Dig your own water well?

ion_source_guyDecember 30, 2007

Fort Collins City government's idea of water conservation is to penalize gardeners, or anyone with a big lot with unfairly over priced water. Basically the water is priced on a graduated scale: the amount of water needed in the winter is nearly free, then the amount of water needed for a small lawn is very cheap, but the water for a good sized lawn is very high, and if you have a big lot full of lawn and garden like me, the price per gallon for water during the hot summer months is OUTRAGEOUS!!! Basically the city makes enough money off me during the summer months to subsidize the water bill all year of about 10 of those new houses on postage stamp sized lots.

Of course the City does nothing to limit use of water in parks and medians all over the city, and the dingaling's on city council killed a plan to build a new water storage dam to prepare for drought in the future.

I'm giving serious thought to buying or renting a rig so that I can dig a water well. I've searched the net a bit, and there's still that deal that looks like a lawn mower engine on top of a pole that always used to be advertised in organic gardening, or there's a new approach which uses compressed air in a hose to drive some kind of grinding deal that lowers down the hole on the hose. The later only goes about 100' but cost of the equipment is way less (about the price of my water bill last July).

I've been told that you can't get a license to drill a well if you're within the city limits. (that would mess up the City's monopoly on water) So I'm a little disconcerted about drilling without proper authorization, but at this point I'm fed up and concidering bending the rules a bit.

Have any of you folks tried digging your own water well, and if so how did it go? Which kind of equipment did you use? Have you heard of anyone getting in trouble for having an undocumented well?


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highalttransplant(z 5 Western CO)


I don't have any answer for you about the well, but I can sympathize with your frustrations!

Where I live (near the Western Slope) we have irrigation from the Colorado river in the summer months. It is mandatory to use it, instead of "house water". They shut the irrigation ditches down for a week each July for maintenance, and this summer we were leaving for vacation during that time, so we were on house water for most of that month. Well, a city employee showed up at my door when I returned, to tell me we had used way more than our allotment of city water, and that we would be charged approximately double the normal per gallon amount!

It is nice to have irrigation water available, as it is much cheaper, but it has a down side too. All the dirt and debris clogs up the sprinkler heads, even though there is a filter on the pump, so there is more maintenance involved. Plus, it also contains whatever pollution is in the river, and a lot of weed seeds too.

I wouldn't want to be on a well here though. There are way too many gas wells being drilled around here for me to feel safe about the water quality. At least with town water, it comes from the river upstream from most of the drilling, it gets tested regularly, and a report is sent to the residents each year.

In this part of the country, I don't think there IS such a thing as cheap water, but I wish you success on your quest.


    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 4:28PM
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I'm not an expert, but the regulation against drilling for water in your yard may not be due to the city trying to maintain a monopoly. It may be a water rights issue. You own your land, but you may not have any rights to the water below it. In the west, water rights are regulated very closely and are responsible for a lot of laws that seem to have no real reason.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 7:02PM
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david52 Zone 6

Bruce, I've drilled/built a dozen or so water wells over the course of my career, and I'm not an expert, but know the rudiments. Who ever is trying to sell a drill rig with a lawn mower engine for use in Colorado is sorta off the mark - that won't work. Drilling for a simple, domestic house usage only well in Colorado will set you back at least 10 grand, if not 25, and thats if they find water quickly.

Then, in Colorado, you hit all kinds of water rights issues, as bpgreen, and you need a well permit from the state, which they are very unlikely to offer.

So you're on the bleeding edge of water desires meet diminishing supply, and the only situation I've heard of thats worse is if you live in a neighborhood with big lawns who have an HMO that demands Kentucky Blue Grass lawn, and you can't plant some native species, and are stuck with $400 a month water bills.

I'd advise looking into native grass lawn, and drip irrigation for your garden, and see if, maybe clandestinely, you could use some 'grey water' from the house in the garden.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2007 at 8:12PM
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fredbarber(z4 CO & z6 MA)

Bruce, as others have mentioned, the first issue you'll face is permitting, and it's a state issue, not a city issue. For information, see http://water.state.co.us/groundwater/groundwater.asp.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2007 at 10:32AM
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berrytea4me(Z5 CO)

One of the many reasons I refused to buy in FC or any of the other larger cities in CO. Nanny-state government is out of control in this state. A person should be able to live on enough land to grow their own food and make enjoyable surroundings w/o intrusion by government or nosy neighbors.

I hate to suggest it but maybe a short move is in order. I live My little town is on it's way to FC style government too. I was sited this year for not cutting a 1' strip of grass along my fence but on THE TOWN'S PROPERTY! I was just waiting for fall so that I could dig out the iris I had planted there w/o damaging them- kept the rest of the right of way mowed and maintained at my own expense for years. I planted it in ornamental grasses in protest because they all fall into the definition of outlawed plants in the town's newly adopted ordinances.

My advise to all...vote to restore your property rights before you don't have any left at all. Get rid of HOA's and bloated governments- all they want is to control you for your money. If you leave it to those currently in control we'll all be forced to live in condo's for max capacity to make land developers and bloated city governments rich! When I lived in WA State the citizens united for property rights and pushed most of this junk back. One of the reasons they were successful is that most of the population lived in the county outside of city limits. I've heard they are fighting it again though.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2008 at 9:05PM
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It sounds as if you and I are of like mind. I hear you about living in one of the smaller towns, but my wife is a piano teacher, so a location near middle of FTC was a requirement. Our neighborhood (built in 77) has no HOA and the only covenant says you can't put an oil well on your property. There's no way I'd buy a house in a neighborhood where I can't even choose the paint for my own house, or park my car on the street. Get real!

A friend told me that there is no restriction to keep someone from digging a 40 foot sump to help prevent water from flooding the basement, and there's nothing wrong with pumping water from the sump whenever you want. Your mention that most of the older wells are less than 25' confirms that in many cases only modest depth is needed. I have good reason to expect the water table is pretty high in our area. Do you get good flow from your reactivated well?

Bringing in a regular drilling rig and putting in a regular well is out of the question. That kind of thing is not going to happen without proper documentation, and I don't think that's going to happen. If it turns out there's no water up close to the surface, bringing in that kind of equipment to put in a real water well simply would not be cost effective. Even with my outrageous water bill, it would take many years to pay off that kind of investment with the water bill savings.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2008 at 12:42AM
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Before discussing the plans for the well, is it possible that you're watering too much? What kind of grass do you have? How often do you water? How much water do you apply in one watering (in inches of water)?

Many people think grass needs much more water than it does. Kentucky Bluegrass needs about an inch to an inch and a half of water a week. Most Fescues need about 3/4 inch per week (some can get by with significantly less). Native grasses can do well with 1/2 inch to 1 inch every other week.

If you're planning to drill a 25 to 40 ft irrigation well and call it a sump based on what your friend told you, I hope your friend is an attorney.

From your comments on wanting to avoid the proper documentation, I think you already realize that what he told you may not be entirely accurate.

Keep in mind that if you drill an illegal well, you'll need to disclose that if you ever try to sell the home.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2008 at 2:20AM
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berrytea4me(Z5 CO)

Hey Bruce,
Haven't been back on this forum in a few days.
Years ago when I had some property in WA that needed water I checked out an outfit that sold hand well-drilling setups. They were not too expensive. They were like gas powered hand-augers you get for post holes at the rental store only they had special bits & you attached 4" or 6" diameter pipe as you go down. They used to advertise in Mother Earth News. You might try Google search on it. They were worthless if you had a lot of rock but otherwise worked ok.

If you sell you can always cap/fill in the well. I'm assuming you'd cut off city water lines from your sprinkler system otherwise they'd be upset if you don't get a permit to inspect your backflow preventing system. That's where they would get really nasty with fines.

More of an issue is when the "water police" come about when water restrictions are in place. If your neighbors see you watering they could report it. Out here we all have to put signs in our yards stating "well water" when the restrictions are in place.

I started out with good flow on my well. I had it tested several years ago before undertaking this project and the guy who came out could not make the water level drop with his trash pump on full bore. The well was putting out more than 16ga/min. They measured it in the spring. Of course it took me 4 yrs to finally get the sprinklers in and it was Sept before the pump was set up. I ran it dry in late Oct early Nov. I could see the original pump lines buried in mud so I don't know yet if this is going to be a season issue related to the drought or if I need to have a well driller out to dig out any sediment that has built up during the years it was unused. In my case the well casing is 4' wide so not as easy as just flushing out a 6" pipe to refresh the well. That's what we did in WA. They would come out and "recharge" the well by flushing high pressure water/air back through it to push the sediment back into the underground springs. Have to get a consultation to see what they can do to refresh this type of well.

Also, check your property description. Mine specifically states that I have irrigation rights to water flowing under the ground and accessed via well. If your's specifically excludes that then the our favorite local water company could go after you. But, given you didn't have an existing well there might be no mention of water rights one way or the other.

If grass was all I was worried about watering I would not have an issue, don't have any grass yet...haven't been able to plant any w/o a water system in place. The real problem here is getting enough water into the ground to keep your trees alive. My spruce trees tap down into that water table but most ornamentals don't go that deep and I'm on the verge of loosing some mature landscaping with the extended drought we've had over the last 7-8 yrs..

Good luck whatever you decide to do.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2008 at 11:32PM
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You might try the technique at http://www.drillyourownwell.com I have used it and it works for both shallow irrigation wells and geothermal installations.

Here is a link that might be useful: Drill Your Own Well

    Bookmark   May 30, 2010 at 8:36AM
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Price: $1,649

1,000 Gallon WATERHARVEST CLASSIC Water Storage Tank
dimensions: 5�7" diameter x 5�6" height

color: galvanized steel finish

Comes with a strainer basket, overflow, 1 outlet and 1 tap in standard position. Constructed from corrugated galvanized steel with an FDA approved interior emulsion coating. Can be fitted with well inlet.

Here is a link that might be useful: TexasRainwaterTanks.com

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 4:26PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado


What's going on around here???????

And from somebody else who hasn't even registered!!!!!!!!!

I thought it wasn't supposed to be possible to post without registering!

There's more and more of this happening around here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 5:14PM
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dsieber(z5 (Lakewood CO))

Plus it is off the mark. It is illegal to harvest rain in CO.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2011 at 10:03PM
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I know this post is old. But thought I would post anyway. I can't believe the cost of water is going up. I hooked up an old well that was on my property and got completely off city water. Much better tasting and no bill.

I do plan to drill a new well later just to have as a backup. I might use the drill rig in the link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rockbuster Well Drill Rig

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 11:05PM
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It's no longer illegal to harvest rainwater if you are on a well or even have a permit for a well.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 8:20PM
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Kendra Heiss

Magnoliaroad (5) is that true about it not being illegal to harvest rainwater? Building on 40 acres and looking to decide on either earthship or modular home.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2015 at 4:56PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Kendra,

Welcome to RMG!

Are you in Colorado? I don't know if there's an exception if you have a well permit for your property, but I'm linking a page with the Colorado general info about harvesting rainwater and using graywater. It's still illegal to use either of those in the state. [So if you're doing it, don't post it online! ;-)] If you go to the "ground water" tab it has info about wells and well permits, and possibly you can find info there about if there's an exception for people who have well permits.

Colorado rainwater harvesting info

Glad you found us here "on the other side,"

    Bookmark   February 18, 2015 at 5:32PM
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ZachS. z5 Littleton, CO


Water laws in the west are a lot different then they are in the east. In the east, rainfall and water are plentiful, so the laws about who owns the water are less restrictive. Out here in the west, they are based on the notion that the folks with water rights actually own the water before it even falls from the sky! It sounds crazy, but, it actually makes some sense when you think about it. Back in the days when farming and agriculture ruled the arid western states, it was important that the folks with water shares actually got their share of water. If Farmer A sets up a rain barrel, he would in fact be stealing water from Farmer B further down the line by not allowing the runoff from his farm make it to the next farm.

So, this seemingly archaic law has stayed with us since the pioneer days, and it's hard to imagine that the runoff from our suburban houses will ever make it to a farm, especially with acres and acres of lush Kentucky blue soaking it all up. But, that's the method behind the madness, at least as far as I understand it (and it bewilders me that people who who don't use city water were recently given the exemption, when it is far more likely that their runoff will contribute the water shares than mine).

    Bookmark   February 18, 2015 at 11:36PM
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I referred someone on a Facebook group to you guys today, and paused to see what's happening when I was here to grab a link. If berrytea4me is still around, I'd love to know more about rejuvenating a well. Our house in WA has a well (maybe two, I'm not totally sure, I've seen some info that there's a back up well also). The well used to supply our subdivision before they went on city water. It has not been capped, and we'd like to investigate activating it if its not horribly horribly expensive. It's an 8" casing and is deep. It has a massive pump on it (no power). I think it's been sitting since about 1985 though, so who knows what's happened with it. It's legal to irrigate up to a certain amount of property without a water rights certificate (it's either 20,000 sf or half an acre, or something, maybe it was less. I know when they told me, it would cover the garden area and any fruit trees we decided to put in.

I still miss the swaps. :-) There are swaps here, but the local forum is not very active, and is not as social as RMG. Most people, I have no frame of reference when I do meet them, and the swap is not anything like yours.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2015 at 12:20AM
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Miss you here Greenbean! Regardless of the swaps.

Haven't seen berrytea4me post anytime lately. Following would likely get her a note from Houzz. She would have to follow back to allow PM's.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2015 at 5:13AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

HI BEAN! Nice to see your face around here! Miss ya!

If you ever happened to be visiting somebody around here at the "right time," you know you'd be welcome at a swap!

Fingers crossed you're able to do what you want with your well. I think I'd start with whoever "controls" water rights up there, and find out if you still legally own the rights, and if you can still legally "reactivate" the well. Then call a well drilling company and get at least a rough estimate of what it would cost. For something that's been inactive for that long, I'm guessing it would be pretty expensive--and would be surprised if the olde pump could still be used after 30 years. When I lived down north of Parker they kept building (still are!) more and more new houses, and the water table went down enough one year that my pump was above the water level. The well had been drilled a couple hundred feet lower than we had needed when we built, but even just to get a rig in to lower the pump a ways further down into the water again cost a lot! But it would certainly be worth checking out!

Poke your nose in around here every now and then! Always nice to see a another friendly nose here!


    Bookmark   February 20, 2015 at 10:08AM
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Thanks digit and Skybird!
When we bought the house, I did check about the legalities, that's where I got that I can irrigate however many thousand square feet it is. I know just enough about water rights in the west to never assume we've got a right to any, lol. The pump would need to be replaced I'm sure, as it's an industrial sized beast. Our neighborhood has 108 homes, and from what I understand, it supplied them all.
The seller's realtor, being thorough, uncovered that the well had not been decommissioned (which we pretty much guessed since there's still a pump sitting on it). She contacted the city (we live in the county but use city water now) and they said it either had to be decommissioned or there had to be a backflow preventer installed in case we ever tried to hook the house to the well. Since the backflow was cheaper (upfront at least- we have to pay for inspections) that was the seller's preference, and having the option of using the well was something we wanted to hold on to, so that's where we still are. Part of me would like to put a pump with a hand-pump option, just in case there was some reason for a major outage (we do live in earthquake and volcano country, though we should not be in a volcano path, Who knows what could happen).
Either way, it's not that high on the priority list right now, but I was curious about berries' experience.

I'll pop back in to say hi again one day. :-)

    Bookmark   February 20, 2015 at 11:04AM
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