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Old Unused Water Wells: What to Do & How to Revive

Scott Winfield
Last Updated on
by Scott Winfield

Water drawn up from a private source is entirely in the legal domain of the owner. The upkeep of the well and the effect on the water table is a personal responsibility.

It is important to be well versed in maintaining and repurposing private water sources, both for safety and to get the most out of your resources.

How to Find a Well on Your Property

How to Find a Well on Your Property
How to Find a Well on Your Property

There are a few common signs that a landowner should look out for that could signal the existence of a well. It is best practice to look out for any wells that have gone out of service, especially before personal use of, or development on that land.

First, obtain documentation regarding the use of the land prior to current ownership. This should focus on water sources and use – even if known sources have been replaced. Documents useful for this purpose would include:

•Old maps

•Property blueprints or local well-logs

•Records about the current water utility

Those are just a few of the records available. In many places, residents must notify the government of water use changes, and these records are public.

Another more practical way of finding unused wells is to look for physical signs of a well.

An investigation of the property may uncover depressions or pits in the ground that may be evidence of a well. Also, any structures on the land may be linked to water sources.

A check of mysterious pipes may lead to connections to an undiscovered well.

Depressions or Pits in The Ground

A minor excavation of the area around a depression can reveal evidence of a well or water connection. These will be lining materials, such as metal plates, concrete, or wood.

Small Utility Buildings or Mills

Inspecting these structures is key to detecting unknown wells and access to water. They may have been the direct source of a water draw. Check the basement for pipes, drains, or manhole covers. 

There are other reasons to inspect these old structures as well. These include electrical wiring, structural damage, and waste dumping.

Employing a professional to do this work may be necessary to ensure a complete job and compliance with local ordinances.

Otherwise Inexplicable Pipes

If you have a pipe emerging from the ground and cannot discover its purpose, call a professional before investigating by yourself. Alternatively, some regions have agencies that can identify mysterious lines for you.

How Long Can a Well Sit Unused?

How Long Can a Well Sit Unused
How Long Can a Well Sit Unused?

How long a well can sit unused will depend on the construction and the surrounding area where it resides. Most wells that have sat dormant for more than a year should be inspected and treated as the condition demands.

Certain materials will erode faster and make the well structurally unstable. Even small metal bolts can leach harmful chemicals over time.

A well cannot simply be covered over at the top and must be sealed completely. If not inadequately covered, old water wells may also start to collect debris and let in the runoff. 

If you have just discovered a well and do not know its exact age, it is best to exercise caution. Hire an inspector or contractor, as wells can become dangerous after a relatively short period of inactivity.

Bear in mind, that a remote, or unused, well is often forgotten and thus will easily fall into disrepair. Any well found should be clearly marked and documented to ensure it is included in future planning and maintenance.

What Happens to an Unused Well?

Two of the biggest fears of any well is that it will collapse or someone will fall into it. If it has collapsed in on itself, this may be dangerous in its own right and can lead to water contamination.

Contamination can occur even if the well is buried but not properly sealed. Aside from the immediate physical danger, this could potentially affect a whole water table presenting problems to an entire community.

Unfortunately, it is not common for someone to fall into forgotten wells. It is vital to mitigate this risk with inspections, signs, and proper coverings.

Can a Water Well Collapse?

A water well, functional or not, can collapse due to poor maintenance or natural disaster. If you’re concerned that your water well may collapse, get a professional to inspect the area.

A collapse can also occur due to construction on a property close to the well. If there are any plans to alter the landscape, such as adding a structure, ensure that all parties involved are aware of the well.

Is it Bad For a Well to Not Be Used?

While it is not a problem to let a well go unused, they pose a potential danger due to neglect. Wells still in operation are not only safer for passers-by, but they also pose less of a threat to the water table.

How Do You Tell If a Well is Bad?

Local health services usually offer water testing, though they may charge a fee and may not be able to process your request on your schedule. Water quality testing companies can be more expensive, but they generally can operate more quickly.

Do not try to test the water yourself.

Before buying a property, have a professional test all wells for water quality. Water left to sit for a year or more should not be trusted without inspection.

Well water is typically stagnant when not in use and can foster algae, bacteria, and other hazards.

What to Do with an Old Water Well

What to Do with an Old Water Well
What to Do with an Old Water Well

If you are concerned with safety or do not intend to make personal use of the well, it is vital and often legally required to seal up an old water well.

This procedure is complete in a few steps. If recommended, have the water tested for contaminants and quality before work begins.

First, clear the well of any potential obstructions. Then fill the length of the well bottom-to-top with specially blended concrete, as not all varieties are suitable for use against water.

Decommissioning a well should only be performed by an experienced contractor. This is because they have the proper equipment, training, and knowledge of local regulations that may apply.

Proper sealing not only protects the water from seeping upwards but will also help to protect the groundwater from contamination.

After this point, it may be necessary to notify a local branch of the Department of Environmental Protection about the closure of the private well.

Note, it is a legal requirement in most states for owners to inform the local government about the presence of an old well before going through with the sale of a property.

How to Revive an Old Well

If you wish to use an old well, there are many steps to complete. Some of these can be completed by the property owners, but most will require certified professionals.

For example, the groundwater the well taps into must be checked by a professional contractor or government agency.

Minor structural concerns, such as small cracks, can often be repaired personally. You can also remove debris and foliage on your own.

Contractors should handle all other aspects of the work. Not only do they possess the equipment and experience for this specialized task, they understand the intense regulations placed on well operation and construction. 

They can also consult on obtaining permits to begin the work.

Note that an old well may not be suitable for reuse if contamination is detected. Gasoline, lead, or fertilizers make the water extremely difficult to clean effectively, even if other chemicals or bacteria may be able to be killed or removed.

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Scott Winfield
Scott Winfield
My name is Scott Winfield and researching and writing about water filters and other strategies to purify water has become my full time passion in recent years. I'm glad that you found our site and you can look forward to authoritative and well researched content here to help you get the best in water.
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