• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Anne Miller
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • Pearl Sutton
  • Mike Haasl
  • paul wheaton
stewards:
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • Dave Burton
  • Joseph Lofthouse
master gardeners:
  • jordan barton
  • Greg Martin
gardeners:
  • Carla Burke
  • Ash Jackson
  • Kate Downham

Buying property with old hand dug well - thoughts and advice please!

 
Posts: 18
Location: PA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We have discovered that the water source for the house we are under contract on is an old hand dug well. We had a well company survey the well and he reports that it does not look sanitary and even if it would test OK to drink, that within enough time ground water would seep in and probably contaminate it.

I am considering asking for a new machine drilled well. What would be ideal? Can these old wells be retrofitted? I hate to just abandon the well all together. I was thinking that we could drill a new well and then use this old one for something (ie watering trees, shrubs, etc)?

Am I overreacting? Can hand dug wells be fine and safe drinking water sources? I wonder if the guy who did the survey is trying to drum up business? Any of you out there drinking from hand dug wells, currently?
 
gardener
Posts: 3203
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
867
forest garden trees woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Kellan Cook wrote:Can hand dug wells be fine and safe drinking water sources? I wonder if the guy who did the survey is trying to drum up business? Any of you out there drinking from hand dug wells, currently?



I honestly would not trust the well-drilling guy to give you an honest answer.

It's not current, but in the 1970s-1980s I lived in a small town in Alaska (population about 200 people) for whom the municipal water supply was a hand dug well about 100 years old, that had originally been equipped with a windmill pump and a 2000-gallon elevated cistern made of redwood. My father once won a "Good Citizenship Award" (and a $50 check of symbolic thanks) from the city council for spending three days with another man climbing up and down the ladder to the bottom of the well (which was about 70 feet deep) cleaning out sediment. In those days it tested fine for E. Coli despite being within 500 feet of at least a dozen outhouses that were in active use. I'm told that the E. Coli finally overwhelmed the system sometime in the early 21st century (there's still very little in the way of modern sewage handling in that town), and they had to dig a deeper modern well in another location.

Of course if you can demand a new well without blowing up the deal, why not? But if not, I'd get a second opinion on the well, and maybe a test (they're cheap and your seller might cheerfully pay for that).

If you do demand and get a new well, consider maintaining the old one for irrigation. You might even be able install a hand pump so that you have a secure source of irrigation water in the event of zombie apocalypse (my personal code for "unspecified future stuff-hits-the-fan difficulties that mess up the civilized services we all enjoy").
 
Kellan Cook
Posts: 18
Location: PA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I sort of feel the same way. Not sure how much merit I should put in the well driller's opinion on the old well. There estimate is 6700 for new well drilled and pump installed. Seems wasteful to me before even knowing anything about the old well.

So, I have another guy coming out to look at it. He says there are many hand dug wells in the area, which people are successfully using. Also, he thinks it would be putting out good mountain water due to where the farm is situated. I guess I could always ask for the new well drilled, especially since we did a full price offer (we had competition). I just hate to be so wasteful and completely disregard a potentially good well.

I am still curious to hear from those who are on hand dug wells, currently. Is maintenance an issue? Constant testing necessary? How often do you change your UV lightbulbs?
 
steward
Posts: 1191
Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
122
goat duck trees books chicken bee
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
If the second guy says drill, I'd ask for the money off the price, rather than having them drill it. Then get a Berkey water filter and bank the difference until it becomes an actual problem.
 
Posts: 9002
Location: Victoria British Columbia-Canada
670
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
A casing that prevents surface water from running in and a roof to keep bird poop and bats out, should be sufficient.
 
Posts: 826
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
113
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
How deep is the hand-dug well? What kind of soil is it in? What kind of bedrock do you have? Are there other springs on the property? What's uphill from the well, even several miles? (Google Earth helps with this) like cows or large acreages using high nitrate fertilizers? If it is a surface water well, then that's what's going to be in it. There's probably bricks around the edges now? Or how is it lined?

Did the well estimate include permit fees?

Is there power nearby where the new well might be, or is that an expense to get it there?

Will your lender lend on property with a hand-dug well?

Does it provide enough fire protection? Do you have to have tanks with, say, 7500 gallons in them for fire? Yours is the only water that will save your place.
 
Kellan Cook
Posts: 18
Location: PA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
All good thoughts!

So we had a second opinion from a contractor who specializes in water treatment, instead of drilling. He measured the well @ 29 feet. With 6-7 feet of water in it, during a dry time. He seemed surprised. We also had a chance to talk to the owner, who states that his family has lived on the farm since the 80s and had up to 13 horses all drinking from the well. We took his story with a grain of salt, however, it seems the area is known for its hand dug wells, since it must run right off the nearby mountain.

The contractor tested the water. It does have E-coli and coli-form. He assured us that with a UV light and water softener the water would be potable. It was about a quarter of the price of a new machine drilled well. There is a buffalo farm just uphill from us, so the findings of the test makes sense I think.

I think we are going to ask the seller to make all the recommended changes and go with the hand dug well. I just can't see drilling a new well, that over time, may or may not have the same e-coli and colliform in as the hand dug well. Not to mention it seems wasteful to me, since it appears that the hand dug well can provide plenty of water.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 826
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
113
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The test of a well is that when you pump that 6-7 feet of water out of it, how long does it take to refill. The e. coli could be from any number of things, particularly really slow refilling and varmint infiltration and/or ground water that picks it up from the soil or the septic, or the neighbor's septic.

Sounds like you want this place and you want to make it work. It's not late in the season, so 6-7 feet might be 3 feet in October. Maybe ask for half of the cost of a new well, split the difference with the seller, and see what happens. Living with it for a year will let you know. Water is crucial on a property, and adds to the value. no matter how great the rest of it seems. Otherwise, it's a frustrating and expensive part of it all. A new well has to be cased and sealed, and that keeps the water clean.

Be sure to install water filters under the sinks to protect you from e. coli (because it won't go away) and change them often.





 
Kellan Cook
Posts: 18
Location: PA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Is it true that the UV light will stop the bacteria from replicating and, therefore, also make them harmless? We are definately putting a UV light on it as well as a water softener. I guess the real test, that we did not perform, is how much refilling capacity the well has. Thanks for all the responses!
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 826
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
113
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here's the kind of research you can do on how to treat the water.

http://www.waterandhealth.org/newsletter/private_wells.html

Storing the water in tanks helps get through dry spells, and the tanks can be shocked with chlorine, then charcoal filters under the sinks will take the chlorine back out again.


UV light wouldn't be enough because there is always new water with e.coli in it coming into the well.
 
Kellan Cook
Posts: 18
Location: PA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have been told my various well companies and water treatment contractors that a UV light is what people use to treat the coliform and e-coli. Are they all wrong? None of them have even mentioned shocking the water.
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 826
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
113
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Yes, UV irradiation is used. It does mean running electricity for it 24/7 which is an added expense in addition to running a pump 24/7. What if the power goes out? And what if the power goes out at midnight when you don't know about it, and it gets pumped into the waterlines,, which then have to be flushed with treated water. So it has to be treated sometimes both ways.

I've lived in a rural locations for many decades, the fewer things I have to keep daily track of, the better.


This article mentions that it works best with the water being circulated, so that means another pump to keep it moving. It's not a contained amount of water, it's constantly being added to by whatever source, some parts of the year the e.coli can be a lot higher than others. If the well is affected by flood water, then does the amount of light need to be increased?

"The effectiveness of germicidal UV depends on the length of time a microorganism is exposed to UV, the intensity and wavelength of the UV radiation, the presence of particles that can protect the microorganisms from UV, and a microorganism’s ability to withstand UV during its exposure."

"In many systems, redundancy in exposing microorganisms to UV is achieved by circulating the air or water repeatedly. This ensures multiple passes so that the UV is effective against the highest number of microorganisms and will irradiate resistant microorganisms more than once to break them down."

"The effectiveness of this form of sterilization depends on line-of-sight exposure of the microorganisms to the UV light. Environments where design creates obstacles that block the UV light are not as effective. In such an environment, the effectiveness is then reliant on the placement of the UVGI system so that line of sight is optimum for disinfection."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultraviolet_germicidal_irradiation

 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 826
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
113
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Here's another way to look at it. You can spend you $6,000 to $8,000 (or whatever it comes to) on a deep, cased, sealed safe-water well that will increase the value of the property by the cost of it or more, and last probably 75 years or more.

Or....you can spend your $6,000-$8,000 trying to keep the bad water, that may or may not be there, drinkable and never see a penny of it again. It's a constant expense.

My top seven things about buying rural property:

1. drinkable water
2. drinkable water
3. property lines, so you don't put your biggest investment of a house 5 feet onto your neighbor's property
4. location - desirable to lots of people, electric power on the road (whether you use it or not), within 30 mins to an hour of a hardware store, it's not near a military base where they practice shooting or aerial combat.
5. if hilly, south-facing slope in the northern hemisphere
6. It's not on a major earthquake fault, or rocks with radon, or has toxic buried tanks
7. drinkable water

The well is good for a garden, and if there's enough water, good for crops. Don't abandon it, it's usable. It's just, how much money are you going to end up putting into it for not much payback.
 
Posts: 492
50
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Kellan, Cristo Balete is offering you some seriously good advice. I base that on my parent's place where I grew up.

My parent's place had two wells, they both pumped water but were shallow as in 50 feet or so, groundwater was there, we lived across the road from a small 186 acre lake. Where the well was that was closest to the house they had a new well drilled and if memory serves me they went 180 feet. Yes it was an expense but it never went dry, the other wells did. They kept the one well by an old barn and used it for a short while than closed it in, open wells are dangerous and that one was never enclosed good, had a hand pump.

Now the thing about the soft water is you can pay up front the 1/4 price and have a system that treats your groundwater and prayerfully it always works good.
But with the drilled well you will still need water softening and filtering too. My parents drilled well had really hard water, 50 ppm I believe. With water filters and water softening it was beautiful.

Cristo makes a good point about the well always being a return on your investment, what if something happens to you or your spouse and you need to uproot? A place with a nice drilled well works for me.

And this point to Cristo on electric going off and the lines back flushing, isn't there oneway valves and pressure tanks even on a dug well?
 
Mike Feddersen
Posts: 492
50
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Sort of a P.S.

The neighbor that sold my parent's place to them had a cistern that was filled by their drilled well, I think it was the well, heck maybe it was rainfed. I guess it made sense somewhere along the line as they had cattle and sheep to water.

Also, a side note on the water softening and filtration, do you have Culligan in your area? My parents used them for years and years, changing out the iron filters and of course the salt pellets.
My mom dialyzed my dad the last 5.5 years of his life and I remember she would buy extra pellets in town just to make sure she didn't run out of softwater for the dialyzing machine.
 
Kellan Cook
Posts: 18
Location: PA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I am not sure I understand all that wiki info. From my understanding of the UV lights, they are placed after the sediment filter and before the water heater. So all the water that reaches the house would go through the light. Am I correct in this thinking?

Drilled wells can get contaminated also? Especially if there is e-coli and coli-form in the hand dug well, wouldn't it eventually get into the drilled well?

At this point, we have asked the seller to perform the water treatments as suggested by contractor #2 (UV light, softener and new centrifugal pump). Along with a few other items from other inspections. We are waiting to hear back, but we did not ask for a new drilled well. I think I mentioned earlier, but the seller told us that his uncle had 13 horses on the farm in the 90s and the well never ran dry. I am not inclined to put a lot of weight in this, coming from the seller, but I think it is worth a few cents. The area we are purchasing in is also in an area known for hand dug wells supplying 60-70 gal/hr (if that sounds like the correct measurement - the contractor #2 told us a dairy farm up the road had that kind of flow, but I am unclear on the flow rates, perhaps it was Liters/hr).

I do see the point in the drilled well and am sort of second guessing myself for not asking for the seller to pay for one, however, at this point I think it would be best to just focus on the good of the current dug well. =)
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 826
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
113
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Kellen, I have never used UV light to disinfect water, so I can't vouch for it. Is it possible to get some kind of warranty/guarantee on the setup by the people who install it that it will clean the water to the degree it needs to be disinfected? I assume they will tell you how long the bulbs last, if/how often they need to be cleaned, etc. You will be testing it weekly or monthly? to see if it really is working? Be sure to be there when they install whatever you've asked for so you see how it works, and pump the installer's brain as much as you can. You'll be left alone with it, and you'll want to know how to take care of it, what the signs are of it having a problem.

So it sounds like the uncle died and the nephew is selling the place? The nephew never lived there? Was the uncle using the water or was he buying bottled water? If there are plastic water bottles stacked in the garage or a shed, it's an easy way to see what's going on with the water. Probably the water lines throughout the house will need disinfecting. The uncle may have been showering, doing laundry and washing dishes with it, but may not have been using it to drink or cook with, and it's been sitting in the pipes.

Most deep-well water that comes from a fracture in the earth (usually in the rock layers) or an aquifer doesn't have contamination in it, but that might depend on location. Wells that are cased don't allow ground water to seep into the well. e. coli is in ground water that tends to move slowly or is stagnant, and seeps through upper layers of soil that contains biodegrading organic material.

Of course, these days with fracking lots of wells are being contaminated with salt water. The coal mining by blowing up mountains in the Appalachian Mountains is contaminating water even into the states south of them. Military bases are often super sites of contamination that has gotten into the ground water. There is about a mile-wide zone near the ocean where salt water can infiltrate ground water and wells in coastal valleys as it seeps inland underground.

The measure of well water is gallons per minute. Code usually calls for 5 gallons/ minute minimum. That can easily be pumped dry. 60 gallons an hour is 1 gallon per minute, if that, and with any luck that's at the lowest point in the year. That's no guarantee it will produce a gallon a minute. It's a little suspicious that they told you gallons per hour, which implies they are averaging a slowly refilling well. It might go too low to pump, then refill overnight. You will learn over the next year just how it behaves every season. And if you are planning on having a lot of animals that will be adding e. coli to the soil, make sure they are downslope/down flow from the ground water entering your well.

Be sure to install a pump that will shut off if there is not enough water before it starts sucking mud. A couple of 2400 gallon tanks might be a good idea so you have a reliable supply. They aren't expensive and you'll never be in a position to have to wait for hours for the water to refill. I have neighbors who have a hand-dug well who had to get tanks because the well was not consistent enough. They are greatly relieved to have a measurable supply. They have a lot of animals, and slowly but surely their family members are starting to move in with them!

There are no guarantees that your well will behave like your neighbors' wells. Although maybe your neighbors will know something about your well, having talked to the person who lived there. I once had a well in line with mature oak trees (that can need up to 400 gallons a day) that was 150 feet deep and 15 gallons per minute. It was a joy. It was in the mountains.

Sounds like you really love this place, and that it does have water. Sometimes in a rural place we need to spend more money than we thought for peace of mind. I have struggled sometimes to spend big chunks, but I have never regretted quality and reliability in machinery or infrastructure. I hope it goes well for you. Pun intended?
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 826
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
113
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The reason wells are sealed (in addition to being cased) is so that critters can't get into them, and small children don't try to use them as hiding places. Rabbits, cats, small dogs, frogs, snakes, rodents will squeeze through small openings (surprisingly small openings, like 1/2 inch) and poop, or die and rot in the water. Baby rabbits can go through 1" chicken wire. Then you've got some serious contamination.

Although I am hoping that the frog poop that occasionally gets in there is boosting my immune system
 
Posts: 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I always look at resale value, whether I intend to sell it or not. A bored well would increase the value of the property when and if you sell it. The hand dug well can be used for the garden or as an emergency water source.
 
You've gotta fight it! Don't give in! Read this tiny ad:
Call for Instructors for the 2021 RMH Jamboree!
https://permies.com/wiki/149908/Call-Instructors-RMH-Jamboree
reply
    Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic