[This article, written by the American Ground Water Trust was originally published in



Apparently some of the best brains in the world are working on solutions to Y2K (year two thousand) computer bug problems.  Most people seem to believe that any problems will be minor and easily corrected. Water supplies from municipalities and utilities may perhaps be affected for a short time if critical control or pumping equipment fails.  In the event that Y2K bugs cause software crashes and regional power failures, then virtually everybody will be affected.  Very few (if any) private water systems have electronic components that could be affected by the Y2K bug.


However, concerns about Y2K may be serving a useful purpose in getting home-owners and communities to think about back-up or emergency water supply.  Many communities already have such plans.  Does yours?  If you don’t want to rely on local emergency services, or if you live in a remote area, then you might want to think about your own plans for a prolonged period of power failure.  Natural disasters such as tornados and ice storms will be with us long after Y2K is a distant memory.


Some home-owners have installed hand pumps on their wells that can be operated manually in the event of power failure.  Such well conversions don’t come cheaply.  If your well water level is deeper than 30 feet it could cost $1,000 or more to install a hand pump.  If the static water level is close to the surface you might be able to have a hand pump installed for less than $500.  However, if the well is low yielding you may only be able to pump a few gallons at a time from a shallow hand pump.  There is always a possibility of freeze-up in a hand pump installed in an outside location, although some models will drain after use so that there is no water left in the pump mechanism that can freeze.


How far below the ground surface is the water level of your well?  The level today may be very different from the level in summer. If you don’t have a record of basic information about your well then you will definitely need the advice of a well expert before you order a pump.  You will also need to hire the services of a professional pump installer.   Some pump installers will only guarantee their work or warranty products on equipment they supply.  Check first before you purchase a pump at your local hardware store that you will then need a professional to install.  It is very important that an auxiliary hand pump is installed properly so that it will not affect the safe operation of your existing submersible or jet pump, and will not jeopardize the safety of your well by increasing any risks of contamination.


As an alternative to a hand pump, a back-up electric generator will provide power to your whole home in an emergency and will enable you to continue to pump water.  Most home pumps only run for a short time each day and are not large consumers of power.  Changes in wiring and installation of the appropriate switches should be done by professionals.  Home-owners need to think about where a generator will be situated.  Gasoline and exhaust fumes are very hazardous and most generators are best installed in ventilated outside locations.


What about waste water?  Fortunately, most home septic systems work on gravity and will continue to function with or without power.  If it comes to a crisis or natural disaster, rural home-owners with independent water supply and on-site waste water disposal have the ability to be creative making contingency plans.  If you have a generator, be neighborly in a crisis and let nearby residents fill-up from your well water.  Community leaders could work with local well drilling contractors to identify home-owners with wells and generators who are willing to provide water to neighbors in a time of crisis.


Call the American Ground Water Trust at 603 228 5444 if you have back-up water supply ideas for your community and need help to implement a community strategy.


[© American Ground Water Trust.  This article may be reprinted for non-commercial educational purposes provided it is used in its entirety and that reference is made to its source as an article in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 1999, Number 1]