As the saying goes, you never miss the water until the well goes dry. But when you turn on the tap and nothing comes out, boy do you realize just how valuable water is!
What went wrong?
So why are you getting nothing but gurgles? You could be looking at a leak
somewhere in your system, a faulty valve, a pump that needs repairs or a well intake that has become plugged up.
If it’s not a plumbing issue, however, you’re facing a simple math problem. Your well water comes from an “aquifer” — an underground source of water that takes time to recharge. If more water is being taken out than is coming in, water levels in the aquifer start dropping. The result: less water to supply your well.
But let’s dig a little deeper. There can be a number of reasons why less water is reaching your aquifer. Perhaps you had a dry winter, so there wasn’t enough snowmelt in spring to top up the aquifer, or perhaps you’ve gone several weeks without rain.
Even if you live in an area that typically has no shortage of rainfall, a spell of drier weather can prevent your aquifer from recharging. Keep in mind that climate change is playing havoc with normal weather patterns, so “once a decade” droughts may now happen a lot more often.
The other part of the equation is water use. Has your neighbor installed a new crop irrigration system? Did a golf course spring up down the road? Every user that draws water from the aquifer affects everyone else who relies on that source of water.
I don’t have water, but my neighbor does
So why can Fred next door still enjoy his morning shower and cup of coffee while you have to truck into town for bottled water? Sometimes it’s a quirk of geology. In other cases, Fred’s well goes deeper than yours or he may have a larger storage tank.
Recognize the danger signs
It’s hard to mistake the most obvious sign of a dry well: you turn on the tap and nothing comes out. But before that happens, you’ll often see warning signs that your well water levels are dropping. Watch out for:
- Lots of air or bubbles in your water
- Running out of water after heavy usage (such as several showers or loads of laundry one after the other)
- Very low water pressure
- A pump that isn’t producing as much water as it used to
- A pump that runs for a while before shutting off
- Neighbors who are having water shortage problems
So what can I do?
As with many of life’s problems, the best cure lies in prevention.
During periods of drought or when your well is running dry, conserve your household water. Let the lawn go brown. Cut back on the number of laundry loads you do, and skip the long, leisurely showers. Watch out for water shortage warnings and calls for water conservation from your local authorities.
In the longer term, consider installing water-efficient appliances, including toilets, faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads. If your well chronically runs dry, you may need to lower your pump, extend the well or drill a new one. You could also consider installing storage tanks that hold more water.
With scientists predicting more frequent droughts across the U.S. in the coming years, taking action now could save you a lot of headaches when the next stretch of hot, dry weather arrives.