Drilling Our Fresh Water Well

Our well is in the ground and we have fresh water at our future homesite!

We hired Willis Drilling and Pump to drill a fresh water well for our sustainable homestead, and they completed the job last week. It took the drilling crew 2 days to finish the hole for our well, and a third visit to set the casing with concrete. After seven hours of constant drilling, the team hit water at 200 feet. The final depth of our well is 280 feet, which gives us plenty of leeway to accommodate a drop in water table levels. The water in this area also exhibits an artesian quality and it is likely that the static water level of our well is actually only 100 feet down, but we'll know more when we drop our pump in a few months. Our water comes from the Coconino Aquifer and though it has a high concentration of minerals, it is some of the best tasting water that I've encountered.

Choosing a Location for Our Well

When we chose the location for our fresh water well we considered many factors, including our power system requirements and the overall layout of our sustainable homestead. Most importantly, we positioned our well at the highest point on our property. Locating the well at the top of our property makes it possible to gravity feed water to our barn and garden and other structures that are located at lower elevations. Although using a gravity feed to move water does not provide a lot of pressure at the spigots, it reduces our need to power additional water pumps.

Once we have set up our homestead power system, we will be installing a solar powered well pump to bring water out of the ground for use. Because we are planning to use a 12 volt DC system to power the well pump, we positioned the well as close as possible to our future home's power center. By minimizing the distance between the solar power system and the well pump we will reduce issues that could result from voltage drop and we will be able to use less expensive, smaller gauge wire. After further research into 12 volt DC powered well pumps, we are also considering a stand alone solar system for our well which will not require battery storage.

To read more about our solar power system, click here.

Cold Room and Water Storage Plans

We've looked at several solar powered well pumps and we plan to install one of the smallest pumps that is designed to pump at rate of about 3.5 gallons a minute. The pump will feed into a 3000 gallon water storage tank, that will serve as the fresh water source for our home. We plan to enclose the water tank in an insulated structure that will also function as a cold room for vegetable storage. Our insulated cold room should maintain an indoor temperature of about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold water flowing directly out of the ground and into the tank room will help to cool the space in the summer and will result in consistent water temperatures that are reasonably warmer in winter months.

Well Drilling Process

Willis pulled the well drilling rig onto our property, aligning the back of the rig with the drilling site. They parked another truck with a water tank nearby to provide water for the drilling process. The two man team began drilling with an enormous steel bit that was attached to the back of the rig. The initial borehole has a diameter of 10 inches. When a depth of 20 feet was reached the bit was removed and steel casing measuring 5 inches in diameter was lowered into the hole.

The drilling continued with a smaller bit that was extended 20 feet at a time until the hole reached its final depth of 280 feet. When drilling, water was piped from the truck tank through the drill bit and into the well hole to soften the dirt and aid the process. The borehole of the lower section is 8 inches in diameter and is lined with PVC casing. Once the drilling was complete and the casing installed, concrete was poured in the space created between the borehole and the casing and a temporary cap was affixed to the top.

To view more pictures from our well drilling, click here.

Well Drilling Cost and Carbon Footprint

In total, we spent $6750 to have our well drilled. The cost does not include a well pump, water lines or a storage tank, nor does it cover the expense of bringing electricity to the well site. In addition, we found that for every foot of drilling the rig consumed approximately a half gallon of diesel fuel. In all, it took approximately 150 gallons of diesel fuel to drill our well hole, significantly adding to the overall carbon footprint of our homestead.

Water Conservation Efforts

As 2006 came to a close a settlement by the Zuni Tribe and the US government went into effect, awarding new water rights to the Zuni. The settlement mostly targets the area surrounding and including the Zuni holy lands in Arizona, known as Zuni Heaven. However, the agreement does affect all water usage in the Little Colorado River Basin of Arizona.

The water rights earned by the Zuni Tribe allow the irrigation of Zuni Heaven reservation lands from multiple water sources in the local area. The Zunis hope their irrigation efforts will restore the native wetlands on their sacred grounds and will create a habitat for native wildlife to thrive. The tribe has also agreed to monitor the level of the water table and reserves the right to object to the withdrawal of water if water table levels drop more than 50 feet.

We are in favor of the irrigation efforts and would also like to see revival of the local habitat. Zuni Heaven is in proximity to our homestead and it is likely the settlement will bring more water through the rivers that neighbor our land.

To read more about the Zuni settlement visit Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Reviving the Habitat

We have recently encountered research linking the destruction of the native landscape to cattle farming in the late 1800s and a severe drought that followed. According to records, the land in this area is not naturally riddled by arroyos. Large washes only became part of the landscape when overgrazed lands succumbed to drought and native plant life was destroyed, which led the way for increased erosion. Juniper trees and other thirsty plants that are not native to the high desert then moved in. Still present, they perpetuate the barren landscape by utilizing large amounts of water in a climate that isn't naturally wet.

Though we originally talked about preserving the landscape, we have come to realize that our focus is actually on reviving the land. The Zuni wetland restoration project will contribute to the recovery of the natural habitat by bringing more water to the area, however we are hoping to take even greater measures. We hope to make a positive impact on the land by removing juniper trees and other foreign plants that hog water resources. In their place we hope to seed and irrigate native grasses and trees that will help to prevent erosion and will be in harmony with the high desert climate.

To learn more about the effects of cattle grazing in regards to the destruction of native habitat on the Colorado plateau visit CP-LUHNA research database.

Water Concerns

My greatest water concerns revolve around the local power plants. They use ridiculous amounts of potable water to transport coal slurry. This absurd and unnecessary waste of water endangers the Coconino Aquifer and our fresh water supply. I agree with a statement made on that declares “Using potable water from the Coconino Aquifer - or any other aquifer in this desert state or any other state - should be a prohibited activity.”

To read more about the endangerment of the Coconino Aquifer by coal burning plants visit