If you have city water, you turn a tap and water comes out. Pretty simple.
Out here in the south Salem (Oregon) countryside, each house has an individual well. And that's where things get complicated.
Especially if you have super-crappy water, as we do.
It takes four large tanks in our garage -- an ozonator, softener, iron filter, and ph adjuster -- to treat our current well water and make it suitable for indoor use (outside, the plants love the raw water with its iron, magnesium, and such).
The equipment is sensitive, prone to breakdowns, and fairly expensive to maintain. So we've harbored fantasies of drilling a new well that would (A) supply us with a greater flow than the 10-12 gallons a minute we've got now, and (B) have higher quality water.
Our driller, Troy, of All Seasons Well Drilling, reminded us that sometimes people get a dry hole for the thousands of dollars they fork out for a well. So we're thankful that our 445 foot hole turned out as well as it did (hard not to use "well" a lot when you're thinking about wells).
A well looks so neat and clean when it's all finished, like in the first photo. But the process of drilling a well -- messy! No way to avoid it, especially with a well that was widened to 10 inches.
Troy started with a 6 inch hole, which is standard in our neighborhood. He told us that he likes to do this, drilling down all the way without casing the top part of the well, because it lessens the cost if water isn't found.
Some drillers, he said, case (meaning, seal) the upper part -- 53 feet in our instance -- before knowing whether the well is productive. So people can be left with an expensive underground concrete or bentonite "flag pole" that has to be abandoned.
After we got down to 445 feet with seven gpm of better quality, but still fairly iron'y, water, we had to decide whether to widen the well to 10 inches. In various areas of life, including well drilling, there's a valid question: "is bigger better?"
We pondered the pros and cons of a six versus 10 inch well. And decided to go with bigger.
Troy educated us with some geometry. Each foot of a six inch well holds 1.5 gallons of water. Each foot of a 10 inch well holds 4.5 gallons, three times as much.
There's about 400 feet of standing water in the new well. So in our case a 10 inch well essentially serves as an extra 1200 gallon holding tank (a six inch well would hold 600 gallons; a 10 inch well, 1800 gallons).
Yes, it cost us more to widen the hole to 10 inches. Everything is more expensive when you go bigger: the drive shoe, the casing, the perforated liner (which extends from the upper casing all the way to the bottom of the well).
But we figured that if our water flow drops for whatever reason -- global warming, over-development, well problem -- it'd be nice to have a maintenance-free "holding tank" with plenty of storage for our household use.
(We'll probably end up using our old well for outside watering, in part because our garden plants love the mineral-rich water so much).
I'll attach a copy of our well log, which is public information, for any well geeks who enjoy looking at the detailed information.
Download Well log
Our current well, which was drilled in the early 1970s, doesn't have a liner. We like the idea of having a six inch perforated plastic liner from five to 445 feet down. The way we understand it, this keeps rocks and other debris from caving in and messing with the pump, or making the well unusable.
Here's a prime piece of advice for anyone who is having a well drilled: be aware that lots of muddy water, gravel, and such is going to flow from the drill rig and go...somewhere.
Water is injected into the hole as it is being bored. Then it is blasted out. Quite a scene, as the water/rock/dirt mix sprays out 15-20 feet or so. Think ahead about where it is going to end up.
We ended up digging a series of trenches to divert the muddy gravel/water mix away from our landscaping. Had to do it by hand, since there were too many trees and brushy vegetation to use a machine.
Troy, who worked by himself most of the time, handled the bigger trenching up near the drill rig. Laurel and I kept the water flowing in the right direction the rest of the way.
It wasn't a hugely horrible task, once we got it figured out. Gushes of muddy, gravel'y water would come flowing down the trenches when a new section of the well was drilled out.
We'd shovel out the gravel from areas that came close to overflowing. Mostly, the downhill topography kept the muddy mix moving along nicely into natural areas of our property.
After the well was finished, Troy scooped up a lot of muck with his tractor and buried it in an open grassy area. Believe me, you don't want this stuff hanging around any place you'll be walking. Or where you want vegetation to grow.
I don't know whether this is always the case, but what came out of our sandstone well was a lot like watery clay. Or quicksand, in the deeper areas. It stuck to our rubber boots like the mud that it was.
Anyway, that's a description of our first -- and hopefully last -- well-drilling experience. Now that it's over, I can almost say that it was fun. Almost.
While the drilling is going on, expect noise, mess, and a prodigious amount of muddy water. Remember the 1.5 and 4.5 gallons per foot rule for six inch and 10 inch wells, respectively.
With a 445 foot well, we had about 2000 gallons of mucky soil and rock that came from underground, and became part of our overground. Dealing with that stuff was the main thing we had to cope with.
Aside from writing some pretty large checks.