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Wells and Climate: Natural Disasters and Drought

Disaster events seen in New Mexico including wildfire, floods, and extreme weather, can damage or contaminate wells. Taking steps to protect your well before a disaster or weather event can greatly reduce the potential for damage and contamination. See the sections below for more detail.

If your well has been contaminated or you suspect that it may be contaminated, do not drink the water. You need to properly disinfect or treat the water and have it tested before drinking/using the water. Drink clean water from another source (e.g. bottled water) until you are sure the water from your well is safe to drink again.


Wells in a wildfire prone area


If you live in a wildfire prone area and have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should a wildfire occur:
  • Maintain your private well.
  • Know your private well and take pictures of the following to reference later if there is damage:
    • Storage or pressure tanks, Pump, Treatment system (including any filters), Well documents, Electrical components
  • Store things that easily start on fire away from your well (e.g., paint, gasoline).
  • Use a well house made of fire-resistant materials.
  • Use fire-resistant electrical coverings.
  • Keep the surface seal in good condition.
Additional steps can be taken that may require a well contractor:
  • Keep extra sanitary seals in case the seal gets damaged.
  • Install shut-off valves right before and after the pressure tank.
  • Install backflow prevention valves on all hydrants and outside taps.
  • Use a non-PVC well casing.


What to do if a wildfire is coming


If a wildfire is likely and you have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should a wildfire occur:
  • Buy or store safe water to use for drinking, cooking, and bathing for several days.
  • Have contact information for a licensed well contractor, health department, and certified laboratory on hand.
  • Clear away debris near the wellhead.
  • Turn off power to your well pump and equipment (if possible). Power switch may be by the water pump or tank or at the main electrical panel.
  • Shut off the water (if possible) using shut off valves.
  • Wrap the well cap and well casing with durable flame-retardant sheet plastic and duct tape to form as tight a seal as possible.
  • Place fire resistant sand bags around the well. If possible, cover the wellhead with a sealed stand pipe and bury it with fire-resistant sand bags.
  • A well contractor can assist with other protective measures including removing any above ground well pumps or plumbing. Store them in a fire-resistant area.


After a wildfire


If a wildfire has occurred and you have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your health and respond safely after a wildfire:

Step 1: Well Inspection and repair -
  • Electrical system, cap, casing, pressure tank, plumping, and well house
  • Clear debris and check for contaminants
Step 2: Flush the well- may best be done by a well contractor -
  • Check pressure (pressure gauge or running a faucet)
  • Disconnect water softeners/treatment systems
  • Run the pump (30 min-hours) until water is clear
  • If water doesn't run clear use alternate water source and contact a well contractor
Step 3: Test your well water -

Disinfect your well if -
  • Water tests positive for bacteria (E. coli)
  • Repairs were done


Prepare for flooding
  • Areas burned by fires have little to no vegetation increasing the chances of sudden floods and mudslides. Learn more in the section below.


Wells in a flood prone area


If you live in area likely to experience flooding (including areas that may be affected by wildfire and flooding) and have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should a flood occur:
  • Maintain your private well and keep records of well maintenance
  • Keep chemical and other contaminants away from the well head including keeping animal waste piles located where water will not flow toward the well
  • Make sure the well has a cap or sanitary seal.
  • Have the well water tested annually for bacteria, nitrates, pH and conductivity
  • Make sure that the ground is sloped away from the well so that surface water flows away instead of towards the well head.
  • A well contractor can assist with other protective measures including:
    • Make sure that well casing extends at least 18 inches above land surface (NMAC 19.27.4).
    • If you have a well pit, consider upgrading


What to do if flooding is likely




If flooding is likely, including areas burned by wildfire and you have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should a flood occur:

  • Buy or store safe water to use for drinking, cooking, and bathing for several days.
  • Have contact information for a licensed well contractor, health department, and certified laboratory on hand.
  • If water is likely to flow towards the well head, sand bags should be used to divert the flowing water away from the well head.
  • All capped wells are vented to allow proper functioning of the pump. Consider wrapping this vent with a tarp and duct tape or some other similar removable "seal" to keep water from flowing through the vent.
  • Well heads in pits are difficult to protect. The pit should be protected using plywood, sheet plastic/tarps, and sand bags.
  • When flooding is imminent and/or evacuations are likely to occur, prepare by turning off the main power switch.


After a flood




If a flood has occurred and you have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your health and respond safely:

  • Stay away from the well pump while flooded to avoid electric shock.
  • Do not drink or wash from the flooded well to avoid becoming sick.
  • Get assistance from a well or pump contractor to clean and disinfect your well before turning on the pump.
  • After the pump is turned back on, pump the well until the water runs clear to rid the well of flood water.
  • Get the water tested for bacteria before resuming use for drinking water even if the well did not get overtopped.
  • If any part of the electrical system or control box has been submerged, avoid risk of electrocution and do not attempt to restart the well by yourself, call a professional well contractor.


Private Wells in an Area Likely to Have to Snow, Ice, or Freezing Temperatures


If you live in area likely to experience extreme winter weather (including snow, ice, or freezing temperatures) and have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should severe weather occur:

  • Become familiar with and document all parts of your private well and take photos. These photos will be helpful if components are damaged/destroyed and need to be replaced. Include photos of:
    • Storage or pressure tanks
    • Pump
    • Treatment system (including any filters)
    • Electrical components
  • Store all well documents in an easily accessible location.
  • Check for and repair any leaking plumbing fixtures such as: toilets, sinks, showers, and water-heaters.
  • If you live in an area that experiences deep snow, consider marking your well head with a flag or post to prevent it from being hit by vehicles or other machinery.
  • If you have outdoor well components (including in a well house) consider the following:
    • Insulate above ground components and piping.
    • Wrap outdoor pipes with heat tape or heat cables in a single layer.
    • Cover the well head with a well house.
    • Place a heating source such as a small heater or heat lamp near the well head.
    • If power outages are common, consider having a small portable gas or diesel generator to power the well pump in the event of a power outage.
  • A well contractor can assist with other protective measures including:
    • Installing shut-off valves before and after the pressure tank to prevent contaminated water from entering the tank. This also allows the shut off of the water line before any water storage or treatment devices.
    • Install backflow prevention valves on outside taps.
    • Install insulated pipes or add insulation to well components to protect from freezing.
    • Consider installing a water storage tank (typically 120-gallons) to provide enough water for 1-2 days in the event of a power outage.


Private Wells During and After Winter Weather


If extreme winter weather is likely or snow, ice, or freezing temperatures have occurred and you have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond:

Before extreme winter weather:

  • Buy or store safe water, like bottled water, to use for drinking, cooking, and bathing.
  • Have contact information for a licensed well contractor, health department, and water testing laboratory.
  • Disconnect and store garden hoses.
  • Close the shutoff valve and/or cover outdoor faucets.


During winter weather:

  • Use a safe source of water for drinking, cooking, and bathing if your pipes freeze or there is a power outage.
  • Use warm water if the system starts to freeze. It is not necessary to leave water running all the time. A good way to keep warm water circulating is to spread out your laundry and dishwasher schedule using warm water.
  • If needed, use a generator to power your well pump during a power outage.
  • If the power is out, keep some faucets open to a trickle until power comes back on.
  • If gone for more than a week, make sure your house is heated and someone runs warm water regularly and open any cabinets with pipes to let in the heat.
  • If leaving the home vacant for several months, consider shutting off the home's water supply and opening the faucets to drain them.


After winter weather:

  • If any components of your well freeze, call a well contractor to assist. Do not use additives, run hot water continuously, or start a fire near the well head.
  • If parts of the well freeze, or repairs are done:
    • Call a well contractor to flush the well system.
    • Have the well water tested for coliform bacteria (including E. coli) and nitrate.
Community water systems have drought plans and management strategies (access to alternative safe water resources) to enable them to maintain supply for their customers during drought conditions.

Private well owners, who maintain their own water supply, do not have these resources or infrastructure. Twenty percent of New Mexican's rely on private well water as their primary drinking water source.

Wells whose depth to water is near the water table, are at increased risk of running dry during droughts (or when groundwater pumping, or mining, increases). During drought, when not being replenished by precipitation, the water table falls and may fall below the level of a well completion depth.

Learn more about drought



If you live in a drought prone area and have a private well, follow these tips to help protect your well and respond should drought occur:
  • Maintaining your private well will help it withstand the stress of drought.
  • Be familiar with and document (photograph) well components should they need replacement.
  • Drought can affect water quality by increasing the concentration groundwater constituents (chemicals) and changing how groundwater and surface water interact. The best way to determine if any changes in water quality have occurred is to test your well water regularly.
  • Practice water conservation. Some suggestions include:
    • Check for and repair leaking plumbing fixtures.
    • Install water saving plumbing fixtures.
    • Install drip irrigation, water-saving landscaping
    • Install rain sensors or a rainwater harvesting system
    • Spread out your water use over the day (dishwasher, washing machine, shower).
    • Wash full loads in the dishwasher and the washing machine.
    • Water lawns and plants during evening or early morning to reduce evaporation.
    • Take shorter showers





If you live in an area affected by drought and have a private well further steps may be needed if water supply problems are occurring.
A well contractor can assist with other protective measures including:
  • Larger or additional pressure tank
  • Lowering the well pump or installing a low water cutoff mechanism
  • Deepening the well


Some signs a well may be going dry:
  • Well pump cycles on and off frequently
  • Sudden water pressure drop or water outages/surges
  • Water runs out after heavy use (such as: watering the lawn and using the dishwasher)
  • Water is suddenly cloudy or full of air bubbles
  • Neighbors are experiencing private well water supply problems

Hauling water may provide an alternative water source. Learn more about water hauling.
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Content updated: Wed, 11 Sep 2019 10:29:13 MDT