Clean, clear water makes it possible for us to enjoy the food we eat, the conveniences we have and the pleasures of everyday life. Protecting this vital resource is the responsibility of all Texans. However, it is estimated there are more than 150,000 abandoned water wells in the state, according to Dr. Bruce Lesikar, agricultural engineer with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
Abandoned water wells increase the risk of contamination to groundwater, Lesikar said.
"We dump trash into them, spray chemicals over them and for the most part pretend they don't exist. However, that's an attitude that's illegal in Texas."
Texas law makes landowners responsible for plugging abandoned wells and liable for any resulting contamination or injury. A well is considered abandoned if it has not been used for six consecutive months and is unusable because it is deteriorated, Lesikar said.
Water wells come in all different shapes and sizes. Early Texas settlers used large-diameter, hand-dug wells to access shallow groundwater. Many times, these wells remained long after the residence was gone.
Other wells were mechanically driven into the ground; the most common wells are installed using rotary drilling rigs. A casing is placed down the drilled hole to access the groundwater below.
A functioning water well serves as a channel for bringing groundwater to the surface. An abandoned well, likewise, serves as funnel for carrying contaminants from the surface to the groundwater below.
"Products we use around the home, in agricultural operations and in industrial processes can contaminate the groundwater supply," he said.
A water well also may pass through two different aquifers and have a deteriorated well casing that allows water from two different aquifers to mix. A well casing can develop a hole in the elevation of the upper aquifer and allow the water from the upper aquifer to flow down the casing to the lower aquifer and contaminate it.
Some wells pose a considerable danger to people, wildlife and the environment. Wells have been used as dumping sites, filled with trash, oil or other debris.
"Abandoned water wells need to be properly closed," he said. Some landowners may be able to do the job themselves. In some cases, it is recommended that a licensed water well driller or pump installer is hired to seal and plug an abandoned well.
Landowners who plan to do the work themselves must first contact the Water Well Drillers Program of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation with their intent and method they plan to use. They also should request a state well plugging form. Within 30 days of plugging the well, they must send a copy of the form to the TDLR and a copy to their local groundwater district, if one is present.
Abandoned wells can be fixed by one of three methods:
1. Determining the size of the well.
2. Removing obstructions from the well.
3. Disinfecting the well.
4. Removing the casing.
5. Filling the well with plugging materials (which can include cement, bentonite, bentonite grout or native clay or caliche).
6. Filing the plugging report.
Further information about plugging abandoned wells is available from county Extension agents, local groundwater districts or by contacting the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation at 512-463-7880.