What are the types of wells? How deep can a well be? What kinds of yuckies can be in contaminated well water? Why does the well have a house? Find out on this episode! 

Wells are defined as man-made holes in the ground that reach underground water sources so people can access the water for drinking. The water can also be used for irrigation, watering livestock, and, in modern times, industrial uses. For example, many turkey farms in this area use them for watering animals, cleaning purposes, and running machinery that requires water. The first records of wells date back about 8,000 years to Israel, China, and India. 

There are four types of wells: dug, drilled, driven, and jetted. 

Dug wells are sometimes called open wells. There are two types of dug wells: hand-dug wells and wells dug by machinery like a backhoe. Hand-dug wells were the only type until the early 1800s when boring machines were invented. They can be as shallow as 15 or 20 feet, and the deepest well in history was 1,285 feet deep. It is located in Brighton, East Sussex, England. 

There can be many different kinds of hand-dug wells. Many are reinforced. Some are reinforced with wood, though this is not common in modern times. When the wood starts to rot, and it will, there is a risk that it could contaminate the well with mold or fungus. Others were reinforced with rock. Many of the ancient wells that survive until today are this kind. Another type is called step wells. Originating out of India, these were wells that were larger, lined with stone, and had extra stones placed around the lining to make steps down so people could go down into the well. 

I’m not sure if every place did this, but in my area of the world, these were used to place milk jugs in to keep them cool like a refrigerator would, although they would have to be shallow enough not to submerge the jugs. Usually, a section further back would be dug deeper so there was no fear the well would go dry between rains. I can’t tell if they dig a deeper section all over the world or not. Spring-fed wells might not need to worry about going dry. If you do not know what spring-fed means, think of it like an underground water source that feeds water up to the well, or sometimes a stream starts as a spring when the groundwater comes above ground, acting like a tiny river with flowing water. 

There is a full episode on Townsend where they hand-dig a well to show you how it was done in pioneer times. I will leave a link in the show notes on my website. 

Drilled wells are made by bringing in a portable drilling machine and boring a hole down to the required depth for the geological area. I’ve had these from 20 feet depth to 1000 feet depth. Most drilled wells are between 100 and 800 feet. The hole will be reinforced with casting to keep the shaft from collapsing. While most have an electric pump on the well, they can be wide enough to use a well bucket if there is no electricity. Drilled wells are the most common type of wells in the United States. 

Driven wells are made when a small diameter pipe is driven into soft ground such as sand or gravel. I have never seen one of these because soft ground does not describe any type of ground in my part of Tornado Alley, or maybe all of Tornado Alley. Not 100% sure, but it would not be common. A screen is attached to the bottom to filter out particles, and a pump will need to be used to get the water out. These are between 30 and 50 feet deep. 

Jetted wells are made with high-pressure water pumped down to bore out a well. This can only be done in places where rock is unlikely to be found. As far as I can see, it is not a widely done technique. It definitely doesn’t happen in my area of the world. The deepest I see in my research is 90 feet deep. That is considered a shallow well in most places around the world. Depending on where your character is, shallow wells are 50 to 100 feet deep. Anything more than that is considered a deep well. 

Most wells that are not in deserts have some kind of well cover. Modern well covers are called a well house. They cover not only the well but also all the electrical components from the pump that are down inside the well. Plus, they are insulated, and at least in my area of the world, we have well-house heaters to keep the pipes from freezing in winter. 

In history, there was usually a rock wall built around the hole. First, so no one fell in and drowns. Second, it was used to help secure a covering. This could be boards that kept anything, including leaves, from falling in. There could be coverings that looked like a roof. They would need to go out far enough over all sides to keep leaves and things like this out. 

Another thing they could do was to cover everything and have a hand pump to bring the water to them, something called the piston pump. This was invented in the 1400s. Since the water goes back down into the well after pumping, it is unlikely to freeze the pump, although I suppose that could be an issue in far northern places. 

The reason is that you do not want your well poisoned. Some of the historical diseases were cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. Leaves, sticks, and other things of this nature falling down the well will eventually rot in the water, and if there is mold or fungus, it will be in the water. People used to poison other people’s wells by throwing metals in the well. It was most likely done if people were taking a homestead over hostilely. 

Other things to worry about poisoning the well with are dead things. We have all heard of the dead bodies poisoning a well. This is most likely because someone fell in and drowned. However, if an animal fell in, it could poison the well. I know people who have stopped using wells because a snake or mouse fell in, and they dug a new one. 

Creepy fact: According to the CDC, the most common modern well water contaminates are radon, arsenic, nitrate, radionuclides such as radiation and uranium, fluoride, volatile organic compounds (AKA industrial chemicals), synthetic organic chemicals (AKA pesticides), microbial contaminants such as E. Coli, and additional contaminants. These could be things such as lead or copper from old pipes. 

What could possibly go wrong: 

Likely to go wrong: Your character spends weeks digging a well by hand. 

Likely to go wrong: Your character has to pay a large amount to have a well drilled. 

Possible to go wrong: Your character tries to drive a well pipe and encounters a rock. This could break the pipe. 

Possible to go wrong: An animal, such as a possum, fell into the well and drowned. This would contaminate the well. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character has a drilled well, and the casting collapses because it was not the right kind to withstand the pressure the ground placed on it. 

Unlikely to go wrong: Your character was trying to get rid of a dead body, so they tossed it down a well. This is one that has been done for as long as there have been wells, but people never throw it down their well, always someone else’s. 

Improbable, but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Someone tries to kill your character by throwing them down a well, but your character isn’t going out without a fight and claws their way out of the well with great effort. 

Improbable, but still technically in the realm of possibilities: Your character’s child, family member, or neighbor is walking in a field or yard and falls into an abandoned well they didn’t know was there. If there is water in the well, they could drown. If it is a dry well, they will need someone to save them before they die of thirst. It’s an odd way to die inside something made for water. 

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