8 Domestic Wells and Research

Much of the research associated with domestic wells focuses on characterizing their vulnerabilities and identifying ways to improve their management and protection (e.g., Chappells at al., 2014; Zheng and Ayotte, 2015; Colley et al. 2019; Jasechko and Perrone, 2020). However, data collected from domestic wells have been used for several other purposes. Domestic wells are extremely useful for carrying out regional groundwater research and monitoring because of the large and geographically distributed datasets they can provide. Domestic well data are commonly used in epidemiological studies and contaminant exposure estimates during the development of drinking water quality guidelines. Chemistry data and geological information from domestic wells have also been used for petroleum and mineral exploration programs.

Installing new test wells and monitoring wells is often the costliest part of regional groundwater research and aquifer characterization. If done appropriately, and with consideration of their limitations, using data collected from domestic wells can avoid or reduce the cost of installing research wells. Some studies have used domestic wells as an exclusive data source, while other studies have used them to supplement data collected from research and monitoring wells. It is important to keep in mind that domestic wells may not represent ambient groundwater conditions because they are actively being pumped, which can affect water levels and water chemistry, and their well construction characteristics (e.g., long open-hole sections and large diameters compared to monitoring wells) can influence groundwater chemistry. Long open-hole sections allow groundwater to enter the well from a relatively long integrated depth interval, and sometimes from multiple aquifers, rather than a discrete point within one aquifer.

One of the most common sources of data provided by domestic wells is water well construction records. Many jurisdictions require a water well record to be submitted when a new well is constructed, and they maintain online water well record databases that are publicly accessibly. Well records include information that is valuable to regional groundwater studies, such as stratigraphy, groundwater level at the time of well construction, and well yield. The short-term yield tests that are usually carried out when a domestic well is installed can be used to estimate the specific capacity of the well and the aquifer’s transmissivity. It should be noted that domestic well records may lack detail and accuracy because they are not collected for research purposes and the information may be collected by people without training in hydrogeology. However, if there are enough well records available to correctly assess the general conditions and trends for a given geographical area, then errors in individual records may not have a significant impact on research conclusions. Another book in the Groundwater Project series on domestic wells provides more information on water well record databases (Kennedy, 2021).

Domestic wells have also been used for regional groundwater quality surveys, groundwater level surveys, and long-term groundwater level monitoring. In these cases, groundwater researchers seek permission from domestic well owners to sample their wells or monitor groundwater levels, and the data are either collected by groundwater researchers or in collaboration with the well owners (Figure 21). For example, the USGS sampled approximately 3,670 domestic wells in addition to public supply wells and monitoring wells to assess the water quality of principal aquifers of the United States (DeSimone et al., 2014). Domestic wells have also been used to build community-based groundwater level monitoring networks, which are operated by either non-government groups, or as partnerships between domestic well owners and government researchers (Drage and Kennedy, 2020).

Photo showing a hydrogeologist installing a real-time groundwater level sensor in a domestic dug well

Figure 21 A hydrogeologist installing a real-time groundwater level sensor in a domestic dug well for a community-based groundwater monitoring network (photograph by John Drage).


Domestic Wells – Introduction and Overview Copyright © 2022 by John Drage. All Rights Reserved.