Sealing unused wells is an option to help protect groundwater

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 7, 2002

Well-sealing protects groundwater from contamination.

Unused wells provide a pathway through which contaminants at the ground surface may move down to the groundwater and contaminate nearby wells.

Because groundwater provides drinking water to nearly all residents of Mower County groundwater must be protected from contamination.

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Identifying and sealing unused wells is an important way to protect the groundwater resource.

That's how Bill Buckley, Mower County's environmental health services directors, makes the case for well-sealing.

Concerns about possible groundwater contamination led to requirements that unused and abandoned wells

be sealed or

annually permitted. "Mower County enforces this requirement," said Buckley.

It does this at the time of the sale of property. A seller who fails to properly disclose a well on their property is liable for the costs of sealing the well up to six years after the date of the sale, according to Buckley..

Recently, the Mower County Board of Commissioners approved $10,000 for a well-sealing program. "Wells eligible for the cost-sharing program include those that are not part of the property sale or being prepared for sale and that have not been already been sealed properly."

"One well per application will be eligible with a

property owner only being allowed up to 50 percent of the well-sealing cost to a total of $500," said Buckley.

It may seem strange to some people that so much attention is being given unused wells.

After all, they have been abandoned and are not in use. Merely holes in the ground. No water is being drawn from them.

In many cases, they are buried and forgotten.

Buckley said dangers still exist.

"Often they

have not been sealed properly," he said. "Sealing is the process of clearing an unused well of debris and filling the well with a special material called 'grout'."

Also, the sealing must be done by a licensed contractor.

Buckley also repeated his warning that an unused well could potentially affect nearby drinking water wells. "They may threaten the quality of the water in city water wells, your neighbor's well or even your own well," he said.

"Groundwater is the main source of drinking water for three out of every four Minnesotans," he said.

As a well ages, the casing may rust, joints may leak,

the pump may become stuck in the well or the well may fill with debris," Buckley said.

Also, if the well is covered with loose boards or concrete, the cover may eventually decay or break open "Surface water runoff, debris and other contaminants can then enter the well," he said.

Because an unused and abandoned well provides

an open channel

between the surface and an aquifer of clean groundwater below the ground-s surface or between shallow and deep aquifers themselves, stopping contaminated surface runoff from getting there is the challenge to protect ground water.

That, Buckley said, is "Everybody's business."

For more information about the Mower County well-sealing program, call Buckley at 437-9564.