Water Well Going Dry

Andy Tabler

While changes in an aquifer can result in a well producing less water than in the past, many people overlook the possibility of a pump or well construction problem.

This page will help you determine which of these may be the cause of your problem.

Changes in the Aquifer

Seasonal Highs and Lows in Water Table

Water tables often fluctuate naturally from season to season. 

In general, the shallower the well, the greater the risk of water levels falling in response to dry conditions. This is because many shallow wells are drawing water from surface (water table) aquifers that are recharged primarily through precipitation.

To find out if you have a shallow well, check your well log

Over pumping

The level of water in an aquifer can fall if water is being pumped at a rate that exceeds natural replenishment.

Pumping creates a cone of depression in water table aquifers. This localized lowering of the water table can be significant when pumping is excessive. In addition, if the cones of depression for two or more wells overlap, well interference can occur.

In some regions, the amount of water in the aquifer is limited due to geology making the groundwater resource especially vulnerable to depletion.

Your water master can provide more information about the likelihood of over pumping in your area.

Geologic Change

Since wells draw water from aquifers below the earth's surface (in some cases, many hundreds of feet below the surface!), the amount and accessibility of this water can be altered by geologic events including earthquakes, volcanoes, and mudslides.

In diagnosing limited water problems, consider the possible effects from recent geologic activity.

Pump Problems


Wells and well components require periodic maintenance to ensure efficiency. Pumps should be adequately screened. In addition, sometimes pumps can become clogged from small bits of debris that have entered the bore hole over time. Contact your well or pump contractor to discuss pump maintenance.


While pumps can last for many years, they sometimes need to be serviced or replaced. If you think your pump is not functioning properly, contact your well or pump contractor.

Pump Placement

Pumping a well will cause a cone of depression to form in unconfined aquifers.

If the water level within the cone of depression drops below the depth of your pump you will be temporarily unable to reach water. Decreased water demand will allow the water level to rise again if the aquifer is not already depleted.

In some cases your pump can be lowered to increase access to aquifer water. Consult with a well or pump contractor to determine if this is an option.

Well Construction Issues

Decreased well efficiency can sometimes be associated with the following:

deposits in the well bore hole (this can occur naturally and over time the deposits need to be cleaned out)

a well that was never fully developed

inappropriate screening to allow for free water movement (wire wrap screens are usually preferable to slotted screens) obacterial deposits (e.g. iron bacteria)

If you know your well is shallow and you have had water supply problems in the past, you might consider deepening your well. If at all possible, contact the original contractor who constructed your well. Your local water master can also help determine if your well was constructed according to standards.

If your well is unable to meet your domestic water needs you will need to consider either deepening the existing well or drilling a new well. Contact your well contractor or your local water master for help.

DO NOT attempt to deepen your well or construct a new well without the help of a licensed well contractor.

DO NOT pour water from another source into your well. Your well is connected to an aquifer and is not a storage device

Precautionary Measures

Note changes in water pressure. Reduced water pressure may be a forewarning of a lowered water table and aquifer depletion. However, keep in mind that loss of water pressure may also indicate well inefficiencies or problems with your pressure tank.

Note long-term changes in water depth. Water level changes over time can serve as an early warning sign if your water supply is in jeopardy.

Contact your well contractor to explore ways of improving well efficiency. Many contractors provide a range of services to assist you in improving your well's efficiency. Depending on your situation, you may not need to deepen an existing well or drill a new one.

Talk to neighbors who may be drawing water from the same aquifer. The more information you have about the water level in your aquifer, the better prepared you and your neighbors will be for ensuring that your water needs are met.

Protect your pump. If you have not already done so, you can install an automatic low-flow shutoff switch ("pump saver") that will protect your pump in the event of a dry well. This shutoff can be easily installed in the control box for your well pump and typically costs under $150.

Additional water storage devices. Storage devices such as above ground holding tanks and underground cisterns may provide needed water while allowing more time for the aquifer to recharge. For more information visit the links provided in the Water Storage section.

Measuring Well Water Level

It takes 4 to 6 measurements per year over a period of at least 5 years to obtain useful data on water level trends.

You don't need to measure your own well to obtain information about groundwater levels in your area. The Oregon Water Resources Department manages a number of observation wells throughout Oregon. These wells are monitored frequently and provide valuable information for people living in the surrounding area on seasonal fluctuations and long-term trends. 

If you are interested in taking your own water depth measurements....

Make sure to use approved sanitary procedures to prevent bacteria or other surface contaminants from entering the system.

Measure the static water level, rather than the pumping or recovering water level by letting your well rest for several hours before measuring. Pumping and recovering water levels do not reflect the water level of the surrounding aquifer, and should not be used as indicators of whether a well is going dry.

Static water level: the water level in the aquifer from which you are pumping, measured after the well has rested for several hours (so as not to measure the pumping or recovering water level)

Pumping water level: the water level in the well during drawdown. Pumping causes the formation of a cone of depression. This drawdown always exceeds the drawdown in the surrounding aquifer.

Recovering water level: the water level after pumping has stopped, but before the well has fully returned to the static water level.

Use an electric depth gauge. This is the easiest, and most common method to measure your well's static water level. This equipment typically consists of two wires with an electronic sensor that

Water Efficiency for Private Well Owners
(What to do Before the Well Goes Dry)

If your household is one of the many thousands in Ohio that depend upon private water wells, now is the time to learn all you can about the ground water resources your well relies upon. An adequate, dependable supply of ground water, replenished throughout the year by rainfall and melted snow, is essential to keep your well from running dry. Ohio has been blessed with an abundant supply of water, but that's no reason to take our most important natural resource for granted. During periods of drought you may discover, too late, why proper well maintenance and water conservation are so important. Here are some ways to ensure that your well has an adequate supply of water to meet your family's needs today, and into the future.

Learn about Your Ground Water Resources:

As a well owner you need to know all you can about the ground water in your area, how it occurs and the ways it moves around. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Water Resources (DSWR) produces ground water resource maps for each of Ohio's counties. These maps provide general information on the occurrence and availability of ground water. The DSWR also monitors ground water levels in 120 observation wells around the state and publishes a newsletter with updates on hydrologic conditions statewide. You can consult copies of these publications by contacting local drillers, your county's Soil and Water Conservation District or Cooperative Extension Service office. Many public libraries also have this information available for reference.

Your Well Log:

Know all you can about the ground water supply that's available to your private well. That begins with a copy of the well log, a document filed with the Ohio DSWR by the well driller. Your well log describes the depth of the well, the geologic materials beneath the surface, the well's yield and the depth of water at the time the well was drilled.

A copy of the log for any well on your property (if filed) may be obtained free of charge from the Division's website or by mail or fax if you have no computer access. See the end of this fact sheet for the address and phone number. You'll need to provide information on the county, township, address, name of property owner at the time the well was drilled and the approximate date of drilling (if known).

By comparing the depth of water to your well's total depth, you can calculate approximately how much water is stored in the well. Data on the yield of your well and the amount of water stored there will give you some idea about the need to conserve water or take corrective action.

Resolving Water Supply Problems:

Start by obtaining a copy of your well log. Contact a recommended, registered driller in your area for a complete evaluation of your entire water system. You may have a mechanical or electrical problem that's not related to ground water supply or yield. A driller or pump installer can usually measure your well's current static water level (that's the water level with no pumping). By comparing this information with the original water level (as shown on your well log), you can see how the level may have changed and determine just how much water is left in the well. Depending on the depth of your well, it may be possible to lower the pump intake and still get sufficient water.

Well Maintenance and Cleaning:

Older wells may become clogged or encrusted, so water cannot move freely from the ground water supply (aquifer) to the well bore. In this case there may be good ground water resources, but the pump removes water from the well faster than it can be resupplied from the aquifer. Maintenance to improve this situation includes bailing, surging and acidizing, followed by appropriate disinfection. This work requires a professional well driller, in consultation with your local health department. A health department permit may be required in some Ohio counties.

To improve yield in a relatively new well (or in an older one that's not been helped by cleaning), it may be necessary to drill a deeper well. It may be possible to deepen an existing well, if the original construction permits and if additional ground water can be obtained from a deeper zone. Otherwise a new, deeper well will be required. If that's your course, you must properly seal and abandon the old well to avoid water contamination, it's the law! The DSWR can evaluate your local ground water resources to determine if deeper drilling will provide additional supplies to your well.

If the Well Goes Dry:

If ground water supplies decline to the point that your well fails to yield water, it may be necessary to arrange for water hauling or temporary water storage. Contact your county health department or the Ohio Department of Health for a list of registered water haulers in your area and for information on approved water storage tanks. Remember that any alteration of your existing private water system must be done only with the approval or inspection of your county health department.

Low-Yield Well Systems:

You may get advice to drill your well deeper in order to provide additional water storage in the well, an expensive way to add back-up storage. It may be more economical to look into one of the new low-yield well systems that are now available. These systems use special switches for the pump and a storage tank to provide a consistent supply of water, even when ground water yields are low. They usually are a much less expensive alternative to digging a deeper well. Ask a reputable driller in your area or your local health department about low-yield systems. The DSWR can also provide you with an information sheet on the subject.

Before Work Begins:

Any time you construct or service a well, or seal an existing well, the work should be done by a State of Ohio Registered Private Water Systems Contractor. They are bonded for your protection. Check with your county health department to find out if a particular contractor is registered.

Community Resources:

Talk to your neighbors, community groups, local health officials and your county's Soil & Water Conservation District to find out if other well owners in your area are experiencing water supply problems. Work with others in your community to develop conservation plans and to improve public awareness about the importance of ground water resources and conservation.

The DSWR stands ready to evaluate ground water conditions in your area and to provide you with technical information and assistance. If necessary, the Division can also work to resolve conflicts between ground water users.

Practice Water Efficiency:

Learn to conserve your ground water resources by practicing water efficiency in your home and garden. Download or obtain ODNR Division of Soil and Water Resource's Fact Sheet "Water Efficiency at Home" and Fact Sheet "Water Efficiency in Your Own Back Yard". These publications offer tips to help you and your family conserve water before the well runs dry.

ARS Inspections (Advantage Real Estate Services) is a professional home and building Inspection Company located in Zanesville Ohio. Quality Inspections Since 1988: Real estate inspection reports, home inspection, commercial building inspections, termite inspection, gas line inspection warranty, radon testing, mold testing and private well water testing Services in Muskingum County, Perry County, Guernsey County, Licking County and Franklin County. Service Areas: Ohio Home Inspection and Ohio Home Inspector in, Zanesville Ohio, Nashport Ohio, Roseville Ohio, New Lexington Ohio, Somerset Ohio, Newark Ohio, Granville Ohio, Reynoldsburg Ohio, New Albany Ohio, McConnelsville Ohio, Dresden Ohio, Philo Ohio, Duncan Falls Ohio, Frazeysburg Ohio, Coshocton Ohio, New Concord Ohio, Cambridge Ohio, Coshocton Ohio
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