Our Artesian Well: A Deep Subject
How Does an Artesian Well Work?
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Mark M. Hall – An artesian well is a very handy water source to have on the homestead. Long ago, my wife and I visited our little homestead for the first time on a warm September afternoon. The charming, old farmhouse was situated on four beautiful acres that lay at the bottom of a small, shallow valley. A tiny creek meandered lazily past fruit trees and countless lush flowerbeds. Not far beyond, an old tire swing hung from the low branch of a huge sycamore tree. A wide stream, behind it, swallowed the tiny creek and rushed away, tracing the foot of the tall wooded hills.
As our tires crunched along on the narrow gravel driveway, my wife spotted something odd behind the house. “What is that fire hydrant-looking thing over there?” she asked, pointing at something to our left. Intrigued, I stopped the car and followed her gaze in the direction of a nearby apple tree. Beneath it was a peculiar object standing about two feet out of the ground.
“I’m not sure what it is,” I admitted as I reached for the door handle. We stepped outside of the car and spoke with our realtor, who was waiting to show us around. Filled with curiosity, my wife asked him if he knew what the odd thing might be.
“This is an artesian wellhead,” he said. “It is their country water supply, but I don’t know anything more about it.” We had heard of artesian wells, but neither of us knew how they differ from any other wells. As we approached it, we noticed the sound of running water. We carefully lifted a few apple tree limbs that were weighed down to the ground with their burden of fruit and ducked underneath.
Fascinated, we crouched low and made a close inspection of the strange contraption. It consisted of a large pipe capped at about one foot above the ground. From the side protruded an arm with a spigot at the end. We were puzzled to hear a constant flow of water rushing back into the ground through a two-inch pipe connected just before the spigot. What seemed even odder to us was the top of the thing, which sported something that looked like an upside-down perforated metal ice cream cone.
Both of us liked the property and left that day with a desire to learn about artesian wells. We were delighted to find a great deal of information on the subject. Especially helpful resources were the United States Geographical Survey (USGS) and the National Groundwater Association (NGWA) websites.
As opposed to traditional wells, artesian wells have no need for a pump to bring groundwater near or above the land surface. They are drilled into a water-bearing rock layer, called an artesian aquifer, that is trapped by two impermeable layers. The water is prevented from escaping, so there is a constant buildup of pressure. Consequently, when a well is drilled into this environment, pressure forces water up the well casing all on its own.
The benefits of artesian wells are many. First of all, though we do have a pump to simply draw the water from the surface to the house, there is naturally a reduction in energy consumption. The energy otherwise expended in drawing water hundreds of feet up out of the ground is saved since the natural artesian pressure does all of the work.
An artesian well is also an excellent source of much-needed water: the most important emergency essential. When storms rumble through the area and knock out the electricity, the water goes with it. (With pumped wells but not necessarily with municipal water.) There is no water in the house for drinking, washing hands, doing laundry, or even flushing toilets. However, those problems are easily mitigated with an artesian well by going outside and filling buckets at the wellhead spigot. Some homeowners use a hand-operated cast iron pitcher pump at the artesian well site for the same purpose.
Additionally, unlike a traditional well, the artesian should never run dry. Artesian aquifers, being sloped, are constantly fed from a higher elevation than that of the wellhead. Therefore, constant water pressure is maintained. In fact, at all times, our well provides so much water that we dispel much of it to the creek through the drainage pipe. A few years ago, when the pipe became clogged, a check valve pushed the water out through the holes of that perforated metal piece at the top. Running down the outside of the wellhead, the water flowed continually onto the ground and throughout the yard until the pipe was replaced.
Our artesian well provides plenty of water for many other uses, certainly, such as watering the garden, the hanging pots, and all 23 flower beds. We can also wash the minivans, bathe the dog, fill the kiddie pool, water the chickens, and perform countless other jobs with an attached garden hose.
A good well is vitally important to homesteaders, especially those with crops and livestock. So, if you are searching for a home and you come across a property with an artesian well, it would be wise to give it a second look. It may “well” be the perfect place to lay down roots.
Do you have an artesian well on your homestead? We would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Originally published in Countryside September/October 2020 and regularly vetted for accuracy.