Permaculture Tip of the Day – To Drill or Not Drill a Water Well?

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To drill or not to drill?… Most agricultural land is irrigated by water either on site or from municipalities. That water is usually drawn up from wells that are drilled down to aquifers below 2100 ft. Aquifers that are pumped up from below 2100 ft are not a renewable resource and there is no future that one can see in any foreseeable human lifespan where they can be recharged.
I get asked quite often about drilling wells when consulting or teaching permaculture. And, other than in some scenarios in dry lands, it may come as a shock that I cannot recommend using a well for irrigation or drinking purposes. It is said that we have a water shortage, but this is only partially true. The earth, like a terrarium, has a mostly constant amount of water. We lose very little to space through the atmosphere and ultraviolet light and gain very little from space due to meteors that contain ice and other minerals. It is not an absolute constant but we have about the same amount of water recycled throughout the different atmospheric and hydrological cycles of Earth.
However, this is not say that there are major issues with how we handle water. The management of water used for drinking and irrigation is very poor – most of the privileged world poops in their drinking water…. is this intelligent? The truth is that there is no real water shortage in the world – there is a water “storage” shortage in the world, and water major mismanagement issues.
Many people express their desire to use a well, river, or nearby offsite water area such as a lake to irrigate their land in times of scarcity. In any region of the Earth that gets more than 25-30″ of rain per year, I can tell you that this is not needed. Proper storage systems such as ferrocement cisterns or water towers that capture rain water from roofs is more than sufficient for drinking water. And proper earthworks with ponds and swales and keyline plowing will not only hydrate the topsoil but will capture the water in high area catchments such as ponds which can then be siphoned (pumps can be used on flatter land) to the lower areas of the landscape for irrigation and also infiltrate the subsoil to replenish and recharge the shallow aquifers that are above 2100 ft. Pollution to aquifers, which is a worldwide epidemic, and fracking are also serious deterrents to well drilling as well. If you are using well water ,which is not recommended, make sure to get the water tested and keep an eye out for fracking nearby.
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