Private wells are an alternative clean water source for those who can’t get access to tap water or are tired of paying huge monthly water utility bills.
Most wells have been in existence for decades and are often inherited upon the purchase of a new house/property, however, it’s also possible for houses and facilities without an existing well to drill one for themselves. If you’re considering drilling your own private well, you need to first be informed of the local and statewide regulations governing private wells.
Drilling a Private Well is Legal
Generally speaking, yes, you can drill a well on your private property. Many US states allow homeowners to drill their own well as long as they have an approved permit and/or license from the state and local authorities.
Each state has its own requirements that must be met before a permit can be issued. The process of getting a permit involves submitting an application for the permit, detailing the purpose of the well, and getting approval from local offices if required. You may also be required to pay a permit application fee.
Some states also require you to have a license before you can dig a well in your property. A well-digging license should not be confused with a permit. The permit is a document that allows you to have a well on your property. The license proves that you have hired a contractor that is fit to perform the task. If the state demands a license, you must hire a licensed contractor to drill the well.
Further Regulations & Requirements to Note
Depending on the state laws, you may need to obtain separate permits from your local health district or health department, engineer’s office, department of environmental control, and other local and statewide authorities.
Even after getting the permit, you also need to adhere to safety laws that regulate the size, depth, and shape of your well. Furthermore, you may need to purchase water rights depending on the state regulations.
Water rights are legal rights that authorizes entities such as property owners and private companies to use, divert or manage water. It regulates how public and private landowners use water from a specified source. While surface water belong to the public, groundwater rights changes from state to state. Most states allow homeowners free to use access to the body of water within their property.
Urban areas often require additional pump and filter systems regulation, since the groundwater is often contaminated and if not properly drilled, can pose a health hazard to other well owners in the vicinity.
As you can probably tell by now, there are many things to consider. Luckily, we prepared a table that shows all the essential information you need, including a state-by-state rundown of the necessary permits.
What You Need To Drill Your Own Well
Here is a helpful table that shows the state-by-state regulations and costs of drilling a residential well. Note that this only applies to wells for private use, and not commercial wells.
- You can see the necessary legal documents and permits required to drill a well under the regulations column.
- We also included drilling costs per foot on average, so you get a better idea of how much it costs to drill a well.
- While we listed state regulations, you should always check with your local county and city agencies to see if they require further permits. Depending on your local regulations, you may also have to pay a permit application fee.
- Check with the appropriate agencies to see how much you have to pay. You can find the necessary information on their websites.
|Drilling Cost Per Foot
|Well driller’s license required
|Water rights required
|Notice of Intent required
|Contractor’s license required , Certificate of registration required
|License and permit required
|Permit & license required
|District of Columbia
|License not required for wells < 2″ diameter, Inquire with County for permits
|Permit from required License from Public Health required
|Permit required from local health department
|License or permit not required for drive-point well
|Permit not required for private property owners
|Permit not required for certain private wells, Wells must be registered with the Department of Natural Resources
|License not required for drilling on one’s own property
|Permit not required for private property owners
|Permit not required
|Permit not required for private property owners
|License not required for private water well owners
|License not required when drilling on one’s own property, Permit required from Department of Health and Environmental Control
|Permit not required for domestic use
|License not required when drilling no one’s own property
|License not required for private wells less than 30 feet deep, Water rights required
|Permits and licenses required by local health districts
|Permit and License required
|License not required for drilling, License required for pump installation
|Permit required by Engineer’s Office
As we previously discussed, groundwater rights are an important matter for well owners. In some states, you may be allowed to drill and use groundwater for your residential (or even commercial purposes). Others will require you to purchase water rights (although residential use is mostly free except for permit application fees).
Due to the vastly different terrains and landscape, there are no overarching rules that regulate groundwater use as a whole. Each state has a different approach to water rights.
So do you need to purchase water rights if you want to build a well? How much water can you draw from a well before you have to pay for it? The answer to these questions varies between states, according to their particular groundwater doctrines.
There are five common legal doctrines that apply to groundwater regulations in the United States:
- The absolute dominion doctrine
- The restatement of torts doctrine
- The correlative rights doctrine
- The reasonable use doctrine
- The prior appropriation doctrine
|The Reasonable Use doctrine
|The Absolute Dominion rule
|The Prior Appropriation doctrine
|The Restatement of Torts rule
|The Restatement of Torts rule
|Alabama Arizona Arkansas Delaware Florida Illinois Kentucky Maryland Michigan Missouri New Jersey New York North Carolina Oklahoma Pennsylvania Virginia
|Connecticut Georgia Indiana Louisiana Maine Minnesota Massachusetts Mississippi Rhode Island Texas Vermont
|Alaska Colorado Idaho Kansas Nevada New Mexico Oregon Utah Washington Wyoming
|Michigan Ohio Wisconsin
|Arkansas California Iowa Minnesota Oklahoma Vermont Nebraska
Doctrine of Reasonable Use Doctrine
The reasonable use doctrine allows well owners to use the groundwater that is beneath their property but with a caveat: they’re not allowed to monopolize the water source.
The premise is simple: you can make use of the groundwater as long as you don’t infringe on anyone else’s territory, waste the water, or deplete the water source. Inspections are pretty rare, but it doesn’t mean you should break the regulations.
Doctrine of Absolute Dominion
As you can tell from the name, this doctrine allows property owners complete control over the water source, as long as it’s beneath their property.
Basically, you can pump and use the water as you like without consideration for your neighbor. Bottled water companies often take advantage of this doctrine since there’s no limit to the amount of water you can draw.
Doctrine of Restatement of Torts
The restatement of torts doctrine is a mix of the reasonable use and absolute dominion doctrine. This doctrine allows well owners to use as much water as they long as the total shore of groundwater is not exceeded.
Doctrine of Prior Appropriation
According to the prior appropriation doctrine, the first person to use the groundwater source has dominion over it. It’s an old doctrine that is still in use in some states.
Doctrine of Correlative Rights
This is a tricky one since it allows multiple owners to have access to a water source. If there is a clash of interests, then the problem is resolved in court.
The Average Cost of Drilling a Well
Once you ascertain it’s legal to drill your own well, the next step should be getting a sense of what the whole well drilling operation will cost you.
Although it varies by location, the average cost of drilling a residential well is in the range of $3,750 to $15,300 or $25 to $65 per ft. This cost covers all the tools, equipments and manpower needed to drill the well.
Here’s a breakdown of the average equipment prices:
|$300 – $2,000
|Add Electric Line
|$500 – $1,500
|Cycle Stop Valve
|Well Cap/ Seal
|Control Panel Wiring Kit
|Lab Water Testing
Can You Dig a Well By Hand?
Yes, you can dig a well by hand although we don’t recommend doing it. Manually digging a well is very dangerous due to the risk of the well collapsing and lack of oxygen as you dig deeper.
Even if you decide to dig by hand, you’re only allowed to dig a shallow well around 20 to 30 ft deep underground, as per state regulations. Unfortunately, shallow wells have a big disadvantage since they’re susceptible to pollution.
Without proper guidance, there’s also no guarantee that you’re digging the correct spot. You’ll have to start all over again if you hit a bedrock. So we don’t advise that you dig your well by hand. Your best bet is to hire a contractor for the job.
Contractors have the means to identify a water source, so most people consult professionals before attempting to drill on their own. If you’re determined to go ahead with the project, there are a few things you should pay attention to.
- Hand-dug wells are usually round with a diameter of three or four feet. Anything narrower than this may trap the person digging the well.
- If the process involves more than one person, extend the diameter to about five feet or more.
- The most important thing when digging a well by hand is to establish a lining on the well. Concrete is a good choice for well lining, but you can also use bricks. You should make the lining thick so the uneven water pressure won’t cause shatter points.
DIYing your own well isn’t an easy project. Even if you need to dig a well manually, it’s still a good idea to contact a contractor beforehand and ask for tips and pointers. Of course, you can always hire a licensed contractor to dig it for you.
Considerations for Hiring a Well Contractor
Hiring the right contractor is one of the most important parts of drilling a well. A great contractor can make or break the entire process.
Here are some key questions to ask before hiring a well water systems contractor:
- Does the contractor have a National Ground Water Association (NGWA) certification?
- Can the contractor deliver a well log for the construction? This is a document that tracks the process of the build, as well as the immediate surroundings.
- Does the contractor possess the tools to get the job done?
- Does the contractor have insurance for the people that they employ?
- Can the contractor comply with the state health and safety protocols?
- Make sure that you are familiar with the contractor’s reputation.
After asking these questions, you can then evaluate contractors by following the guidelines below:
One of the best ways to gauge a contractor is by word of mouth. Do you have some friends or family that had a good experience with a contractor?
If you don’t have anyone in your immediate circle, don’t be afraid to reach out to locals in your area who have a well of their own. Most well owners will be more than happy to share their experiences with you and help you out.
Also, look for similar projects if possible. This will ensure that the contractor has the necessary experience to build a well that suits the properties of the land and your house.
Another plus is that if they have done a similar job before close by, they are already familiar with all of the local laws and regulations.
Once you have your sights set on a contractor, you should interview them to get a better sense of what they’re like and gain some insight into their process.
The more questions you ask, the less hassle you’re likely to face during construction. Ask specific questions – everything about their history and process should be crystal clear to you before negotiating price.
You can also ask for previous project references and clients.
Contractors Should Bid
Contractors should go through the complete process with you to sort out every detail before getting started.
Their bid should clearly outline the labor, materials used, and profit margins for you. You should expect the labor rates to be anywhere between 20-35% of the total budget.
Building materials usually account for 45% of the costs, on top of the 15% that go to other expenses for unforeseen circumstances.
Keep in mind that the lowest bid is not necessarily the best. The quality and approach of the contractor are a lot more important than the price.
Make a Contract
Make sure you have a proper contract agreement between you and the contractor. The contract should be easy to understand and have a clear outline.
Important points to include in the contract:
- labor fees
- materials fees
- blueprint designs
By setting everything in stone, you are ensuring that both parties will honor the agreement.
Most contractors will ask for 10-20% upfront payment to kick-start the project. Only make the final payment if the job is complete and you’re satisfied with the work done.
The Best Well Maintenance Practices
Here are some further tips for maintaining your well, according to the NGWA:
- Don’t forget to run an annual water quality test. Run this test even more frequently if there is a change in the taste and texture of your water.
- Make sure your well infrastructure does not come in contact with chemicals, fertilizers, paints, pesticides, or oil.
- Make sure that the well cap and cover are snug to the well casing.
- Steer clear from back-siphonage. Keep the hose outside the well container when applying pesticides or fertilizers.
- Have the top of your well a foot above the ground when landscaping.
- Maintain the casing of your well regularly. This includes getting rid of excess grass, snow, and leaves.
- Have the records for your well at hand at all times. The construction report, system maintenance, and water tests should be stored with utmost care.
- Keep an eye on the area that surrounds your well.
- When a well is no longer usable, have it sealed by a professional contractor.
As you can tell, drilling your own well is no easy task. You need to research, obtain the right permits, and calculate the drilling costs before you even think of reaching out to a professional contractor.
We don’t advise that you drill a well by hand. Make sure you hire a licensed contractor with the necessary experience for the project.