Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst: Worksheet 1: Water Well Condition and Construction

If wells are not properly constructed or maintained, groundwater may become contaminated, putting human and livestock health at risk. This publication helps farmers evaluate water protection.
Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst: Worksheet 1: Water Well Condition and Construction - Articles


Why Be Concerned?

Most Pennsylvania farms use groundwater to supply their drinking water and farmstead needs. Wells are designed to provide clean water. If they are not properly constructed or maintained, groundwater may become contaminated with bacteria, nitrates, and pesticides. These contaminants put family and livestock health at risk.

Abandoned wells are especially significant sources of groundwater contamination. If an abandoned well exists on a farmstead, the landowner is responsible for protecting the groundwater by properly sealing or filling the well (Pennsylvania Public Law 1840, Act 610).

Preventing groundwater contamination is very important. Once groundwater is contaminated, it is very difficult to clean up. Limited cleanup options include treating the water, drilling a new well, and obtaining water from another source. Contamination of a well can affect neighboring wells, posing a serious health risk to farm families, livestock, and neighbors.

The goal of Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst is to help you protect groundwater and surface water—shared resources that are important to everyone.

How to Rank Groundwater and Surface Water Protection Using This Worksheet

  • You can select from a wide range of conditions and management practices that are related to potential surface water and groundwater contamination.
  • You can rank the conditions and management practices on your operation according to how they might affect surface water or groundwater.
  • Based on your overall ratings, you can determine which of your conditions or practices are reasonably safe and effective, and which might require modification to better protect surface water and groundwater.

How to Complete This Worksheet

Download the Well Condition and Construction Worksheet and follow the directions. The evaluation should take 15 to 30 minutes for each evaluation site to complete and determine your ranking. Evaluate each well on your farm. There are spaces provided to rank up to three sites. If you are unfamiliar with any of the terms used, refer to the glossary provided with this worksheet.

How to Use These Rankings

Step 1. Now that each feature has been ranked, add all these rankings together and put that value in the “Total” box at the end of the worksheet. Transfer that number to the box below.

Step 2. Divide the value in the “Total” box by the number of features ranked.

Step 3. Repeat for the remaining sites. Calculate the average ranking for all sites combined.

Step 4. Evaluate the overall management practices and site conditions.

  • 3.6–4.0 = best management
  • 2.6–3.5 = good management
  • 1.6–2.5 = fair management
  • 1.0–1.5 = poor management

This ranking gives an idea how water well management and conditions as a whole might affect both surface water and groundwater quality. This ranking should serve only as a very general guide, not a precise diagnosis. Since it represents an averageing of many individual rankings, it can mask any individual rankings (such as 1s and 2s) that should be of concern.

Step 5. Look over the rankings for individual features of each site:

  • Best (4s): the current ideal
  • Good (3s): provides reasonable surface water and groundwater protection
  • Fair (2s): inadequate protection in many circumstances
  • Poor (1s): poses a high risk of polluting surface water or groundwater

Regardless of the overall ranking, any individual rankings of “1” should receive immediate attention. Some concerns can be taken care of right away; others could be major or costly projects, requiring planning and prioritizing before taking action.

Step 6. Consider how to modify farm management practices or site conditions to better protect water quality. For more information, ideas, or guidance, contact the local conservation district, Penn State Extension office, or the USDA Natural Resources Conservation


Abandoned well: A well that is unused or no longer functions, possibly a health or safety hazard. Pennsylvania law P.L. 1840, No. 610 requires landowners to properly seal or fill an abandoned well.

Air gap: An air space (open space) between the hose or faucet and water level, representing one way to prevent backflow of liquids into a well or water supply.

Aquifer: A water-bearing zone.

Backflow: The unwanted reverse flow of liquids in a piping system.

Casing: Steel or plastic pipe installed to prevent the collapse of the well and the entrance of contaminants.

Contaminant source: Anything that can cause pollution, such as septic systems, fuel storage areas, pesticide storage areas, mixing facilities, barnyards, fertilizer storage areas, silos, and areas with heavy fertilizer application (nitrogen).

Cross connection: A link or channel between pipes, wells, fixtures, or tanks carrying contaminated water and those carrying safe drinking water. If the contaminated water is at a higher pressure, it may enter the drinking water system.

Drilled wells: Wells constructed by specialized hard rock drills turned either by hand or power equipment. Drilled wells are often more than 200 feet deep and are 4 to 8 inches in diameter.

Driven point (sand point) wells: Wells constructed by driving assembled lengths of pipe into the ground with percussion equipment or by hand. These wells are usually 2 inches or less in diameter, less than 50 feet deep, and can be installed in areas of relatively loose soils such as sand.

Dug wells: Large-diameter, shallow wells usually constructed by hand.

Groundwater: Water beneath the earth’s surface that supplies wells and springs.

Grout: Bentonite clay or a slurry of neat cement used to seal the space between the outside of the well casing and the bore hole (annular space) or to seal an abandoned well.

Pasteurized Milk Ordinance: Sets national standards to facilitate the shipment and acceptance of milk and milk products of high sanitary quality in commerce. Enforcement is the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For more information, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Protective layer: A subsurface layer of low permeability that limits infiltration of water into a groundwater aquifer.

Public Law 1840, Act 610: Pennsylvania act that defines and provides for the licensing of water well drillers and is designed to prevent pollution of underground waters. Enforcement is the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey.

Water table: The upper level of a soil zone where all the spaces between the soil particles are filled with water or saturated.

Well cap: A cap or plate used to cover the top of a well casing pipe to prevent surface water or solid material from entering the well.


Material for the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package was developed by revision of Farm-A-Syst material from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension Service, University of Minnesota Extension Service, and the National Farm-A-Syst/Home-A-Syst Program. Additional format and style features for the Pennsylvania package were adapted from the Ontario Environmental Farm Plan published by Ontario Farm Environmental Coalition, Ontario, Canada.

Partial funding for the development of the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package was provided by the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts through the Chesapeake Bay Program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

The development of this worksheet revision was supported by funds from the Pennsylvania State Conservation Commission through the Nutrient Management Education Program.

Original Version

Preparation: Shelly Ogline, project assistant, Penn State Extension; Les Lanyon, associate professor of soil fertility, Department of Agronomy, Penn State.

Project Coordinators: Barry Frantz, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts; Les Lanyon, associate professor of soil fertility, Department of Agronomy, Penn State; Jerry Martin, Penn State Extension.

Advisory Committee: Larry Martick, district manager, Adams County Conservation District; Lamonte Garber, agricultural specialist, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Lori Sandman, project leader, Dairy Network Partnership; Amanda Ritchey, ridge and valley coordinator, Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture; Tom McCarty, multicounty water quality educator, Penn State Extension; Susan Fox, extension educator, Penn State Extension, Bedford County.

Technical Review: William Sharpe, professor of forest hydrology, Penn State; Mike Moore, hydrogeologist supervisor, Pennsylvania Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey; John Miele, park manager, Pennsylvania Bureau of State Parks; Jeff Mahood, environmental planning specialist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Bill Bowers, state conservation engineer, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Peter Tarby, nutrient management specialist, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Revised Version

Preparation: Jerry Martin, senior extension associate, Penn State Extension.

Project Coordinators: Doug Beegle, professor of agronomy, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Penn State; Jerry Martin, senior extension associate, Penn State Extension.

Information derived from Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst worksheets is intended only to provide general information and recommendations to farmers regarding their own farmstead practices. It is not the intent of this educational program to keep records of individual results. However, they may be shared with others who will help you develop a resource management plan.