in your ground, you haven’t proved that you’re correct.”

Of course, one’s chances of being correct increase in direct proportion to the quality of the company one has hired to drill the well and install the equipment. And according to Walker, the only well-drilling company in Payson Aero Drilling & Pump is a quality company.

“They’ve been in business up here since the early ’50s. They have a great deal of knowledge and are very good at estimating your odds of success in building a well. They really don’t want to get into a crapshoot.”

Still, Walker is adamant that he wouldn’t want a private well on his property even in the event of a critical water shortage.

“What I am for is wise water management,” he said. “Generally, when people have their own wells, there may be restrictions imposed in a water-shortage situation. If you’re not paying as much as you are to the town, normal economic logic says you’re probably going to use more water. That’s what we’ve seen, anyway.”

Establishing your water needs

Based on the ever-increasing number of private wells that are being drilled into Rim country soil, it would seem that several residents do not agree with Walker.

According to the National Ground Water Association (NGWA), the very first step in drilling a well is to estimate your water needs taking into account not only everyday use but also seasonal usage, such as watering lawns, washing cars and fire protection.

Most homes need a well that can produce seven gallons of water per minute. If this quantity can’t be met, an alternate storage system which can hold at least one day’s supply of water for everyone in the household may need to be installed.

While water needs can be easily calculated, determining actual water availability can be less certain. Review existing records of nearby wells and ground water studies on file with town and state water departments to determine if a well is a viable option. These reports include information on depths, types of rocks, water levels, and expected well yields.

Because low-yielding or even dry wells are not uncommon, it’s smart to drill the well before building the house. An expensive home with a poor water supply is not a good investment, the NGWA points out.

Take your time selecting who will drill your water well. Obtain information and price quotes from several contractors so comparisons can be made, and remember the lowest price often ends up leading to low-quality work.

Here are some things the NGWA says you should know about every contractor you consider:

  • Is the contractor registered or certified?
  • Does he have the proper equipment to do the job and is that equipment in good condition?
  • Does the contractor have insurance that will protect you?
  • Will he give you a contract detailing the exact terms and conditions of the job?
  • What is the contractor’s reputation? Ask for multiple references; then check them to see if they are indeed satisfied customers.

When you select a contractor, make sure several conditions are covered in the contract: Ask that all charges be itemized and that any guarantees on workmanship be put in writing. Also make sure that the contract spells out the diameter of the hole, the size and type of casing, the type of well screen that will be used, the amount of time the well will be test pumped, and the date a well log will be furnished.

For more information on water wells from the National Ground Water Association, visit www.wellowner.org.

In the Rim country, private water wells are installed by these local companies:

  • Aero Drilling & Pump, 201 W. Aero Drive in Payson. Call (928) 474-2376.
  • Central Arizona Drilling & Pump Co., 8486 Elk Road, Strawberry. Call (928) 476-2920.
  • Lundigan Drilling. Call (928) 468-0086.

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