Water wells provide vital resources when other water sources are not available. Domestic water wells, also called residential water wells, or private water wells, provide the water needed for daily living and tasks within the home – washing people, washing clothes, drinking, cooking, etc.
Private water can also supply landscaping or gardening needs. California seeks to protect its groundwater, like many states. Some localities place restrictions on building wells. The state regulates and provides standards for building, maintaining, and destroying wells. Your contractor should be very familiar with the regulations, even if you as a consumer are not.
Having a little background on groundwater, wells and pumps, and constructions practices will help you when you go to speak with a contractor. The articles below give you an overview of the well construction process. With these articles as an introduction, you’ll feel more confident discussing the well-building process and pump installation with your contractor.
Finding the Groundwater in Sonoma County
Whether you build your well in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Healdsburg, or in smaller areas like Agua Caliente, Asti, or Penngrove, it’s critical that your well construction is safe and does not harm the groundwater supply. Wells not only tap into the groundwater, they also have the potential to pass contaminants back into the groundwater.
Groundwater comes from precipitation or from runoff from surface water features like lakes. Groundwater exists in the spaces between soil particles, rock cracks and other geological formations in the saturation zone. The saturation zone lies well beneath the earth’s surface, beneath the aeration zone. The saturation zone is completely filled, or saturated, with water. The water table and the beginning of the saturation zone are thus the same thing.
Within the saturation zone, aquifers occur naturally: they are any underground formation – formed by rock, or by any geological material – that can store water that wells can access.
Making Sure There’s Water Down There
If you want to buy a property that has no well or other water source, think about the well before you make the purchase. Realtors, neighbors, well construction companies in the area – these all make great sources for providing insight into local water conditions. Local knowledge, along with any knowledge you can get from topographical reports, geological surveys, and other research, can help you determine if you are likely to locate water in the area. This approach often has the best success rate in lowland areas.
In the hills and mountains, finding water can be even more difficult and even less predictable than in the lowlands, so evaluating neighboring water supplies has less pertinence. Of course, no well construction firm can guarantee to find water, no matter how good much local experience they have.
Regulation and practicality both play a role in deciding where to place a well. State standards include restrictions on how close you can build your well next to existing facilities. The well must be a defined distance from sewage tanks, from animal pastures, from graveyards, and other potential contaminants. You can find California well standards at the Department of Water Resources site; your contractor should be familiar with them.
The practical considerations include the following. Try to place your well as close as possible to the point of use to minimize the distance the water has to travel. The well should be at the highest gradient or you will have to improve the gradient so that surface water always drains away from the well. Ask your power company about the presence of underground power lines near where you plan to put the well. Consider whether there are trees or power lines that could potentially be by the well-drilling equipment.
You need a well that is going to provide a good amount of water. The recommended amount of water varies between a pumping rate of 1 gallon per minute (gpm) to 5 gpm. This wide range reflects the many different conditions under which water is found in California. Some homeowners in the mountains make do with 1 gpm. There are a couple of popular methods for estimating how much water you need. One technique is to count the number of fixtures in the house. Then calculate 1 gpm per fixture. With this method, when the bathroom contains a sink, a tub with a faucet, and a showerhead, the bathroom total is three fixtures.
Another method is to determine the peak flow required over seven minutes, either in the morning or at night, when all the family is home and using water. These methods do not account for water used to landscape or garden or other purposes. As a guideline, a standard three to four bedroom house uses 8 gpm to 12 gpm.
Constructing Your Well in Sonoma County
The phases of well construction, whether the well is in Windsor, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, or Agua Caliente, Asti, or Penngrove, share some similarities across well types. Getting an overview of the basic construction process allows you to have a reasonable conversation with your contractor or potential contractor.
Most wells in California are dug using rotary, reverse rotary, air rotary, and cable tool techniques, though other methods are also used. Different techniques are used for different geologies and for different purposes. For example, some techniques only work if you are going to build a shallow well. Cable tool drilling takes more time than rotary drilling.
Another consideration is that rotary drilling and reverse rotary drilling need lots of water during the drilling process. They also need a place to pass out the muddy result. When water is not readily available at the construction site, rotary or reverse rotary methods are not possible. Such considerations are not really relevant to you as a consumer.
Your contractor will choose the method based on his or her equipment, the land’s composition, and the depth of well required. Don’t worry too much about the method used to dig the well. Your only concern in this area is that the contractor’s equipment should be in good repair so there are no breakdowns.
As the contractor opens up the borehole and digs into the earth, drills, cuttings, or scraps, emerge from the hole. The contractor must record his or her observations of the drill cuttings in a log. Knowing the composition of the cuttings – whether the surrounding material is coarse or fine, for example - helps in the well design, particularly the well screens or perforations. The contractor also records the amount and quality of water coming out of the hole. A copy of the log will eventually be given to the well owner. A copy must be submitted to the state, so that the Department of Water Resources can maintain a well completion log for all wells in California.
In well design, the screens or perforations are designed to let water in and keep particles out. The openings are calibrated to the surrounding material to prevent that material from entering the well and clogging the pump. So there are fine holes when fine particles are present, etc. In addition to the screens, the well walls are made of casing. Casing is a tube inserted into the hole through which the pump will draw water. The tube may be constructed of one of various materials, including steel or plastic.
Depending on the local geology, the well screen and casing may be surrounded by a gravel pack. The pack acts as an additional filter before water enters the screen.
The area between the outer walls of the casing and the inner walls of the borehole is called the well’s annulus, or annular space. This space appears because the casing installed in the well is smaller than the borehole. The annular space must be filled with cement and bentonite to the depth described in the California standards. This seal is to prevent contaminants from entering. Filling in of the annulus is also called grouting.
The next step should not be ignored – it is developing the well and may take hours or days. Developing the well clears away any particles left over from construction, along with any oil or other residue that came from the drilling process. Well development techniques include forcing water or air through the well to clean it. Good development extends the life of the well and of the pump, since contaminants can damage the pump.
Following well development, the contractor is ready to perform a pump test, also called an aquifer test. This test evaluates how much water is readily available from the well. The test pumps water at different rates over time and measures how much the water level in the well varies. The test results include pump rate and water level information that you will need to determine your pump size. Before the final well seal is applied, the contractor should inspect the well.
After the final well seal is applied, the well phase is over. The pump phase then begins with the installation of the pump and water system, if the latter is being installed. The water system refers to any other elements you need to make the water work as desired. If you want your water to flow to the house automatically, then you will probably need at least a storage tank.
A pressurized storage tank comprises compressed air and water. Ideally, there should be a physical barrier between the water and the air, so that the water does not absorb the air. This tank provides a small amount of storage. It’s main purpose, however, is to use the compressed air to help push water through the pipes. In some cases, the tank can become waterlogged. This happens when the water absorbs the air and the tank completely fills with water. In this situation, the pump will operate continuously, which may cause premature pump failure.
Your Sonoma County Well and Well Contractor Need Proper Credentials
Whether you are constructing your well in Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Windsor, Healdsburg, or Rohnert Park, or in Agua Caliente, Asti, or in Penngrove, ask the relevant well permitting agency to see if you need a permit. Many areas or regions in California require a permit before you can dig or modify an existing a well. The Department of Water Resources lists the well permitting agencies on their website. If an agency exists for your locality, you will need to obtain a permit before you can start construction.
At the state level, regulations apply to contractors. All water well contractors in California must have a C57 license, the specific license for a water well drilling contractor. Once your well is constructed, you will need a pump. Installing a pump also requires a specially licensed contractor, usually often a C61. The C61 specialty license includes subcategory D21 for machinery and pumps. Sometimes your well contractor will also be able to fulfill your pump needs. No matter whether you go with one firm or with multiple firms, make sure each is properly and currently licensed for the service they are providing. You can check license status at the Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors’ State License Board website.
A License is Just a Beginning for Good Water Well Contractors in Sonoma County
The license is only the beginning of what you should look for. It’s a good idea to ask people who have had wells built nearby what their experience was like. Especially when looking for water, local knowledge can be invaluable. You’ll want a contractor who has earned a good reputation for knowing the region.
The state contractors’ board recommends that you should also check to see if there is a physical location for the contractor’s business address. Having a physical address increases the number of ways you can get in touch with the contractor, so you are not relying on reaching the contractor only through a cell phone, for example.
Ask a potential contractor if he or she carries workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation is mandatory for any California company with employees. Don’t work with them if they don’t have it. Also check whether your contractor has general liability insurance. The state does not require general liability insurance. However, if the contractor does not have general liability insurance, you need to find out how they will take care of any losses from damage to property, which is what general liability insurance covers.
If they cannot cover such costs, you or your insurance will have to take the costs on.
A contractor’s license bond is mandatory for all contractors. Ask your contractor if he or she is bonded. Be aware, though, that the basic required bond is a minimal amount. The bond is designed to cover the costs of fixing work that does not meet local codes. Because the required amount is small and there may be multiple claims on it, the bond may not cover your costs in the end. Also, don’t assume that the fact of being bonded provides any guarantee of the contractor’s skills.
Ask for a detailed, itemized, written contract, and don’t work with contractors who won’t provide it. You should discuss any modifications that arise during the execution of the work with your contractor and understand them. In a few cases, the changes may be significant enough to warrant a new contract.
The contract should include:
- Intake section. Where water actually enters the well. The contract should state the type and diameter of the material used – for example, screens or perforated casing.
- Well completion report.
- Well development. Cleans the well of dirt and other particles.
- Pump test.
- If included, water testing services.
- If included, the pump, water storage supplies, pump power source, and anything else related to the water system. If the pump is included, you should be aware that the exact pump size cannot be determined until after the well is constructed and the pump test performed. The contract should somehow indicate acknowledgement of this fact
- Guarantee. The contractor can provide good workmanship and materials. Of course, there can be no guarantee that you will strike water or that the water will be of good quality.
- Casing material and diameter. The casing material – steel, plastic, etc. – should be defined as well as the diameter and thickness. The diameter will be based on the expected amount of water from the well.
- Size of hole. There are standards for the diameter between the casing and the borehole wall, based on the method of drilling. Your contract should specify both the method of drilling and the borehole size. Estimated depth of well. You cannot guarantee where water will be found, but you can decide with your contractor in advance on an estimate.
Charges by unit:
Materials (gravel pack, sealant, etc) by unit
Services – grouting, test pump per hour, developing per hour
Drilling per foot
Casing per foot
- Sealing the annulus. Again, the space between the casing and borehole wall should be sealed. The contract should state how deep within in the well this sealing goes, based on the standards for the well type and circumstances.
Using a Pump to Get Water Above Ground in Sonoma County
A pump is often a critical component of a successful well installation, whether your well is situated in Windsor, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, or Rohnert Park, or in Asti, Penngrove, or Agua Caliente. The pump brings water the surface, and the kind of pump you need depends on the depth of water in your well. The most common kinds of pumps in current use are submersible pumps and jet pumps. Jet pumps are sometimes classified as shallow well (25 feet or less) and deep well (25-110 feet).
Submersibles come in two-wire or three-wire configurations. In a two-wire pump, the controls are integrated. In a three-wire pump, you need a separate control box. Most people install pumps that run on electricity. There are alternatives available that use different power sources, including pumps that are solar, air-driven, and manual. Important information that you need to choose the pump includes:
- Water use – for household only, or for other uses
- Elevation between pump and point of use
- Pipes – what kind and what diameter and thickness
- Distance water must travel from well
- Casing material and thickness
- Casing material and thickness
- Distance from the top of the well to the waterline (the water’s surface)
Your pump contractor should help you determine the size of the pump. Your pump should produce enough water to meet peak demand in your house. But it’s important not to get a pump that is more powerful than you need, since this raises energy costs. Your contractor should also advise on what other pieces you need to finish your pump and water system.
These additional pieces may include switches, valves, and power sources. In particular, valves can be important to prevent backflow into your well.
Maintain Well Health and Destroy Wells Appropriately In Sonoma County
All wells need maintenance, wherever they are located in Sonoma County, whether in Windsor, Healdsburg, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Agua Caliente, Asti, or Penngrove. Good well maintenance often includes keeping a well log, which records information over time. Typical maintenance includes:
- Record the water level (from the ground to the top of the water surface) twice a year. Spring and fall are often recommended. This will give you a picture of water availability. It might vary with the seasons.
- Water quality. Test if you notice significant changes in your water. Test for bacteria annually, and for chemical quality every five years.
- Pump test once in a while – maybe every two years. Some utilities will perform a pump test. Take note of any changes in pump capacity.
- Clean the well, especially after work or repairs on the well.
A licensed contractor must be employed to destroy a well. Wells must be destroyed when they will no longer be used, or when they have reached the end of their lives – often about 20 years. The state requires this destruction, which must be reported to the state. Destruction usually involves sealing the well to prevent contaminants from getting into the groundwater.
If your well has the possibility to still produce but requires modifications, then you will have to get a permit to modify it, in the areas where a permit is required to build a well.
Making Sure You Get Good Water Quality From Your Sonoma County Well
Quality and quantity are the two key attributes you want to find in your well’s water supply. You must test the water for its quality and safety. The first test can be performed as the well is being created. Subsequently, you need to test regularly. Discuss with your contractor who will be responsible for the initial water quality testing.
No matter who captures the sample, use a state-certified laboratory to perform the tests. You can find information on certified laboratories participating in the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program by going to the program’s website. The program is run by the California Department of Public Health. Based on the water quality findings, you may want to add to your water system - you may need water-softening devices, for example.