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Is There a Hidden Well in Your Yard?

Updated on October 4, 2014

I bought my house in the wintertime. I learned two lessons from that: If you buy in the winter time, be sure to see if there’s air conditioning, and check that there’s no frozen water puddles in the yard.

When Summer came, we found there was no air conditioning, and we found soggy patches of grass in our front yard.

The air conditioning wasn’t a problem; I just installed a unit on a high wall near the roof, and we were okay. The day before that, as I was driving home from work, the radio announcer reported that a stack of air conditioners had just fallen over, and that they were selling them cheap. After that, it was me and a neighbor that finished the job. It turned out to be my cheapest evaporative cooler job.

Luckily, my experience as a DIY plumber had reached the five-year mark. This meant that my installation time was now a little longer than my stop-the-leak phase. Before, my stop-the-leak phase was about ten times longer than my installation phase.

So, just as we were settling into the lethargic phase of post-cooler installation, we discovered the soggy lawn. At first, I thought it was just snow melt. I didn’t think it was the sprinkling system, because I didn’t hear any pipe-leakage ringing. But when it was clear that Spring had long since come and gone, and that we were hosting a mosquito colony, my excuses for postponing the investigation of the mysterious “water leak” were now quite lame.

So out came my shovel, and I began digging a hole over the wet spot. Five feet down, I didn’t discover anything. So I began to dig sideways.

Before long, water was filling the hole as I dug. So I did two things: I bought a sump pump so I could see where I was going, and I built a fence around my hole. I recommend a fence around holes like this - a fence that keeps out both large and small people and critters. You don’t want any tragedies or law suits on your hands. This house was on the corner of two streets, and although we had a rose hedge along one side, I wasn’t taking any chances, because occasionally we had a J-walker cross our lawn.

While I was digging, I was stirring up mud and rocks. Therefore, to protect the sump pump, I put the nozzle of the pump into a gallon can with holes in it, and outside that can I put a screen that I formed into a bag around the can, tying the opening around the pump’s hose. This way, I kept the water fairly clean and free of rocks as the sump pump sucked it up and gushed it out into the street.

I went past all sprinkling pipes and hidden treasure (which were basically rocks, roots, dirt and broken cement sewer pipes from days gone by). My hole was widening, and my clothes were caking with mud and sweat. My wife wondered why I didn’t get a backhoe. My response was, “I thought it was going to be three-hour job.” [the tune for Gilligan’s Island plays as I repeat, “...a three-hour jo-o-o-ob!”]

As each day passed, and as the ground got softer, my wife became more alarmed and invited me to tie a rope around my waist from me to her so I wouldn’t sink in. I noted she was half my size, and I asked her if she had the strength to pull me out if I sunk into the mud. She said I must not know her very well.

I put down a sheet of plywood to stand on and assured her I would be okay. I couldn’t bear the thought of my buddies walking by and seeing me on a work-leash wielded by my wife.

Finally, I came to a board that was like a small desktop. As I tapped it, it sounded hollow. I thought to myself, “I’ve found a treasure, and I’m going to be rich!” As I dug around it, it turned out to be the lid of a well. It was sitting on top of a 17-inch PVC pipe, which was in a vertical position, the other end buried inside a circle of rocks that appeared to be an older well. I couldn’t tell how far the pipe was buried. Of course, it was full of muddy water, and overflowing, at the rate of about one pint every five or ten seconds. I looked at the piece of wood, and it had a ring of silicon on the underside, as if this were meant to seal the well.

I straightened up and looked around me. On the east there were mountains about four or five miles away. To the north-west was the Great Salt Lake. I knew it was there, though I couldn’t see it. This house wasn’t too far above the lake level, so the water table was fairly high in this region. As I thought back, I remembered that wells were quite prevalent in the Salt Lake Valley. But why this one was plugged up, I couldn’t say.

I proceeded to move mud and rocks from inside the PVC pipe. After doing this for a while, the water became more clear while it overflowed, and I was pulling out sand and small rocks instead of mud. After a few more shovelfulls from about six feet down the pipe, I determined that I had basically cleaned the well of mud and silt.

Nearby, I discovered that someone had buried a four-inch perforated accordion pipe in the yard. This pipe lead to the sidewalk, disappeared under it, and emerged under a grating in the curb of the street. This grating cavity was a collection place for water drainage, and had to be cleaned often for garbage and leaves that continually flowed into it from the street.

I now understood that perhaps this grating and cavity were here because of the well in my yard. But nothing was draining into the cavity from my yard. So I checked the four-inch perforated plastic piping and found that roots of all kinds and silt had penetrated through the holes, and had completely filled the inside, effectively plugging the pipe. I was told by the experts that the accordion pipe was perforated, so it would accept the excess well water. But apparently that didn’t last long, because of the invasion of roots and silt that leaked in.

Figure 1 -- Painted in PhotoShop by the author
Figure 1 -- Painted in PhotoShop by the author

I guessed that the city knew we had a well, because they were the ones responsible for this grating and collection cavity. So I checked the records. Sure enough, they had a file that showed their work for this address. They said that the previous owner did the work inside the sidewalk line, and the city did the work beyond the sidewalk. When I asked someone about well water usage, they supposed that I needed to pay $10,000 for water rights.

Now I understood why the well was plugged.

I bought some more piping, but not perforated, and not accordion. I replaced the old one, and connected it - not to the PVC well, but - to a switch valve I bought. I did this because I started thinking (watch out when Sam starts to think!) about an alternative. I decided that if there was an emergency, or the city water were to be contaminated by Commies or by a dam break or earthquake, I would have a back-up system. My plan was to direct all well water through this switching valve. I drilled a hole in the side of the 17-inch PVC well, and connected a pipe to it that led to my switch valve. When the valve handle was turned one way, the water drained into the street. When it was turned the other way, the water was directed to a spout in my yard (see Fig. 1). I did this in case I decided later to buy water rights.

Figure 2 -- Painted in PhotoShop by the author
Figure 2 -- Painted in PhotoShop by the author

I connected a rubber hose to each end of the valve, even though the connections were threaded. Well water doesn't have the pressure problem that city or normal culinary water has. A hose clamp like the one pictured in Fig. 2 is sufficient to seal this type of connection.

I built a ba-relief fitting ring into the board I had found on the PVC pipe, so I could better seal the top of the well. I sealed all connections, and put my valve in the green water sprinkler valve box. Yes, there was plenty of room in there.

I then tested my valve system. Before long clean, clear water was pouring into the street drainage cavity, and when I turned the valve knob, clear sparkling water was coming out of the PVC faucet in my yard. I buried everything again, removed my protective fence, and went into my second lethargic resting phase of the summer.

After a few days, I decided to test the water - not officially, but by the “survival method:” I took a sip of it. When I didn’t get sick, I tried more. I didn’t drink too much of it, but I never felt any ill effects from the water. I decided to some day have it tested legally. That still hasn’t happened, but I rest well with the comforting thought that I have another ace up my sleeve.

Drill Your Own Well:

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    • SamboRambo profile image
      Author

      Samuel E. Richardson 6 years ago from Salt Lake City, Utah

      Yah, they say that what will do you the most good is likely in your "back yard."

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 6 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      SamboRambo - Your life is a well of adventures. You may find some buried treasure on your property one of these days. Great hub!

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