Managing Private Water Supplies During Drought

Posted: August 27, 2012

Droughts can be a stressful time for rural homeowners and farmers who rely on groundwater wells for a water supply. The availability of water underground is often invisible to the homeowner creating nervousness about whether the water supply will continue to meet the water needs of the home or farm.

While the historic drought of 2012 has not impacted Pennsylvania as severely as the Midwest, increased climatic variability over the past decades has raised the likelihood of future severe droughts in Pennsylvania. Below are some general tips and links to additional information about managing private water supplies during droughts. 

Monitoring water levels

Water level meters can be used to measure the level of groundwater in a well in comparison to the pump intake but these meters are costly and best left to use by water resources experts. Instead, water well owners can access and monitor groundwater levels in nearby monitoring wells operated by state and federal agencies. The USGS, Pennsylvania Water Science Center provides graphs of groundwater levels in comparison to historic norms for each county of Pennsylvania.  Similar maps for rainfall departures from normal at a variety of time scales (one month to one year) are available from the National Water Service, Mid Atlantic River Forecasting Center.

Conserving water

Water conservation is always a good idea, but it is especially important during droughts and is even mandated during declared drought emergencies. Penn State Extension has numerous publications on water conservation ranging from emergency steps to immediately reduce water use, to longer term strategies that will continually save water.

What if the Well Runs Dry?

Keep in mind that there are a number of reasons that a well may fail to produce water during a drought ranging from simple problems with a submersible pump to more significant issues caused by a lowering of the groundwater level in the well. Consult with a qualified water well contractor to determine the cause and potential solutions to the loss of water from a well. To find a local water well contractor, consult your yellow pages or a searchable database of members in the National Ground Water Association.

For more details and links on coping with water supplies during droughts, consult the Penn State Extension Drought website.

Contact Information

Bryan Swistock
  • Senior Extension Associate; Water Resources Coordinator
Phone: 814-863-0194