(WESTERVILLE, OH — May 31, 2013) The dramatic rescue of a horse named Buddy from a large-diameter dug well in California underscores the importance of properly securing or decommissioning dug wells because of the danger they present to animals and humans, the National Ground Water Association said today.
Buddy came close to drowning before rescue crews managed to use a crane to hoist it out of the well in San Rafael near San Francisco. The nine-year-old horse became trapped after the wood covering over the well onto which Buddy stepped collapsed, sending him into the 20-foot-deep well. Aside from some scrapes, veterinarians say the horse is uninjured.
All are not as fortunate as Buddy. Every year people and animals are injured or killed from falling into abandoned or improperly covered water wells.
Typically, accidents in which people fall into wells involve very large-diameter hand-dug or bored water wells. Hand-dug wells are a nonexistent methodology in modern water well construction, but they still exist decades after construction. Bored wells of very large diameter are constructed today, usually in regions where groundwater resources are minimal, requiring a larger area to collect water. Bored wells represent less than four percent of the water wells drilled annually in the United States.
NGWA said the risk of falling into a modern water well is low because (1) most water wells today are drilled to a diameter of less than seven inches, (2) the pipe that lines the interior of the well should extend at least 12 inches above the ground, and (3) a sealing cap should be firmly attached to the end of the well pipe rising above the ground.
Those served by a large-diameter hand-dug well should consider replacing it with a deeper drilled well, according to NGWA. Modern construction can help reduce the risks of a water supply becoming contaminated, or of people and animals falling into the well. At a minimum, in areas where deeper water is unavailable, the property owner should consider upgrading any deficiencies to the surface seal on the existing well to maintain a safe and sanitary seal.
A sheet of wood, reportedly used as a well cap for the California hand-dug well, is not an effective pollution barrier or security measure, said NGWA.
A modern well will use a well seal — an arrangement or device used to secure the top of the well casing and provide a watertight seal to prevent contaminated surface water from leaking into the well. This is frequently a sanitary well cap — a cover fitted to the top of a well casing to seal the opening.
NGWA urges property owners with hand-dug wells, or any other wells that are not active, to have them permanently decommissioned. A well or borehole that has gone dry, is contaminated, or no longer serves a useful purpose is considered abandoned. Ideally, an abandoned borehole should be decommissioned within 48 hours.
The proper decommissioning of abandoned wells or boreholes is critical to protecting aquifer and groundwater resources, said NGWA. Proper decommissioning should be performed by licensed, registered, or certified water well contractors.
NGWA, a nonprofit organization composed of U.S. and international groundwater professionals — contractors, equipment manufacturers, suppliers, scientists, and engineers — is dedicated to advancing groundwater knowledge. NGWA’s vision is to be the leading groundwater association that advocates the responsible development, management, and use of water.
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