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Protecting your private well during drought

Approximately 75 percent of Minnesotans use groundwater as a drinking water source and almost all water used for agricultural irrigation comes from groundwater. During times of drought, it is even more important to be conscious of water use and maintenance of your well and equipment. 

Groundwater levels in Minnesota

It is normal for groundwater levels to rise and fall during the year in Minnesota. With an influx of snowmelt and spring rain, we usually see levels increase, also known as recharge, in early spring and slowly decrease, also known as drawdown, later in the summer because of evaporation and less rain.

Shallow wells are usually the first to experience issues because of drought because of their proximity to the surface. These would include many Sandpoint wells that may only be 20 to 30 feet deep.

Having a newer, deeper well can help protect you from experiencing problems with lower water levels, but if your well is affected it may take a longer period of time to recover. 

Measuring groundwater

You may be able to measure the level of groundwater on your own, though this may be difficult and sometimes requires a water level meter, which can cost around 400 dollars. These meters have an electrical probe attached to a measuring tape. The probe is lowered into the well until a light or display indicates it has reached the water. The depth to water can then be read on the measuring tape. 

Another method of measuring groundwater that may be less direct is using the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) Minnesota Active Water Level Network. Here you can see monitored wells throughout Minnesota, showing the measurement from low to high and when each well was measured. 

Lastly, ask a licensed well drilling company or your neighbors. Well drilling companies are a great resource because they are always drilling new wells and have the appropriate equipment to measure the depth of water. A similar discussion can be had with neighbors nearby if they have gotten a new well or service since their well will likely be in a similar aquifer and depth as your own. 

Reasons a well could stop producing water

Malfunctioning or worn-out equipment

  • When you have a loss of water first look for issues with the pressure tank or well pump, these do need to be replaced every so often and can malfunction without any warning signs. Also, check the electrical connection to the well.

Clogged plumbing

  • Sometimes mineral deposits can build up in plumbing lines, reducing the flow.

Low water level

  • Indicators of low water levels include:
    • Sounds of the submersible pump sucking air.
    • The water from your tap may sputter, from air being pumped in. 
    • Water from the faucet may appear cloudy or dirty.
    • Possible sand in the toilet tank.
  • If your well does go dry it may be temporarily caused by over pumping, this is called a cone of depression and usually resolves in a short period of time with decreased water use. However, if it stays dry for a long period of time and you have a submersible pump you may be able to get the pump lowered by a licensed well driller. Other options would be to invest in a storage tank in your home or drill a deeper well. 
    • Testing your drinking water regularly is important, especially if air has entered the well. Air can change the chemistry of the geology and may release naturally occurring contaminants such as arsenic. 

Ways to conserve water

Many times a well may temporarily go dry or lower from increased water use. During times of drought and high temperatures, we tend to use more water for plants and animals, which can cause a cone of depression. These depressions usually resolve when the water use is lower.

A way to avoid this is to manage your water use. If you’re near other homes pumping from the same aquifer, try to coordinate heavy water use. For example, try doing laundry on different days of the week to spread out water use. 

Other ways to conserve water:

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Let your lawn go dormant. Many grass species go dormant during a drought and come back once they receive enough water. For more information on lawns check out Water-saving strategies for the home lawn
  • Fix leaky faucets and plumbing.
  • Only wash full loads in the dishwasher and laundry.
  • Install water-saving plumbing fixtures.

Author: Anne Nelson, Extension educator, water resources

Reviewed in 2021

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