The Well System

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Are we failing to maintain the well or did we construct the well poorly to begin with?

By Michael Schnieders, PG, PH-GW

A system is defined as a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole. When it comes to the design, construction, operation and maintenance, it is best to consider the well as a well system, accounting for the sum of the parts.

This moves the mindset of the owner, contractor, and consultant to consider all parts of the well—the materials of construction, the pump and associated equipment, grouting and surface seals, storage and distribution piping, and even the maintenance methods employed.

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Finding Quality Issues

Data compiled on private wells indicates the majority of well systems have at least one water quality issue. Some of these issues are aesthetic causing discoloration and taste or odor issues. Some are cosmetic, resulting in staining or the formation of scale on faucets and indoor plumbing.

Health-related problems, such as elevated nitrates or the presence of coliforms, are common, and still others are quietly impacting operation of the pump and well such as the accumulation of sediment or slime bacteria.

The most common nuisance problems are corrosivity, hardness, iron, and hydrogen sulfide.

Well owners can reduce the risk of any of these problems with regular upkeep and maintenance. Regular water testing and routine evaluation of the well and pump can aid in the identification of problems early. Detecting problems early allow well owners to address issues more effectively and at a lower expense.

Municipal wells, even with required testing, still suffer from similar issues impacting both quality and operation.

Finding Treatments

Oftentimes, filter or similar treatment methods are employed in an effort to mitigate the problem impacting well systems. Home filters are similar to filter systems employed by large municipalities. Whether to remove iron, manganese, arsenic, or other contaminants, they are a means of treating the water at the point of use.

For many well owners, these type of systems provide a means of treating the water for potable use. Unfortunately, many of these systems soon fall victim to the same fouling mechanisms impacting the well, requiring costly maintenance.

This begs the question, are we failing to maintain the well or did we construct the well poorly to begin with? Or is the treatment system experiencing the problem – and where in the system is the problem?

Understanding the challenges facing a well system is important to the proper selection of materials and completion methods to limit problems in the future. Beyond assessing the produced water quality, it is important to know the level of aggressiveness (corrosion) or the potential for scale formation or biomass development. These same questions should guide the selection of surface or point of use treatment methods. Wells that are susceptible to biofouling will influence the biofouling potential of associated piping and treatment systems.

By understanding the level of connectivity that occurs within a well system, we can start to better identify vulnerabilities and build on that to better maintaining the well.


Michael J. Schnieders, PG, PH-GW
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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.