Water wells play a key role where municipal water supplies are not available. Domestic water wells, also called residential water wells, or private water wells, provide the water needed for daily living – drinking, cooking, washing people, washing clothes, and the like. The private water well may also be used to water for gardening or landscaping. Let’s take a closer look at the domestic water well and also look briefly at the pumps used to move water from the well to the point of use.
Groundwater and groundwater quality are of key importance to the state of California, as in many other states. To support good groundwater, the state and some localities place restrictions on building wells and regulations and standards for building, maintaining, and decommissioning wells. Your contractor should be very familiar with the regulations, even if you as a consumer are not. When you speak with your contractors, you will benefit from a little background on groundwater, wells and pumps, and constructions practices. Use the articles below to get insight into what it takes to build a well. With these articles as an overview, you’ll feel more comfortable discussing the well-building process and pump installation with your contractor.
Striking Groundwater in Napa County
Groundwater is a precious resource in California. Whether you live in Napa, American Canyon, St. Helena, Calistoga, Yountville, or in smaller areas like Angwin, Oakville, or Rutherford, it’s critical to protect the groundwater.
Water in private wells comes from groundwater. Groundwater is the water – from precipitation, or from nearby lakes, for example – that exists in the spaces between soil particles, rock cracks and the like in the saturation zone. The saturation zone lies well beneath the earth’s surface and is filled, or saturated, with water. The water table is the upper surface of the saturation zone and is affected by atmospheric pressure. Digging to the water table means digging to the point where the earth is saturated with water. Aquifers are naturally occurring phenomena within the saturation zone. An aquifer is any underground formation – perhaps formed by rock, or by any geological structures – that can store water that wells can access. So ideally your well will tap into an aquifer to produce water.
How to Locate Your Well in Napa County
Water availability, including a well, should be a consideration even before you purchase land. If you are considering buying a property with no well or other water source, talk to the realtor, neighbors, well construction companies in the area, and anyone else who can give insight into local water conditions. Their knowledge, along with any knowledge you can get from topographical reports, geological surveys, and the like, can help you determine if there is a possibility of finding enough water to support you. In lowlands, you are more likely to be able to estimate your likelihood of finding water based on nearby wells. In the hills and mountains, finding water can be even more difficult and even less predictable than in the lowlands. Of course, no well construction firm can guarantee to find water, no matter how good their local knowledge is.
Well placement involves other considerations as well. The state imposes restrictions, including how close you can build your well to existing facilities. For example, the well must be a specified distance from sewage tanks, from animal pastures, from graveyards, and other potential contaminants. Your contractor should be able to discuss these distances with you. You can also find California well standards at the Department of Water Resources site. Besides conforming to regulations, you should also try to place your well as close as possible to the point of use so that you can reduce 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.
You need your well to produce water in sufficient quantities to support your home. The recommended amount of water varies – a pumping rate between 1 gallon per minute (gpm) and 5 gpm is stipulated. This wide range reflects the varied conditions in which water is found in California. Some homeowners in the mountains make do with 1 gpm. There are several ways to estimate how much water you need. One technique is to count the number of fixtures in the house and calculate 1 gpm per fixture. For example, when the bathroom contains a sink, a tub with a faucet, and a showerhead, these count as three fixtures. The other 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 take into account water for landscaping or gardening or other purposes. As a guideline, a standard three to four bedroom house uses 8 gpm to 12 gpm.
Check with your power company about the presence of buried power lines near where you plan to put the well. Also check for trees or power lines that could potentially be damaged by the equipment used to drill the well.
Well Design and Construction in Napa County
Well construction in Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville, Napa, American Canyon, or Angwin, Oakville, or Rutherford all shares the same basic design. Let’s examine the design so you can have a reasonable conversation with your contractor or potential contractor.
Contractors build wells using different techniques, but any technique can create a proper, standards-compliant well if implemented correctly. In California, most wells are dug using rotary, reverse rotary, air rotary, and cable tool techniques. Different methods are used for different landscapes and for different purposes; for example, some techniques only work to build shallow wells. Some methods – for example, cable tool drilling – might take longer than other methods – e.g. rotary drilling. In addition, rotary drilling and reverse rotary drilling need lots of water during the drilling process and a place to send out the muddy result, which will be a consideration if no water is available in the location. These considerations are more relevant to your contractor than to you, however. Your contractor will probably choose the method based on his or her equipment, the land’s composition, and the depth of well needed. You should not concern yourself too much about well technique, as long as the equipment is in good repair so there are no breakdowns.
Cutting into the earth, the contractor creates the borehole. As the contractor drills, drill cuttings will emerge from the hole. The contractor must take note of these in a log. For the contractor, part of the reason for keeping the log is to know what kind of cuttings emerge from the hole. The contractor also records the amount and quality of water coming out of the hole. Knowing the composition of the cuttings – whether the surrounding material is coarse or fine, for example – will help in the well design. The log will eventually be given to the owner and a copy must be registered with the state. The Department of Water Resources maintains a well completion log for all wells in California.
Depending on what the contractor learns from boring the hole, well screens are placed in the hole, in combination with casing. The screens are designed to let water in and keep particles out. They have openings calibrated to the surrounding material to prevent that material from entering the well and clogging the pump. The walls of the well are called the casing – a tube inserted into the hole through which the water will flow. The tube may be of various materials, steel or plastic, among others. 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. Once the casing and screens are installed the well must be sealed. The casing is smaller than the borehole. The area between the outer wall of the casing and the inner walls of the borehole is called the annulus or annular space. It is filled with cement and bentonite to a regulated depth. The seal is to prevent contaminants from entering. This filling in of the annulus is also called grouting.
Developing the well is an important step and should not be overlooked. The contractor uses some method such as forcing water or air through the well to clear the well of any particles left over from construction. Good development extends the life of the well and of the pump, since contaminants can damage the pump. Once the well is developed, the contractor should do 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 changes. The test results include pump rate and water level information that you will need to determine your pump size.
At this point, it’s a good idea for the contractor to do a final inspection of the well. The final well seal is installed. A pump and, most often, a water storage system, are installed. If you want your water to flow to the house automatically, then you will likely need at least a storage tank. A pressurized storage tank includes compressed air and water. Ideally, there should be a barrier between the water and the air, so that the water does not absorb the air. This tank provides a small amount of storage. Mostly it takes advantage of the compressed air to help push the water through the pipes. In some cases, the tank becomes waterlogged – that is, the air does get absorbed and the tank completely fills with water. In this case, the pump will operate continuously, which is not good for its extended life.
Your Help in Napa County Needs the Right Qualifications
Be aware that the state of California and its localities have mandated certain qualifications to build a well. Whether you are creating your well in Napa, American Canyon, Calistoga, Yountville, or St. Helena, or in Angwin, Oakville, or in Rutherford, check to see if you need a permit. Many areas in California require a permit before you can dig or modify an existing a well. To see if you live in such an area, check with the Department of Water Resources on their Web site to see if a well-permitting agency exists for your region or city. If it does, you will need to obtain a permit before you can start your well.
Any water well contractor in California must have a license. Moreover, the license for those who construct wells must be a C57, 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, most often a C61. The C61 specialty license includes subcategory D21 for machinery and pumps. While some well water contractors also sell and install pumps for your well, others will refer you to a pump contractor. No matter whether you go with one firm or with multiple firms, make sure each is properly and currently licensed for what they are doing. You can check license status at the Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors’ State License Board site.
Looking Beyond the License to Find a Good Contractor in Napa County
Your evaluation starts with a license check, but it should not stop there. It’s a good idea to ask around for recommendations from people who have had wells built nearby. Especially when looking for water, local knowledge can be invaluable. You’ll want someone who has earned a good reputation for knowing the region. You should also check to see if there is a physical location for the contractor’s place of business. If you can only get your contractor on a cell phone, you might encounter some frustration.
If the company you are working with has employees, it must have workers’ compensation insurance, according to the state of California. Check that your contractor carries it. Ask if your contractor has general liability insurance. General liability insurance is not required. If the contractor does not have general liability insurance, ask them how they will take care of any losses from damage to property that would usually be covered by insurance. If they cannot cover such costs, you or your insurance will have to. Verify that your contractor is bonded, since a California contractor must also have a contractor’s license bond. The basic required bond is a minimal amount and may not cover all the costs of any work that does not meet local codes. Also, the mere fact of being bonded does not provide any guarantee of the contractor’s abilities.
Whether or not you use a single firm for the pump and the well, you should not be rushed into pump selection. Sometimes firms will do both, but they must be licensed for both. Sometimes the well vendor can refer you to a pump vendor. It’s important to be aware that you cannot know what pump you need for your well until you have had the well drilled and the pump test performed. The pump size depends on how much work it has to do to extract water, so you need the results of the pump test. Be wary of anyone who tries to sell you a pump before you have performed the pump test.
Only work with contractors who agree to provide a detailed, written estimate. The estimate should not be a lump sum, and it should itemize categories of services and materials. The contract should include:
- Estimated depth of well. You cannot guarantee where water will be found, but you can decide with your contractor in advance on an estimate.
- 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.
- If included, water testing services.
- If included, the pump, water storage supplies, pump power source, and anything else related to the water system.
- 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.
- 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.
- Well development. Cleans the well of dirt and other particles.
- Pump test.
- 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.
Be aware that circumstances change and you may need to modify the original agreement. You should discuss these with your contractor and understand them. In a few cases, the changes may be significant enough to warrant a new contract.
Getting Water out of the Well in Napa County
In almost every case, whether your well is located in Calistoga, American Canyon, Napa, Yountville, or St. Helena, or in Oakville, Rutherford, or Angwin, you need a pump to lift the water to the surface. The kind of pump you need will depend on the depth of water in your well. The most common kinds of pumps are submersible pumps and jet pumps. A submersible is very common in California. You will find some discussions of two-wire or three-wire pumps. In a two-wire pump, the controls are built in. In a three-wire pump, you need a separate control box. Jet pumps are sometimes classified as shallow well (25 feet or less) and deep well (25-110 feet). 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.
You or your contractor can use the following data to determine what pump to install:
- Pipes – what kind and what diameter and thickness
- Distance water must travel from well
- Casing material and thickness
- Distance from the top of the well to the waterline (the water’s surface)
- Water use – for household only, or for other uses
- Elevation between pump and point of use
- Casing material and thickness
Pumps operate on a gallons per minute basis. Pumps are sized based on their pumping capacity. It’s important not to get a pump that is more powerful than you need, since this inefficiency will raise energy costs. Your pump should produce enough water to meet peak demand in your house. Your pump contractor should help you determine the other pieces you need to complete your pump and water system. These may include switches, valves, and power sources. Valves may be particularly important to prevent backflow into your well.
In Napa County Wells Need Maintenance and Proper Destruction
Any well, wherever it is in Napa County, whether in Calistoga, Yountville, St. Helena, American Canyon, Napa, Angwin, Oakville, or Rutherford, requires maintenance for good performance and long lifespan. Good well maintenance can include keeping a well log, which records information over time. Typical maintenance includes:
- Water quality. Test if you notice significant changes in your water. Test for bacteria annually, and for chemical quality every five years.
- Clean the well, especially after work or repairs on the well.
- 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.
- 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.
If you need to modify an existing well, for example, to make it deeper, you need a permit just as your would for a new well. When a well is no longer producing or will not be used any more, the state requires that it be destroyed by a licensed contractor. The well destruction must be reported to the state. The destruction typically involves sealing the well to prevent contaminants from getting into the groundwater.
Keeping Up With the Quality of Water Pumped From Your Napa County Well
Read moreRead less
When you dig a well, you are looking for water that is not only sufficient in quantity, but also in quality. You must test the water for its quality and safety. You should first test as the well is being dug. Then test regularly over time. You should determine with your contractor who will be responsible for the water quality testing. The water sample should be tested by a state-certified laboratory. You can find information on certified laboratories and related information on the Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program Web site from the California Department of Public Health. Based on the findings, you may want to add pieces to your water system, such as water softeners.