What can you do if your private drinking water well fails to provide an adequate water supply due to drought conditions? Private wells tend to be rather shallow in depth below ground, and shallow wells are more susceptible to adverse impacts due to drought. Most community wells are generally deeper, so a private well may have problems when a neighboring community supply, not far away, may be fine
Groundwater levels in Nebraska can vary over time. Lower levels can occur during periods of little rainfall and warm temperatures. Periods of little rainfall reduce recharge to the aquifer. Warmer temperatures can cause an increase in vegetative evaporation and transpiration resulting in an increase in outdoor water use. This puts additional stress on the water system.
If you experience water outages, sudden drops in water pressure, air bubbles coming out of non-aerated faucets, or the water suddenly becomes cloudy or heavily silted, your private drinking water well may be having trouble keeping up with the water demand. Other problems associated with valves, waterlines, pumps, well casing, or pressure tanks can also cause some of these problems, so it is important to work with a State of Nebraska licensed professional to identify and mitigate the problem.
In some cases the problems mentioned above may only occur when water is being pumped from the well continuously for a period of time. This may be during periods of water use for irrigation, showers, or clothes washing. Under these conditions, you may be able to continue using the well by initiating water conservation measures and spreading out the timing of water use so that high water use activities do not occur at the same time.
In extreme drought, consider allowing Kentucky bluegrass and buffalograss lawns to go dormant. Irrigate only if no rain is received for 3 weeks. Minimize foot traffic and mowing on dormant turf. Tall fescue lawns do not recover well if allowed to go dormant in severe drought conditions. If you continue to irrigate your lawn, water to the bottom of the roots. Use a screwdriver or soil probe to determine how deep the roots are and how far the water has soaked in. Try to keep the soil moist about ½ inch deeper than the deepest living roots. Water in the morning (4 to 10 am) to minimize evaporation.
Mulch garden plants to reduce evaporation and weed competition for available soil moisture. Irrigate woody plants deeply and infrequently. Use a soaker hose or drip system and water in the morning to minimize evaporation.
Take quick showers and try to schedule showers during periods of low water use. A quick shower uses less water than a bath.
When washing clothes, do only full loads. Washing a few full loads typically will use less water than doing several small loads. Adjust the water level to the soil level.
In addition, you might replace your pressure tank with a larger one or install a second tank to provide additional water storage. For a well with a slow recovery rate, the additional storage can reduce demand on the well during high water use periods by storing water extracted during lower use periods.
When drought persists, the water level in a well can drop below the submersible pump or pump intake, causing a loss of water. Shallow wells are more susceptible than deeper wells. It may be possible to lower the pump or pump intake within the existing well, although this might provide only a temporary solution. A more permanent solution might be achieved by deepening the existing well or drilling a new well. Work with a State of Nebraska licensed professional to determine the best solution for your situation.
Some information was adapted from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Fact Sheet WD-DWGB-1-16 and the Pennsylvania State University Extension publication "Managing Your Well During a Drought." Landscape water conservation information was provided by UNL Extension Educator John Fech.