Spring Well Cleaning


Educate the well owner or operator on proactive maintenance.

By Michael Schnieders, PG, PH-GW

There are a few rites of spring…Easter eggs, budding trees, allergies…but also burrowing animals, flooding, and construction mishaps.

Many wells sit idle through the winter months or are used at a reduced rate. Others are susceptible to spring flooding or other forms of negligent or natural influence.

We receive many calls this time of year from customers deciding it is time to do something about their water well. Some have already attempted to solve their issue, while some are just exploring the idea.

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What’s the driving factor?  Was there a contamination event? Dirty, stinky, or discolored water? Coliform hits? Poor efficiency or high lift costs? Or perhaps it’s “just that time of year,” which is another way of saying “spring cleaning.”

Defining the Issues

Some of the wells were checked over and evaluated last fall as the season of high demand ended but many, OK most, were not.

Well fouling typically occurs as a result of one of three issues: chemical, biological, or mechanical. However, more often than not, a fouled well is experiencing some combination of the three.

Biological fouling or biofouling is often the result of a specific bacterial occurrence such as coliforms or iron bacteria, or the buildup over time of significant amounts of biofilm.

Chemical fouling accounts for the precipitation and accumulation of mineral scale, which typically reflects the contributing aquifer’s water chemistry.

Mechanical fouling is generally accepted as the accumulation of fine-grained sediments that have migrated towards the well and are mechanically blocking producing zones.

Restoring water quality or returning the well to operational use is goal one, but this time of year is also a great time to better understand why the problems developed so we can answer questions from well owners. Seasonal demand has not peaked for most of the country, and baring an unforeseen event, water storage is typically not an issue.

Understanding the Problem

Soon enough, the industry will be in panic mode, but for now, let’s take the time to understand the problem. A few steps to take as part of this approach:

Site review: Physically examine the site, structures, exposed piping and wires, as well as the surrounding landscape. Did anything change? Any signs of water movement, corrosion, vandalism, or other forms of damage?

Pump test: How is the well performing? Has the well lost capacity? Efficiency? Any noticeable changes in visible water quality such as discoloration or air entrainment? Any evidence the pump, motor, or controls need service?

Video survey: Typically for larger wells, but a video survey provides great insight into the physical conditions downhole—including damage or fouling that is occurring.

Water sample: Has the base water quality changed? Is corrosion evident? Are any problematic or nuisance bacteria present? What is the biological load (population) and has it changed? Will any of the observed changes in the water chemistry or microbiology impact the production, treatment, or use of the water?

This information can be used to help identify the need for more invasive testing or treatment, as well as establish a new benchmark for regular monitoring of the well’s health.

As I’ve discussed before, these calls are a great time to educate the well owner or operator on proactive maintenance. Encourage them to better understand their well and why the problems developed.

This can reduce the impact of the run-to-failure model, reduce annual maintenance costs over the life of the well, and typically extend the operational life of the well.

and extend the lifespan of the well, not to mention incurring a lower cost and allowing the well owner to set a schedule for treatment.

Michael J. Schnieders, PG, PH-GW
Michael Schnieders, PG, PH-GW, is a professional geologist currently serving as the principal hydrogeologist and president of Water Systems Engineering Inc. in Ottawa, Kansas. Schnieders’ primary work involves water resource investigation and management, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of fouled well systems. Schnieders was the 2017 McEllhiney Distinguished Lecturer in Water Well Technology. He can be reached at mschnieders@h2osystems.com.



  1. My dad is planning to have his water Well pumped because he smelled a foul smell coming from it. Well, I agree with you that this could be the cause of coliforms or iron bacteria. Thank you for also sharing here that a pump test is needed because this will help determine its performance.

  2. I think we can never overstate the importance of understanding why the problems developed as pointed out here. Some companies I’ve worked with in the past are more concerned about fixing the symptoms only for it to resurface a couple of months or so down the line. My expert friends therefore tell me that when evaluating who to work with in the long run, we should check if they actually talk about finding the root cause instead of giving us a quote about how much the job will cost.

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