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Drought Happens

Posted: May 15, 2017

Drought is a regular occurrence somewhere in the United States, even here in Pennsylvania.
Photo: Bryan Swistock, Penn State Univrsity

Photo: Bryan Swistock, Penn State Univrsity

We often think of drought in terms of agriculture, since agriculture affects both the economy and food supply. However, if you rely on a well for your water supply, drought can drastically affect your ability to run your household! Without a steady supply of water in the home, daily tasks become difficult and no one is happy about it.

When a well goes “dry” due to drought it means the water table has dropped below the level of the pump in the well, and in severe drought, even below the bottom of the well. There is no water accessible to the pump to draw up into the home.

Wells generally don’t go dry all at once. Instead, they slowly produce less water because of the lack of recharge. Water wells can also be affected by increased water withdrawals, as with increased development. Wells drilled only into the top of an aquifer instead of deep into the aquifer are most vulnerable and will fail first.

The type of aquifer supplying the well can make a difference. Many aquifers are recharged by precipitation, rain and snow melt, infiltrating into the ground. Depending on the severity of drought, multiple soaking rains over time may be needed to recharge that type of aquifer. Some deeper aquifers are sealed off from surface water recharge due to an impermeable layer of rock (aquitard). A well drilled into this type of aquifer is drawing from a limited source of water which, once depleted, may not be replenished for decades or more. Springs are shallow groundwater and are very sensitive to drought.

Even though drought may have reduced water availability locally, other reasons may cause a loss of water production. Clogging of well components or the cracks and crevices supplying water to the well will reduce water flow into the well. A well can be “rehabilitated” by a water well system professional to significantly improve the productivity. The Penn State Water Well Maintenance and Rehabilitation fact sheet discusses these problems.

So what can a homeowner do?

Sometimes, deepening an existing well can produce more water, although there is no guarantee that will produce more water. A reputable water well system professional familiar with the area may be able offer advice.

Drilling a new well in a different location or a public water hook-up might be your best option. You may have to temporarily bring water to the home. Explore all your options before making a decision.

If none of these options work, you may need to consider installing properly sized water storage tanks. Even a low-yielding well can be adequate if there is enough storage so the well can be pumped slowly and peak demand supplied from the reservoir. You can also schedule water-intensive activities such as clothes washing, dish washing, and showers across the day to decrease demand.

The Penn State Publication Managing Your Well during Drought has more information for you.

Adapted from Dealing with Drought, www.wellowner.org.