Maintaining Wells During Drought

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Well owners may see some issues during times of drought. Water levels may fluctuate during dry periods and proper maintenance is important with all components to keep the water pumping. (DTN photo by Russ Quinn)

Much of the Northern Plains is experiencing the worst drought in several decades. Crops are barely growing and livestock producers are selling livestock because of lack of forages to feed their animals.

As the severe drought continues, among the many concerns of agricultural producers in this area is how to protect their wells.

It is normal for groundwater levels to rise and fall during the year, according to the University of Minnesota Extension, which has a website dedicated to well maintenance during drought. (See…)

With snow melt and spring rains, wells usually see levels increase, also known as recharge, during spring. A slow decrease, called drawdown, is usually seen later in the summer because of evaporation and less rain.

During drought, shallow wells are usually the first to experience issues because of their proximity to the surface. These include many sandpoint wells (shallow wells) that may be only 20-to-30 feet deep.

Having a deeper well can protect against low water levels, but even newer and deeper wells can experience issues during severe drought. These wells will take some time to recover and recharge water levels.


There are several reasons why a well stops producing water, according to the online resource. The components of a well should be checked to ensure they are working correctly.

When you have a loss of water, first look for issues with the pressure tank or well pump as these do need to be replaced every so often. They can malfunction without any warning signs.

The electrical connections of the well should also be inspected.

Clogged plumbing is another component that might have issues during a drought. Sometimes mineral deposits can build up in the plumbing lines and reduce the water flow.

There are several indicators of low water levels with wells. These include: the sounds of a submersible pump sucking air, the water from your tap may sputter, water appears cloudy and there may be possible sand in the toilet tank.

If a well does go dry, it may be a temporary issue caused from over-pumping, which is called a cone of depression. This situation will usually be resolved in a short period of time with decreased water use.

If the well stays dry for a long period of time and there is a submersible pump present, you may be able to get the pump lowered by a licensed well driller. Other options are to invest in a storage tank in your home or drill a deeper well.

There are also steps well owners can do to conserve water. These include: take shorter showers, let your lawn go dormant, fix leaky faucets and plumbing, and install water-saving plumbing fixtures.


Where I live in Nebraska, we have a well to provide us and our livestock with water. In the nearly 20 years we have lived there, we have never had any issues with the well itself, but we have had some issues with the well components.

One time, the pressure tank of the well gave out and we had to replace it. We have had water leaks with a couple hydrants on the place and underground water lines.

It does make for an interesting morning when you go outside to do chores and water is bubbling out of the ground in the middle of the place like an oil geyser. A quick call to our local well company and they came out and fixed the underground leak.

Despite these issues, I am grateful for a consistent source of water for our farm.

I think back to my grandma's stories of when she was kid and she would have to get up in the morning and draw water from their well by hand out in the middle of the yard and then take the water back to the house. She had to do this every day in all the weather extremes that Nebraska could throw at her in the 1910s and the 1920s.

You would not believe how much having electricity changed their lives, she told me years ago. The day they got running water in the house, which was after she was married to my grandpa sometime in the 1930s, was a wonderful day.

We should all remember these stories when we turn the faucet on today and clean water flows freely.

Russ Quinn can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter at @RussQuinnDTN


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