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Rural Living In Sooke: Well, Well, Well – All About Your Water Supply

Photo Credit: congvo on Flickr (click photo for link)

Chances are, if you live on an acreage in Sooke, or anywhere else in greater Victoria for that matter, you have a well. If you’re considering buying an acreage property, this may be your first experience with your own water supply. Water in our region is plentiful, thankfully, and we enjoy abundant, cheap, good-tasting municipal water supply from the CRD. How is it different to own a well and what considerations do you need to take to ensure a reliable, safe, and tasty water for decades? Read on to find out!

Well types:

In general there are two different types of wells – dug (or shallow) and drilled. Which type a property has depends on many factors, and each type has advantages and disadvantages.

Dug wells are common where there is a relatively high water table (50 feet deep or less). Properties close to lakes, rivers, and creeks are common spots to find dug wells. The dug well is pretty simple and is constructed just about as it sounds – a hole is dug in the earth until water is found. The hole is typically lined with pre-cast concrete forms. Water is drawn from an inlet pipe to the pumping equipment in the home or well house. The advantages of this type of well include that it is usually cheaper to construct and often yields a good quantity of water. Disadvantages include that surface water (from which a dug well draws) is prone to changes in the water table (during the dry season, for example) and are more prone to contamination from runoff. A home will almost always need a treatment system for a dug well (UV sterilization, for example).

A dug well profile. Source: CMHC

Drilled wells are, I would estimate, more common in the Sooke area. Drilled wells can be as little as 50 feet deep, but can be as deep as 3000ft! I have found in my business that it is common to have drilled wells between 300 and 700 feet deep in our area, and they can produce as few as 0.5 gallons per minute (GPM) to 15 GPM. A drilled well has a steel casing which is driven into the soft earth until bedrock is penetrated by the drilling equipment. The casing is there to prevent the borehole from collapsing, and to prevent (with the help of a grout seal) contaminants and runoff running into the well. Because a drilled well is obtaining water from ground water, it is generally safer to drink untreated and many wells in our area have no treatment other than a simple particle filter to keep out any sand or gravel. A submersible pump is usually in the well borehole which pumps the water to the surface. The low yield of some drilled wells can present a problem – but this is usually solved by pumping the water to a large cistern (tank) from which the home draws its water. The cistern is replenished from the well when the water level drops.

A drilled well profile. Source: CMHC

In both types of wells, water is drawn into the home and is pressurized to normal levels by a pressure tank. As water is used in the home, a pump kicks in and keeps the pressure usable.

When purchasing a home with a private well (and indeed, if you already own one), it is a good idea to have the water tested regularly, and have a qualified well contractor inspect your well and equipment on a regular basis (perhaps once a year). As with many other mechanical implements (like your car, for example), a small, easy and cheap to solve problem can escalate to a large, expensive one if it is not fixed early on.

When I work with purchasers buying a home with a well, one service I always carry out is a water test. At the bare minimum, a microbiological analysis should be done on the water by a qualified lab. You want to make sure that there are not bacteria such as E. Coli in your drinking water! In addition, a detailed mineral analysis should also be performed. This will give you an idea of what, exactly, is in your water. We are lucky in Sooke that our wells are mostly decent, but I did hear of a property where high levels of arsenic were found in the drilled well. It is also important to people who may have mineral sensitivities or dietary concerns (for example, a low-sodium diet).

A question that comes up often is “What happens if I run out of water?” Obviously this is not a desirable situation, but for some well owners, it’s a regular occurrence in the summer months. Thankfully, there are companies that will truck in water should you run dry. A load of water is typically about $80-$100 and is about 3400 US Gallons, or 13,000 litres.

Another question I get is “Is the water hard?” Only if you freeze it. In all seriousness, most water produced by local wells is considered soft. Hardness is typically determined by the amount of magnesium and calcium compounds in the water. While your water may have lots of minerals in it (you may notice spots/stains on your dishes) it is not considered hard, and is actually very soft. In addition, the CRD water supply is one of the softest municipal water supplies in North America.

There are areas in Sooke and Otter Point where the wells are not very good – low production being the greatest problem. It is helpful to work with a local REALTOR® when shopping for rural acreages who knows areas prone to this and can therefore advise you on what to look for and what to expect.

Further reading and resources:

Do you have a well? Have any experiences or stories to share? Comments are always open!

 

  • M. Cole

    During this time of the year our well seems to be running low of water. It does replenish itself quite well, but I think with the amount of people in the house, we need some other source of getting water. We have a shallow well. It is so frustrating to plant all your plants and vegetables only to have them dry up from lack of water. We would like an idea of how much it would cost to have a cistern put in and if that is the way we should go……

    • http://WhatTheSooke.com Tim Ayres

      Hi M. Cole, thanks for the comment.

      It can be frustrating when you well runs low or dry in the summer. A cistern might be a viable option for you since it is always kept full by a float switch which turns on the well pump automatically as water is drawn. In the summer when your draw-down is more rapid due to watering, this can possibly provide a buffer to allow your well to replenish itself.

      I really have no idea on costs – you should do a Google search for water services victoria (or Sooke) BC and see what you find. My guess is that an above-ground plastic cistern would be considerably cheaper than an in-ground concrete or plastic cistern. Concrete and excavator time is expensive. Above-ground cisterns usually need treatment since they are susceptible to warm temperatures which bacteria love. Since you have a shallow well, you probably already have a treatment system so you would not need additional treatment.

      Another option might be to start a rainwater catchment system for irrigation water. I have several clients who have done this – a collection barrel from the eavestroughs is pumped up to a 5000 gal cistern which is then drawn upon in the dry months for watering the garden.

      Thanks again for the comment.

  • dhueston

    For new well dwellers – We were new to a having a well and moved in to the house in February 2011. To our surprise one week later we woke up to no water in the house and discovered that the last owner had not replaced the light bulb in the pump shed so it froze. Luckily a space heater defrosted the pump and with a prime it was up and running again without any damage. We now check the light bulb whenever we know the temperature will be close to 0 degrees.

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