Well Mining for Water

This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest by Mike M

It’s a well known fact that in order to survive, the need for a clean, fresh source of water is paramount. In any survival situation, water should be in your top three must haves. Shelter is absolutely paramount and so is water – the average human can survive without food for weeks or even months, but two to three days without water and your body will shut down. As someone who works in a water treatment plant I know both how hard procuring, cleaning and distributing water is, and how many people take it for granted and don’t even know how much they actually need it for survival.

Procuring and cleaning water is talked about in great depth for SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situations. Water can be collected from lakes, rivers, steams, and ponds for a viable fresh water supply. You can build various devices to collect rainwater. There is even discussion of using or building devices to distill fresh water from sea or ocean water. All these sources are viable BUT they aren’t the only sources of water. There is an abundance of water all around us from existing infrastructure you can use as a good and even a renewable source of clean water.

Most cities have centralized water supplies and piped distribution networks. Anyone who lives in an urban area probably takes advantage of a centralized water supply. This isn’t true for rural areas. Most people who live on a farm or live in a very small community will have their own private well for water supplies.

A well will give you groundwater. Groundwater, in most cases, is the cleanest source of water you can have. Groundwater supplies, as compared to surface water supplies, almost always have next to no turbidity (dirt in the water that can house chemicals or harmful micro organisms), are much less likely to be home to pathogens (micro organisms that cause disease), and are a renewable supply of water.

In any SHTF or TEOTWAWKI situation, if you come across abandoned farmhouses or a small abandoned community, it’s almost guaranteed that there will be a well or wells in the area, a direct conduit for YOU to get water. There are two types of wells you’ll encounter. Dug/Bored wells, or drilled wells, and you can get water from either of these wells. I’ll tell you how to recognize them and how to get water from them.

Bored/Dug Wells

A well that is bored or is dug will be easy to recognize. They are generally very large around, at least three to four feet, and are characterized by having a circular concrete riser. To help, you, this is what these wells generally look like:

A dug well will have different lid configurations but generally the above is what they will look like. It’s very easy to get water from these wells. The hard part is getting the lid off, especially if it’s a full concrete slab lid like pictured above. Bring a few friends with you to help you drag the lid off. From there, it’s as simple as lowering a bucket on a rope and hauling up all the water you’ll need.

Drilled Wells

Drilled wells are a different story. If a well is to be done today, usually it’s a drilled well. This is because drilled wells usually provide more (pumped) water as they can access deeper aquifers, while also providing greater protection from surface contamination. Drilled wells are usually 4” to 6” in diameter, and are characterized by an iron casing sticking up out of the grass. Generally they look like this:

Because drilled wells tend to be narrow and could be deeper, getting water from them is more difficult. You need to bring some tools with you to get the cap off. As well, they usually have submersible pumps. Usually the submersible pumps are located a fair distance below the actual water level so you can still get water from this well. You may have to navigate around something called the pitless adapter. This device is what connects the top of the tubing from the pump through the iron casing to run the water line into the house.

There are two ways that you can get water from this well. You could tie a string or rope to a weighted bag that can fit down the well and lower it, fill it with water, and pull it back up. This will get you small amounts of water at a time and will take you a while but you’ll still be getting water. The other way is to use the inertial method.

This involves raiding a hardware store, if there’s one nearby. You may want to have some of this equipment on you but it’s up to you. The inertial device is simply a check valve and a stiff tube or stiff pipe. The check valve should be a ball check without a spring that can move freely. Attach it to the bottom of the stiff tube and make sure the valve is directed to allow water up the tube and not back out.

Make sure you have enough tube or pipe to reach below the water level, and the check valve end goes first. Then start pushing and pulling. With each down stroke, the valve will open and allow water in the pipe, and the up stroke will bring the tubing higher and close the valve. Each stroke you make will push water higher up the tube until it starts coming out the top where you will collect it.

Obviously, the second method depends on specialized equipment and your own mechanical knowledge, as well as your physical strength (the deeper the well the heavier the pipe will get as it fills with water).

In conclusion, don’t be afraid to tap all resources you will need to get water. Water is one of the most important things for survival. Your body needs it, it’s necessary for cleanliness and as well for first aid (clean your cuts!). There are a lot of wells out there. Many rural out of the way properties will have wells. Look for them, and practice your well mining, because groundwater is one of the cleanest and most abundant water supplies we have.

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:

First Prize) Winner will receive a Stealth Body Armor Level II vest courtesy of SafeGuard ARMOR™ LLC and a $150 gift certificate for Wolf Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner.com   A total prize value of over $600.

Second Prize) Winner will receive a Wise Essentials Kit courtesy of LPC Survival and an EcoZoom’s Versa Stove courtesy of EcoZoom stoves.. A value of over $300.

Third Prize) Winner will receive copies of both of my books “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” and “Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution” A total prize value of $28.

Contest ends on June 5 2012.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of TheSurvivalistBlog.net. He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. As always, a great piece of information. We have water from a small,Ma and Pa owned water utility that supplies water to maybe 2 or 3 dozen homes. I think they even live a few properties away from us. There are still those on the mesa that have their own wells drilled and don’t have the worry of paying the man, even if it is ‘Ma and Pa’. We were thinking of doing this but I have heard that $6000-$9000 bills aren’t falling from the trees like they used to. Maybe someday our tree will drop those ‘leaves’ again. Also,good to see a proper well cover. The ones I remember seeing at my Grandma’s home were just like the one on the ‘Walking Dead’.

  2. Annie Nonymous says:

    When I read this, being a rural homesteader, I felt I needed to add a proviso to this advise… in a TEOTWAWKI situation, going to a farm or a country homestead to raid someone’s water well may be a very dangerous proposition… That rural property, well, and/or farm belongs to someone… who may not have bugged out, but surviving themselves. In such a case, THEY may well be guarding THEIR water resource rather carefully, and depending on where you are, or the current situation, you and your posse of concrete lid removers may end up with some personalized copper coated fishing weights to take with them home, if not to the great hereafter. And then there’s something about a commandment between 7 and 9…

    Sometimes it’s better to ask the owner before you help yourself to their resources… If someone asks me, I’d be more than happy to help… If someone takes without asking, however, it’s not exactly the same, ya know. After all, there may already be a group depending on that water resource for their survival.

    • Hi Annie Nonymous

      That’s a very good point. I didn’t consider that when writing the article. I was basically thinking that in a TEOTWAWKI situation, there may not be a whole lot of people left, and finding a well on a rural property will net you a good water find.

      Of course if people were still on the property whether they owned it before or took it as squatters rights (if it was abandoned), I’d rather make some friends than enemies. Like minded people are stronger together, right?

      • charlie (NC) says:

        Mike, your article is good but I have to agree with Annie. There is NO SUCH thing as abandoned property. It belongs to someone even if they are no where to be found. Even if they are dead they have heirs. Someone owns it. Does that mean I wouldn’t “borrow” some water from someone’s well if I needed it desperately? No it doesn’t but I’d be aware of the possible consequences. Also don’t overlook the fact that some folks are down right mean and nasty and IF they abandon their place they might choose to contaminate their well on the way out.

        Given your background, I think most of us would like to read your comments on how to build a make shift water treatment system out of things like sand, gravel, charcoal, etc. And what kind of chemicals to have on hand to help purify water. What are the alternatives to liquid chlorine (which has a rather short shelf life), etc.?

  3. Here in Florida, wells are popular even within subdivisions. If you are lucky, you may run across a deep well as most of those are artesian wells. I have a deep well on my property (over 400′ deep) that will provide a stream of water without using a pump. Our well does have a lot of sulpher and rust in it, so I plan to filter the water if it is needed for drinking.

    • Rust and sulfur contamination in a 400′ deep well? This a common problem with wells? (I am completely ignorant on the topic of wells.)

      • sw't tater says:

        Yes, contamination can be introduced into even deep wells. That is why you keep any farm chemicals away from them, keep the grass cut near them and don’t allow any pooling of water near them….and don’t bring any clorox near my well! If it was contaminated or I had water from an unknown source then that swill is not as bad as dyin’, but I do not like to smell my water and taste clorox in my ice! Even messes up my coffee!YUCK!
        Our well is a drilled well, and it is 465 feet deep. It goes into the main aquifer and came within 150 feet of the surface when water was struck…out of a 50 ft bed of white sand…We are blessed to have an abundance of minerals in our water,but not the heavy mineral ( IRON) taste some extended family’s wells provide.
        Years ago we had a well that was hand dug and 38 feet deep ( filled due to safety issues).Before it was permanently closed the water became brackish because of no use….it was explained that if most of the water was dipped out, then the stream would begin to run again and freshen the well…So I’m just sayin’.. If’n you have a well, might be wise to use it some.
        Over the years the family tried to dig several different places with things like bauxite and natural gas or soapstone being present when water was found. We have access to a spring for crisis.. ..and are planning for power for the deep well.

        • It all depends on what minerals are in the aquifer. The rock bed through which an aquifer flows in not always the best mineral for humans to be consuming (iron). Most Florida well water has a lot of sulphur too.

      • Encourager says:

        Cain, our well is about 260 feet deep and we have very ‘hard’ water. That means there is magnesium, calcium and iron in our water. (It looks like rust). We have a ‘whole house filter’ that the water from the well runs through before we use it. We change the small filter about once a week, more often if people are staying with us. Usually we do it just before I wash clothes, as chlorine and iron/magnesium don’t mix and leave orange streaks or spots on white clothes that were bleached. A month after the well was drilled, the water smelled like rotten eggs (sulpher). The well drillers came back and packed the well and the smell went away. It is now 32 years old and doing fine.

        • Encourager says:

          I forgot to mention that our water tastes so good we have had people take home a gallon. It comes out of the well at about 54* year round. I hate city water.

  4. A wells, my little farm has three in total, the very first old well, that is covered and not in use but could be used just as you said, take the top off and use in a pinch..

    The working house well, which is a dug well with the top and yes, ideally it takes two to open it but its does freeze closed in the winter, could thaw if you really had to.

    And then on there is the back drilled well for the big barn, we took it off power and put it on a hand pump when we moved here, we do have the pipes from the back drilled well installed so that with a turn of a knob, you can with putting back a power pump, have the drilled well supply water to the house and to both barns.

    It was a selling point for me on the farm that we had more then one different water source, plus the small pond, plus the river x far away and the creak that is less then ten min walk etc. as well as the different rain water collection we have set up.

  5. JP in MT says:

    Thanks fort the in of. I live in town, on all city utilities. But once you are out of the town proper almost everybody is on a spring or a well. Why I didn’t put a couple of these people on my list of “friends to visit” in an emergency for a source of water is beyond me.

    Thanks again.

    • Hi JP

      I think it’s kind of one of those things like when you get a particular model of car. You don’t see ANY on the road until you get that model then they are everywhere.

      I work with wells everyday so it’s just a natural thing for me to think of. I think that’s why it’s good to have an extensive network, less things get missed that way.

  6. BamaBecca says:

    Water has been a BIG worry for me, since dh insists that we don’t have room to store it. I do have several cases of bottled water stored, but thats it. I am only a little over a mile thru the woods to the river, a little less than that to the lake, a creek about 1/2 mile the opposite way thru the woods…..and my rarely @ home neighbor has a deep well. I know that in a SHTF scenario, I’m NOT going to want to go trekking a mile thru the woods (snakes, wild hogs and possibly even zombies to deal with) to the river for water and even if I did, don’t have a way to carry more than a few gallons back. But I know where the sources are, so will just deal with it if and when the time gets here. I do have several options for sterilizing it, so I am concentrating on that for now.

    Thanks for the info Mike M.

    • Yadkin Girl says:


      Have you ever thought of rain water barrels? They can be a good, albeit expensive at first, obtion. We have a 1500-1600 gallon cistern for our rain water. Look up to properly install, as you need to add a filter and the first bit of rain is not put into the tank as it may have all the bugs and stuff from your roof. My husband is the expert on this subject – so excuse my ignorance. Anyway, there are alot of resources on the web about this.

  7. SurvivorDan says:

    Nice article on a very important topic. As a desert dweller I am always worrying about my water supply. I’ve spied out an abandoned ranch in the hills nearby that has a dug well with brackish water in it. I should get a sample and have the sample tested. It also has a cistern by the foundation of the old ranch house. I have cached materials near it to seal up the cistern if it has any leaks. There is a seep a mile away that I have never seen to be dry. Hopefully the combination will work for me if I have to move over there.
    I am going to research the check valve you described. Got real friendly helpful folks at the local hardware store here. Thanks for the info.

    • Hi Dan. These manual inertial pumping methods are very common for groundwater monitoring. If you google manual inertial pumps you’ll see images showing how it works and links to the most popular company that does it, called Waterra. I use waterra products for pumping clear monitoring wells for testing.

      • SurvivorDan says:

        Waterra, got it. Perhaps in the event of a Collapse one day, I won’t be gasping for water . One more tool. Thanks for the follow up.

        • charlie (NC) says:

          Dan do you know why the ranch is “abandoned”? If it is truly abandoned maybe you should see about trying to buy it or the part of it around the well. Just because no one lives there doesn’t mean it’s abandoned. As I said earlier, all land belongs to someone. It could well be that some guy with a job in the city owns that land and is making plans to bug out to that very location. You can’t count on anything land don’t have the deed to or at least a lease on it.

  8. Around here we refer to a ground water well as one that is shallow enough to access the water table level and as such is not a safe source of drinking water since it is generally contaminated with farm run off. Most of the good wells are drilled into the aquifier of which we have a number of branches in this area. One major aquifier has been polluted by a chemical plant that dug large caverns into the limestone substrata below the ground to store natural gas and derivatives of same. Other than that, one of our places has a drilled well four inches in diameter that is eighty three feet deep into the aquafier and the fire department pumped it steadily for three days during a fire. Prior to pumping the water level in the well was withing six feet of the surface of the bore. After such pumping, the water level when measured was seven feet below the surface of the bore. Since it was only a four inch pipe and the level was so close it could be directly pumped by the fire truck and four miles of hose was strung instead of filling tankers. 1/8 of a mile from that one on a second place of ours, the producing well was number four in the drilled wells and it had to go ninety seven feet deep and is so full of natural gas the pressure tank has to have a pop off on it to vent the natural gas outside the house. It is amazing that it is so difficult to find the good water. I worked with the well driller three summers when in high school and I can witch water quite well but I have never anywhere I located water found such a strong source as the one on our old home place. It presently furnishes untreated well water for seven farms close by which have livestock and poultry so the water consumption is great. In closing, I would tell everyone to do what I do and buy a bunch of the ten dollar test kits and test that well water before you use it. I would err on the safe side and boil it anyway unless I knew the well.

    • Harold,
      Are you using the Nat Gas? Sounds like a resource that might be worth a little investment in cleaning and storage.

      • It is in my deceased mothers old house and the flow was insufficient to be used for a fuel for either cooking or heating, damn it, just enough to gum things up.

  9. Old Hillbilly says:

    Question regarding the “enertia method” of pumping. As you correctly pointed out, the deeper the water, the greater the weight in the pipe you are pushing and pulling…but am I right that this same amount of weight is also pushing down directly onto that little check ball and making it much harder to force off of it’s seat with each successive push? If so, then won’t you eventually reach a depth at which this method will no longer work? Also, to those using the more shallow dug wells after SHTF might I suggest having some chlorine (household bleach or pool shock) to put in that well to kill any bad things in there. Finally, for those getting water from surface sources like rivers, creeks, ponds, etc….invest in a good drip filter using a couple of 5 gallon buckets….either the type you buy or the type you make using sand, gravel, charcoal, etc. Watch your back and keep your powder dry and God bless in all you do.

    • Hi O.H.

      Actually what will happen is that the weight of the water will tend to pull the piping down and forcing the check open. The hard part is pulling back up to force the check back down. We actually use an electric inertia pump to push it up and down for us when pumping. However, I have had no issues hang pumping a 120 foot deep monitoring well. It gets heavy though. I’m fairly strong. You’ll want to have the person in your group with the biggest biceps pumping out the deep wells!

    • Windlass.

  10. tommy2rs says:

    If you want to be ready to well mine might as well have some tools for it.



    I’d use a couple 5 gal buckets with the yoke but remember water weighs 8.33 lb/gal. Two 5 gallon buckets puts you over 80 pounds. packing 80 pounds of liquid over rough ground = loads of fun. Might want to practice now so you know what it’s like later.

  11. arkieready says:

    Water is a worry of mine. My drilled well is 500+ ft. Ugly water,too. Ive got some stored, though, and means to filter & purify. Ive ordered an auger to hand dig a 6″ surface water well for at least animals, garden, washing. I hope it works.

  12. Mike
    This is interesting to me because just last week I was looking at a state web site that has maps and addresess for all known water wells. In Texas that is the TCEQ. In the other 49 states it should be whatever agency controls/monitors drinking water.
    Of course it all fepends on what paperwork was required at the time the well was dug/drilled and it the driller was up and up.
    Good article and timely too.

  13. BetterLateThanNever says:

    This is perfect timing for me because I was just saying I wanted to know how manually get water out of my drilled well. Fortunately it only had to go down to about 80 ft to hit the aquifer. Thanks for the info!

  14. recoveringidiot says:

    I’m on county water now but there is a shallow well that’s ok except for not being used. I plan to hit it with the chlorine and pump it down this summer then pre-rig the plumbing for a hand pump. I’ll get it tested for chemicals first.

  15. A couple of things of note that I haven’t seen mentioned. Back behind the house we have the circular concrete riser and lid, but the riser is only about 2 1/2 feet in diameter. It is BTW not a well, but the top of the cleanout for the septic system, so when looking for water, just be aware that all risers and lids do not cover the same holes.

    Also, if you have a water source with any amount of head, perhaps as little as 2-3 feet, there is a gravity driven inertial pump known as the hydraulic ram. The first house I owned years ago (in a small town) had a cistern, and one of these rams (A Buckeye Water Lift) was located in the basement just below the bottom level of the cistern. When there was sufficient rainfall, the cistern would fill with water, which would drain through the ram, pumping water to a storage tank on the third floor of the house. That tank was plumbed down to the kitchen sink which had three faucets, with each porcelain teardrop shaped handle markd as: Hot, Cold, and City. I think the rams are only about 10-15% efficient, so a lot of water ends up going down the drain, but if you get enough rainfall in your area, it’s a good way to have water pumped to a tank where gravity can help with the distribution. I have seen DIY plans for these things, so it’s at least an option that might meet someone’s needs.

  16. One method to retrieve water from a well is to use an item called a well bucket. You don’t need electricity ever and it can be used in almost any well of 4″ in diameter or greater. You attach it to a rope, lower it down a well casing into the water where a valve on the bottom opens allowing water to enter. When you retrieve the well bucket the valve closes and trapping the water within the device. In a very deep well though I could not imagine a 500 ft. rope, but in shallower wells it would be a good option. Lehman’s sells one manufactured by the Amish in Ohio and calls their product a “galvanized well bucket” which retails for around $50. http://non-electric.lehmans.com/search?w=water%20bucket&asug=
    You may want to place an order soon, Lehman’s is selling these almost as fast as they are being manufactured.

  17. Deb Ohio says:

    Thank you for this post. For my personal situation, this is one of the top 5 most helpful posts I’ve read from the pack; what I thought was a dry sistern in my backyard is actually a well – I’m adding a hand pump & gaining HUGE peace of mind.

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