Drought conditions are causing problems for some people with well water. The good news? Wells in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties are not drying up, as some reports have suggested. The bad news? The drought is causing dozens of wells to have mechanical problems and ultimately fail.
Judy Hochstedtler says she’s never seen her yard so brown and the garden behind her rural Nappanee home so dry.
“It’s getting more brown all the time,” she told WSBT.
Aside from her yard and garden, the drought of 2012 is also causing her to worry about her well water supply.
“I hear a lot that wells are going dry and I’m concerned about that," Hochstedtler said. "I’d like to water more of my plants and bushes and garden things but it's so dry, I'm afraid of what could happen.”
So WSBT dug deeper and got some answers for Hochstedtler and her neighbors, who are also concerned.
Turns out, recent reports of wells running dry have not been accurate.
Orrin Martin, who owns Martin Well Drilling in Elkhart, replaced a 65-foot-deep well that recently failed near Hochstedtler’s home on County Road 7. He said the well did not run dry but had mechanical problems because the water level dropped and the size of the pipe used in the well needed to be replaced with a larger one.
According to Indiana law, all wells dug after 1988 have to be at least 25 feet deep and the pipe needs to be at least two inches in diameter. Some counties have stricter ordinances. In St. Joseph County, wells must have a pipe that is 4 inches in diameter and the actual pump must be 20 feet below the top of the water table.
Elkhart County does not have a local well ordinance.
The normal water level drop in wells from spring to fall in Northern Indiana is about two feet. Geologists have said they’re expecting anywhere from a three to five foot drop this year because of the drought. But St. Joseph County Health Department geologist Marc Nelson said most wells in St. Joseph County, even those dug in the 1940s and 50s, are much deeper than 25 feet.
Mechanical problems such as pumps that break, sediment that plugs up the bottom of the well and overuse of a well are common problems when it’s as hot and dry as it has been for the past several weeks, Nelson said.
“They’re trying to pump out water faster than it can run into the well. There's a lot of water above it and around it but they're just pumping it out so fast that the aquifer can't refill behind the well,” he continued.
Elkhart County doesn't track the number of well repairs and installations, but in the past 45 days in St. Joseph County, the number of well permits contractors must apply for in order to repair or install a well spiked 120% compared to the same 6 week time frame in 2011.
“We know the well drillers are very busy replacing pumps. Pumps are just wearing out,” Nelson said.
He also showed WSBT an aquifer map that indicates St. Joseph, LaGrange and northern Elkhart Counties sit on the most plentiful aquifer in the state.
“We are never going to run out of water. It isn’t gonna happen,” Nelson added.
It is possible for a well to dry up in these conditions, he said, but it would have to be an extremely shallow and very old well.
To find out how deep your well is and when it was installed, you can contact the health department if you live in St. Joseph County or the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in Indianapolis if you live in another county. Contractors are legally required to file records with the state when they install a well.