View Full Version : Can an old hand dug well be recovered?

11-25-2011, 11:10 PM
We discovered an old water well on our property and wonder if it can be reestablished for some use, maybe watering plants or emergency water supply when SHTF.

The well belonged to our neighbor's grandfather and we believe was used for their daily water supply back in 30'-40s. it was spring fed from the steep hillside beside it. A fair sized year round creek is now about 30 ft from the well, but the creek was moved there by the county about 5 yrs ago. It used to be about 100 ft away. Its as clean as any stream could be in this day in our area. Lots of darters, sculpins, salamanders, and other good stream water quality indicators. we dont drink from the stream but do use water from a spring up the road that is tested and run under UV. So I'm not too worried about the proximity to the creek. There are springs all over our hill so I believe its got a fair aquifer in the hill.

The well is about 8-10 ft deep as far as we can tell, and lined with rock all around, from top to bottom. Right now it has dirty water and some old junk, bottles ect in it. Somebody found it before we did. There's not much in there, not a garbage pit or anything. I'd definitely have it tested though.

Could we clean it out and pump it out, line the bottom with clean gravel and expect to get good water? Another thought I have is to drive a well point and pipe into it to get deeper water. would that help?

11-25-2011, 11:17 PM
In a word.....yes.

You're not from the Seven Creeks in Montgomery Co, VA are you?

11-25-2011, 11:51 PM
No, Ohio. Its a spot named because you used to drive thru the creek seven times on the dirt rd. Now it has cheesy poorly situated bridges that wash out every spring.

So you didnt expand much on the well. I'm not sure exactly what to do with it. I'm leaning towards the well point idea with a pump or if we're lucky maybe water flowing from natural pressure. The well is at the very base of a 200 ft hill.

11-25-2011, 11:53 PM
I wouldn't count on sinking a well point into the old well. Beside it, maybe, depending upon your geology, but inside the well you'll probably find all manner of debris used to speed up the filling process.

From an archaeological perspective, it might be interesting to dig it out just to see what was tossed in there. I know of people who dig out old outhouses as a form of archaeology.

11-26-2011, 01:46 AM
One way I have seen it done is to have a tanker and a large trash pump.....

use the tanker to spray a 1.5" to 2" line into the well.....while this is going on....use the trash pump to suck out the fill and debris until the well is at a point that you think is close to its original depth. (watch the side walls....should be lined with rock.)

suck it dry.....and let it fill naturally (hopefully)....drain a couple times then send off the water to be tested.

watch for oil skim....sometimes they would use oil to mark a "bad water" well...so I've heard.

11-26-2011, 03:47 PM
From an archaeological perspective, it might be interesting to dig it out just to see what was tossed in there. I know of people who dig out old outhouses as a form of archaeology.

Yeah, they're PHD's Privy Hole Diggers :lol:

11-26-2011, 03:51 PM
Seriously now, is this well cased? If so, with what? If it has a decent casing, I'd recommend trying to pump and clean it out. Then I'd treat it with chlorine and pump it again. If you end up with a good water flow, you're in business. Send a sample off to the state for inspection before trying to drink it or even for using with stock, but if it's not horribly hard from iron, which I doubt it would be in your country and the geology you have there, then you can at least water garden or orchard with it.

We used an old well like you describe for a number of years as our only water source.

11-26-2011, 06:55 PM
I vote, too, to clean it up and get the water tested. Try to determine if it's still actually spring fed. Don't know what was done to re-route that creek that may have affected the flow of the spring.

FWIW, we had a good spring beside our dirt road about 1/4 mile from the house. People from all around the area hauled water from that spring during droughts. City folks got water from it when they couldn't pay their water bills. Well, the state paved our road. After numerous promises to preserve the spring, what did they do? Destroyed it in the process. :mad: Sure the casing is still in place, but the spring water is flowing down the ditch along side the road.

If your well does clean up and test safe, I'd suggest covering it so you can maintain that clean state. Fresh, clean water is a blessing on any property.

Even if it doesn't test pure, depending on the test results, it still may be fine for watering a garden. May be a backup source for fresh water, provided it's treated in some manner before drinking.


11-26-2011, 09:38 PM
Thanks for the input. This well isn't cased, it's round and lined with well built rock walls all the way up. I can't see the bottom but I know it was hand dug and built with the natural sandstone we have a lot of. Doesnt look more than 8-10 ft but I dont know how much has filled in.
The guy lived on digging coal by hand up the hill and making 'shine ( the mines arent very deep and 500 ft from the well) .

This is a really clean creek for the year 2011 in Amerrica. I wonder even if it seeped in from the creek it should be OK. wouldn't that help going thru 30 feet of sandstone and sand?
I cant get a truck to it my bridge is hand built and a semi trailer deck so only 7'6 wide. Maybe pump water from the creek into the well, and suck it out with a separate pump?

11-26-2011, 10:15 PM
The pressure from the 1.5" line will churn the fill....allowing it to be sucked up by the pump.....so pressure is needed.

11-26-2011, 10:16 PM
I wouldn't introduce water from the creek into the well. You risk introducing giardia, e.coli, and other critters that you definitely don't want in the well.

8 to 10 ft. is not enough depth for a safe drinking water well. A well that shallow will be under the influence of surface water and even percolating through sandstone won't be enough to keep it free of bacteria. A second problem is the temperature in that shallow of a well will not be cold enough to inhibit bacterial growth. To ensure consistently safe water a sealed (grouted, properly capped) casing to a depth of at least 25 ft. is needed.

If it were my well, I would try to pump it dry and clean out as much debris as possible, then let it refill and pump it dry a couple more times. Hopefully that will flush out any foreign materials that were introduced over the years.

If you find that it produces a good quantity of water, have it tested for nitrates, iron, and bacteria. The test kits should be available for free from your local health department. (A high iron content can encourage the growth of iron bacteria that produce a slime coat and make a mess) Even if it comes back clean, though, remember that in such a shallow well the water quality can change frequently. If you intend to use the well as a source of drinking water, definitely build a well house over it, and look into using a chlorine residual or uv light to disinfect it, and get it tested every so often to make sure your precautions are working. E. coli in your water can kill you; regular coliform bacteria can make you very sick or not even affect you, depending on how much is there, and nitrates will indicate if fertilizer or sewage is impacting your well.

Also, don't tell anyone you're drinking out of an old dug well, or using it for your house. Some governmental type might get excited and try to make you close the well. (Depends on the regs in your location, but discretion is usually smarter). When you pick up your test kits just say you're getting them for a friend.

11-26-2011, 10:21 PM
Not hard to figure the depth of the well. Tie a heavy nut or bolt on a string. Lower it down to the top of the water marking the string height. Then lower it down as far as it will go & mark the string again. Distance between the marks is the depth of the water.


11-26-2011, 10:24 PM
Here's a link for home test kits for water.

11-27-2011, 10:03 AM
Seven, I agree with not running creek water into the well. We have a "clean" small stream in our backyard. That is it appears to be clean until I walk onto the joining property. There are 5 beaver dams, with the first one actually on our property line. In addition to the beaver, other wildlife use that water. Including some buzzards who like to spend time in the top of a large tree that the backed up water has killed.

Based on your description, I'm hoping your well is actually a spring, producing good water, that someone cased in sometime in the past. That's a little different situation from someone digging a well in a spot with high surface water, water table. Out in one section of our back 40, I can dig down approximately 2 feet and hit water. Safe? No.

On the high side of our place, we have a bored, cased, well that's approx. 30' deep with 13' (last time we meaured) of good water. We were fortunate. Most wells in this area have to be drilled and are 150' or more, sometimes much more, in depth. Many have poor gal/hr yield, too.

It's my hope that you, too, will be fortunate in having a good spring fed well. I believe that's the actual source of our well water, as several nearby hidden springs were discovered when the state paved our road. (Source of the water is on land much higher in elevation than our property.) We were fortunate to find one of those hidden springs when we dug our well.

If that turns out to be the case, then, do whatever is necessary to keep it that way. Possibly that will include building a spring house, which is another asset to a homestead. Unfortunately, our well is too deep for that to be a feasible project, here. With your depth, the possibility may exist to do just that on the downhill side of your well. -- Just something to think about.

Hope these thoughts are useful.

12-02-2011, 03:32 PM

Yes, cleaning out an old well might seem a good idea, and is do-able but not without risk. Once you get to the mucking out or rocking it can get dangerous. When/if you ever go to the bottom of the well to work you need to have a fall arrest/extrication harness and a topside (more than 1) crew on standby and an emergency extrication plan in place. A winch of some sort is cheap insurance and cuts the grunt work hauling mud buckets too. Wall collapse in any hole is possible, and bad, oxygen depleted air, can and has caused fatalities in a well. Two I know of locally. One initial victim and (likely) one would be rescuer. A forced air ventilation system or SCBA is highly advisable. Just think everything through.OzarksJohn

12-04-2011, 08:37 PM
Good thoughts. I plumbed the well today and found out its only 7 feet from ground level to what is right now the bottom of the well. The water in it with the debris is very clear, and my neighbor seems to think it will be rock on bottom. makes sense because the creek has a sandstone and slate bottom, and is about 7-9 feet lower than the ground level here. I should be able to shovel it out and clean it out, then see how the water looks after a while. Think I'll stick a ladder down in and see what happens. if it sinks out of sight I'll redo my plan. Maybe strap the ladder to the winch on the rhino.
We wont drink or use the water until testing. Pretty cool to find something old you didnt know was there though. There is the old house foundation about 20 feet away too. we'll use those old cut stones to make a well like an old fashioned bucket well.

12-21-2011, 11:27 AM
How are things going with the well clean out?

12-25-2011, 10:43 PM
Havent been able to get in there yet. Had to go way north to work for a couple weeks and just got home. May be able to get the debris cleaned out before it really gets cold here and wait til spring. too much to do to before syrup season.

12-26-2011, 05:43 PM
Just keep us posted, when you get round-to-it.

Here in our neck of the woods, it's fairly quiet right now and winter has been mild, so far. Still having "hoody" days mixed in with a few heavy jacket days. When do you anticipate that the sap will begin running?


12-30-2011, 09:05 PM
where I am sap runs mid feb or so. I was hoping to have elec and water at our place this year but have to wait for next year I guess. Hoping thi swell will turn into something use-able. our neighbor has a spring he runs under uv and gets tested and everything and its all we use. I know the water in the hill is good and clean.