This article, written by the American Ground Water Trust was originally published in THE AMERICAN WELL OWNER, 2002, Number 2]


“How deep will the well be?” is a common question before drilling a well. If the driller has drilled several wells in the nearby area, he may be able to estimate the approximate depth where water will be encountered. Most of the time, however, the depth needed to find the required well yield cannot be determined accurately prior to drilling. A well is an engineered hole in the ground via which ground water can be brought to the surface. Drilling machines can drill to great depths. Deeper wells usually cost more than a shallow well to construct in the short-run. However, not drilling deep enough can result in later problems that will be much more expensive to fix. Listed below are some of the factors that may influence decisions about the depth of a water well.

Seasonal Rise And Fall Of The Water Table

During the year, the water table will fluctuate up and down in the well in response to seasonal precipitation in the area and local ground water use. The well must therefore be drilled deeper than the lowest expected elevation of the water table. Water level fluctuations may occur over several years if there have been drought conditions. Knowing the lower limit of the range of water levels over several years therefore can be helpful.

Surface Contamination Risks

Deeper wells that are properly constructed (including grout, casing, well cap, and pitless adaptor [in freezing climates]) usually provide guaranteed protection from bacterial contamination sources originating at the surface. Increasing the well depth and the length of well casing will result in a longer flow path of water from recharge at the surface to pumping from the well. The longer the length of time water is in the subsurface, the more opportunity there is for bacteria to die-off or be trapped by soil and rock.

Poor Quality Water Zones

In some areas of the country with multiple aquifers, there may be zones of poor water that should be avoided or “cased off” so this lower quality water does not adversely impact the well. Information about the expected rock formations, likely local changes in water table depth and the water quality for a general region can be obtained from the driller, local offices of the United States Geological Survey, state geological surveys or geology departments at local universities and colleges.

Low Yielding Rock Formations

In low yielding rock formations the well may have to be drilled deep enough to serve as a storage cavity for ground water. Once a well is drilled, the total depth, depth to the top of the ground water table (static level) and diameter of the well determine how much water will be stored within the well cavity. The larger the well diameter the more water will be stored for a given well depth and water table elevation. To find the “thickness” of the water stored in the well subtract the depth to the static water level from the drilled depth of the well. To determine the volume of water stored in a well find the well diameter in the table below and multiple the “thickness” value by the gallons per foot factor.

Regulations And Building Code Requirements

Well regulations vary according to the state in which you live. Before drilling a new well or purchasing a home with a well, check with your local and state health departments for the specific rules in your area. Most states require a minimum of 20 feet of casing and often require the casing reach bedrock. Proper grouting (sealing) around the outside of the well casing in combination with a vermin-proof well cap,

Well diameter in inches







Approximate Gallons per foot of well depth factor







prevents surface water and bacteria from using the well hole itself as a pathway directly to the water table.

Well depth plays a role in pump placement. Pumps should never be set directly at the bottom of a well. It is usually best to place the pump 10 to 20 feet up from the bottom of the well. In low-yield wells that recharge slowly, placing the pump below the recharge zone may create cascading water situations that lead to additional sediment build up in the well cavity. An automatic shut-off switch can be wired into the pump power line so that the pump will shut-off when the water level falls close to the pump.

For more information about ground water and wells go to TRUST, NGWA or WSC websites:,,

[© 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, 2002, Number 2]