Water Availability Use/Rights Frequently Asked Questions
- What is ground water?
- What is an aquifer?
- How can I find out if a specific location has enough ground water to meet my needs?
- Ground Water Resource Reports and Maps
- Where can I find information on ground water quality?
- Does the Division of Water investigate ground water contamination?
- What are Indiana's minimum standards for water well construction?
- Generalized water well components
- Equipment Not Regulated
- How do I know if my water well was properly completed?
- Where is my water well located on my property?
- How far from the septic system must a water well be located?
- What are Indiana's rules for becoming a water well driller?
- Can the Division of Water recommend a good water well driller?
- What is a high-capacity water well?
- Do I have to get a permit from a state agency to install a high-capacity water well?
- Why is it necessary to regulate wells that are no longer being used?
- What is an abandoned well?
- When must an abandoned well be plugged?
- Do I have to abandon my water well if I hook up to city water?
- Who is responsible for plugging an abandoned well?
- What impervious materials should be used to plug an abandoned well?
- What should be done about an old abandoned well discovered during inspection or development of a property?
- What should be done about "dry holes"-new well boreholes that do not produce water?
- What should be done about an unusual well or cistern that is not described in Rule 10 of the well drilling regulations in the Indiana Administrative Code (312 IAC 13)?
For regulatory purposes, the Indiana well drilling statute defines ground water as "water occurring beneath the surface of the ground, regardless of location or form" (Indiana Code 25-39-2-10).
Many people think that ground water collects in, and is withdrawn from, underground lakes and rivers. True underground rivers-water-filled caves, for instance-are rare. Most ground water exists in small pores between rock particles and in narrow fractures in rock formations.
The well drilling statute defines an aquifer as "any underground geologic formation (consolidated or unconsolidated) that has the ability to receive, store, and transmit water in amounts sufficient for the satisfaction of any beneficial use" (Indiana Code 25-39-2-10). Consolidated aquifers exist in bedrock formations, such as sandstone, limestone, and shale. Unconsolidated aquifers consist of loose material, typically sand and gravel deposited by rivers or glaciers.
Ground water does not stay in one place. Gravity causes ground water to flow downward and outward. Porosity-the size and number of void spaces in the formation-determines how much water can be stored in an aquifer. Permeability-the ability of water to move through void spaces-indicates how quickly the water will travel through the aquifer.
Unconsolidated aquifers usually transmit water more efficiently than bedrock aquifers. Ground water flows easily through the spaces between loose sand and gravel particles. Water wells drilled into sand and gravel aquifers are often very productive.
Water flows out of pores and through fractures in consolidated bedrock aquifers. Productive water wells drilled into bedrock penetrate aquifers in fractured limestone or shale, or porous sandstone. Unfractured limestone, and non-porous formations such as shale or siltstone, are likely to be dry.
You can call the Division of Water and ask a staff geologist for assistance. When you phone our office (317-232-4160 or toll free 877-928-3755), tell the customer services representative that you need ground water information. Please be ready with information that will help the on-call geologist locate your area of interest, such as the county, address, and nearby major roads.
You can also do your own ground water investigation.
* Generalized ground water resource reports and maps are available from the Division of Water for many areas of Indiana (Publications list).
* More than 400,000 Indiana water well records are available online in the Water Well Record Database. You can search for records of existing water wells near your area of interest if you know the township, range, and section for your tract (e.g., Township 16 North, Range 3 East, Section 31). This information is in county plat books and on some local property tax bills. You can also search for water well records using the water well web viewer which is a map based version of the water well record database. To learn more about using the well record database, use Database search help.
Ground Water Resource Reports and Maps may be accessed by county or by type of map or report, for example: Aquifer Systems Maps, Potentiometric Surface Maps, Ground Water Atlas, Ground Water Bulletins, etc. Please refer to the Ground Water Assessment Maps and Publications (by county) page.
Another source for ground water information is the Division of Water online Publications list.
The Division of Water has compiled limited ambient ground water chemistry data for several river basins. Refer to the Division of Water Publications list, catalog #108. This data can be purchased on CDs.
There are many online sources for water quality information. The Purdue University Extension Service offers several publications about home drinking water problems, testing, and treatment.
The DNR Division of Water does not investigate water contamination reports. The Division does not have jurisdiction when ground water or surface water is contaminated. For water contamination concerns and information, please contact the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Office of Water Quality:
Phone: 800-451-6027 (toll free in Indiana) or 317-232-8603 in the Indianapolis area
Report Environmental Emergencies: 888-233-7745
Indiana's water well construction standards were established in 1988 by the Water Well Drilling and Pump Installer Law (IC 25-39) and the associated Water Well Construction Rule (312 IAC 13 pdf file). Many of the standards are aimed at preventing ground water contamination.
- Water Well Animation
- Casing and Screens-Wells must be equipped with at least 25 feet of casing that is at least two inches in diameter. Boreholes in unconsolidated formations would collapse if not cased. Where bedrock is close to the surface, wells may not need 25 feet of casing, and the Division of Water may allow shorter casing by variance. Well screens are required in wells finished in unconsolidated aquifers (sand and gravel). Openings in well screens admit water into the well and keep rock particles out.
- Location-Surface water must drain away from the finished well casing, and the casing must extend at least one foot above ground level (this extension is sometimes called a riser). If the well is located in a designated flood hazard area, the finished casing must extend two feet above the 100-year flood elevation. Furthermore, water wells must be located as far as possible from high-capacity water wells and known contamination sources, including septic systems. These standards reduce the chance of well and aquifer contamination from floodwater, ponded surface water, human and animal wastes, and chemical spills.
- Grouting-The annular space of cased boreholes must be grouted when the well is completed. The annulus is the gap between the outside surface of the casing and the drilled borehole. Filling the annulus with watertight materials-i.e., grouting-prevents surface water contamination from penetrating water-bearing formations in the well. Typical well grouts are neat cement, and slurries and particles of commercial bentonite clay.
- Plugging-Abandoned wells and dry holes must be plugged or sealed. If left open, abandoned water wells provide a channel for surface water contamination to pollute water-bearing formations.
Equipment Not Regulated-The Indiana well drilling statute and rules do not regulate pipes and electrical connections between the well and the building, or well-related equipment such as pressure tanks inside the building. In accordance with Rule 312 IAC 13 submersible pumps must be installed at a depth to allow for 25 feet of drawdown in a well completed in unconsolidated deposits, and 50 feet of drawdown in a bedrock deposit. The pump must also be set deep enough to allow for drawdown caused by pumping and by seasonal water level changes.
Water well drillers are required by law (IC 25-39-4-1 and 312 IAC 13-2-6) to keep an accurate record of each well and to submit the record to the Division of Water. A landowner can ask the driller for a copy of the well record as a pre-condition to drilling the well. A well record must include the following information:
1. Method of well construction.
2. Proposed use of well-for example, residential, industrial, monitoring, or dewatering
3. Specifications for well casing and well screen, including diameter
4. Total depth of well
5. Static water level in well (feet below ground surface)
6. Pumping information, including the following:
- Type of pump and depth of pump setting (if applicable)
- How well was tested for yield (bailer, air, or pump)
- Test rate (gallons per minute) and duration of yield test
- Drawdown of static water level during yield test
7. Well owner name, address, and telephone number (and builder, if different from owner)
8. Drilling company name and address, and equipment operator name and license number
9. Type and thickness of formations or materials encountered, including color, hardness, and geological description
10. Type, depth, and thickness of grouting materials and method of grout installation
11. Completion date
12. Specific driving directions to well, including reference to nearest major highway or street intersection
13. Affirmation of accuracy of information on the form, signed by water well driller or driller's authorized representative
If you believe that a well driller installed your well improperly, contact the DNR Division of Water for assistance. When you phone our office (317-232-4160 or toll free 877-928-3755), tell the customer services representative that you want to speak to the Water Rights & Use Section.
Generally, water wells installed since 1988 must have a capped extension of the casing or pitless adapter unit sticking up at least one foot above ground level. This riser (as it is also called) will be steel or white PVC and should be easy to see, unless the previous owner has hidden it with shrubbery or a lawn ornament. Many wells drilled before 1988 were also equipped with pitless adapters and had exposed risers.
Some older wells were completed in a pit or covered with dirt and are not visible at the surface. Locating these wells may require digging with a shovel or backhoe. Water well records rarely show well locations in relation to buildings. One option might be to hire a private contractor experienced in locating utility lines to trace the water service pipe from the house to the well location.
According to 312 IAC 13-3-2 (Rules for Water Well Construction and Pump Installation) a water well must "use every natural protection" to maintain the quality of ground water encountered during well construction. The well must also be located "as far as practicable" from any known contamination source. Neither IC 25-39 or Rule 312 IAC 13 specify separation distances between new water wells and contamination sources. However, the Indiana State Department of Health regulates on-site sewage disposal under Rule 410 IAC 6-8.3 and requires that a new septic tank or soil absorption system to be located at least 50 feet from a domestic water well. Required separation distances for septic tanks, dosing tanks, lift stations, and soil absorption systems from various types of wells, ponds, lakes, reservoirs and property lines are set forth in Section 57 of Rule 410 IAC 6-8.3. Contact your local Health Department for additional information regarding required separation distances, or to determine if a well ordinance exists for your county or community.
A person may not be a water well driller or water well pump installer in Indiana without a license issued by the DNR Division of Water. To qualify for a water well drilling or pump installer license, a person must
- be at least 18 years of age;
- furnish statements from three references, two of whom are water well drillers, pump installers or licensed plumbing contractors familiar with the applicant's work experience, and professional competency;
- pass a competency examination prepared and administered by the DNR Division of Water (for which there is a $25 fee); and
- pay a fee of $100 for the initial license, and a $100 renewal fee each year. Licensed water well drillers and pump installers must also complete six hours of approved continuing education every two years.
The Division of Water sends applicants a free packet that includes study materials (the Indiana drilling statute and rules), forms, and an information sheet. The Division usually offers five exams during the year – once during the Indiana Ground Water Association’s annual conference and at the Government Center South in Indianapolis in February, April, June, and August.
A well driller must keep an accurate record for each well drilled and submit a copy of the well record to the DNR Division of Water within 30 days after completing the well.
Most licensed well drillers install pumps in the wells they drill. However, pump installation is not regulated by the Indiana well drilling statute and rules, and pump installation is not a licensed profession.
The Division of Water can provide a list of all licensed water well drilling and pump installation contractors in your region. Always hire a licensed driller or pump installer. Licensed drillers and pump installers have passed a competency exam administered by the Division and are responsible for meeting Indiana well construction standards. Future well owners should compare prices and services before selecting a contractor. Make sure you have a signed contract covering matters such as charge per foot, materials, dry holes, and damage caused by drilling operations. Home improvement contracts are required by IC 24-5-11 for residential work exceeding $150.
Indiana water well drillers are required to submit a well record to the Division of Water within 30 days after completing a well. This well record is a state form and includes location, well depth and diameter, amount of water produced during the pumping test, and geologic materials encountered during drilling. Ask your water well driller for a copy of the well record and insist that the driller promptly send the required form to the Division of Water. A record of your water supply is crucial information for you and for future owners of your property.
Well drillers are required to fill out a one-page record (State Form 35680) for every well. Well records in the Division of Water are public records, and are used for water resource and environmental evaluations. They compose Indiana's largest database of shallow sub-surface geology. Information from the records is in a searchable online database. The Division retains the original paper records and stores record images on CD-ROM.
A high-capacity well is a water well capable of pumping at least 100,000 gallons of ground water per day (70 gallons per minute), regardless of how much water is actually pumped. A well with this much pumping capacity would also be classified as a significant water withdrawal facility (SWWF). SWWFs must be registered with the DNR Division of Water (at no cost), and water withdrawals from them must be reported annually.
Generally, no permit is required for a high-capacity water well (unless located within the Great Lakes Basin of Indiana); however, it may be necessary to register the well as a significant water withdrawal facility (SWWF). A SWWF includes any combination of wells, surface water intakes, and pumping apparatus that supply, or can supply, at least 100,000 gallons of water per day to a common collection or distribution point. A person who owns such a combination must register those facilities as a SWWF with the DNR Division of Water. The facility must be registered within three months after it is completed. For more information, consult the Non-rule Policy Document, Registration of Significant Water Withdrawal Facilities.
Registration forms for significant water withdrawal facilities, including general instructions, are available online-State Form 20094 (R3/8-98).
State statute IC 14-25-4 is known informally as the "ground water rights law." It protects owners of most small-capacity water wells from significant ground water withdrawal facilities. The law defines a significant ground water withdrawal facility as "the ground water withdrawal facility of a person that, in the aggregate from all sources and by all methods, has the capability of withdrawing at least one hundred thousand (100,000) gallons of ground water in one (1) day." One hundred thousand gallons per day equals 70 gallons per minute. High-capacity ground water users may be industries, irrigators, public water supply operators, or quarries. To be protected from a nearby significant ground water withdrawal facility, a small-capacity well must satisfy one of the following criteria:
- The well must be a properly functioning domestic well drilled prior to January 1, 1986.
- If completed after December 31, 1985, the well must be constructed in accordance with rules set forth in 312 IAC 12 Water Well Drilling and Ground Water. These rules require certain minimum pump depths in domestic wells, and they specify how much of the source aquifer must be penetrated.
Indiana law does not protect one small-capacity well owner from another small-capacity well owner.
If your well no longer furnishes its normal supply of water, and if you suspect that the well is being affected by a nearby high-capacity ground water user, submit a written complaint to the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or the address provided below. The DNR Division of Water will make an on-site investigation. If the investigation finds evidence that nearby high-capacity pumping has substantially lowered the water level in your small-capacity well, and your well is protected by statute IC 14-25-4, the high-capacity user can be declared liable and may be required to provide you with an alternate water supply.
Send complaint letters to:
Indiana Department of Natural Resources
402 W. Washington Street, Room W256
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204
If you have questions about IC 14-25-4 or 312 IAC 12, contact the Division of Water, Water Rights & Use Section (317-232-4160 or toll free 877-928-3755).
An abandoned water well is potentially a conduit between the ground surface and an underground aquifer, a water-bearing layer of sand and gravel or porous or fractured bedrock. Ground water can be contaminated if floodwater, farm wastes, or spilled chemicals are able to flow down from the surface through or around the casing of an abandoned well. To limit ground water contamination, the 1988 Indiana water well drilling and pump installation statute, Indiana Code 25-39, requires abandoned wells to be sealed at the surface or plugged with impervious materials. Plugging prevents the migration of gases, liquids, and solids up or down the well. Detailed requirements for plugging are in Rule 10 of the well drilling regulations in the Indiana Administrative Code, 312 IAC 13.
Time of non-use is the usual way to define an abandoned water well. If the original purpose and use of the well have been discontinued for more than five (5) years, the well is considered abandoned. A well is also abandoned, by definition, if it is in such a state of disrepair that using it to obtain ground water is impractical or a health hazard.
The statute requires a well to be plugged within one year after it is abandoned. Under the statute's definition of abandonment, this could be nearly six years after use of the well was discontinued. The Division of Water urges well owners who decide to discontinue use of their wells to plug them immediately (this is not necessary for temporary non-use due to real estate transactions or part-year residencies). Many well drillers offer to plug an old well after they install a replacement well.
No state law administered by the DNR Division of Water requires a well owner to abandon a water well after the property is connected to a public water supply.
Although Indiana law makes well drillers responsible for proper well construction, the owner of land upon which an abandoned well is situated is responsible for having the well plugged. If the well was abandoned after January 1, 1988, the effective date of the drilling statute, a licensed water well driller or pump installer must be employed to plug the well. The driller or pump installer will send a record of the abandoned well and plugging procedure to the Division of Water.
A well must be plugged with one or a combination of the following:
- Neat cement, with not more than five percent (5%) by weight of bentonite additive
- Bentonite slurry (which can include polymers to retard swelling)
- Pelletized bentonite or medium-grade or coarse-grade crushed bentonite
Neat cement is a mixture of cement and clean water in a ratio equivalent to 94 pounds of cement and no more than six gallons of water. Bentonite is a clay derived from volcanic ashfall deposits that swells when wet. It is mined in the western U.S., mainly in Wyoming, and is available in bags from well suppliers. Specific combinations and amounts of these materials are required for different types of abandoned wells (see Rule 10 of the well drilling regulations in the Indiana Administrative Code, 312 IAC 13).
The well drilling statute requires all abandoned wells to be sealed or plugged; the method depends in part on the abandonment date. Determine or estimate when use of the well was discontinued. If the well was abandoned before January 1, 1988, it may be sealed at the surface by a watertight welded or threaded cap. Old hand-dug or large-diameter wells abandoned before January 1, 1988, may be covered with a reinforced concrete slab or a reinforced, water-repelling wooden cover. Sealing of pre-1988 abandonments does not have to be done by a licensed well driller or pump installer and may be done by the property owner. The Division of Water urges those who discover old wells to have them plugged in accordance with the standards for recently abandoned wells. They may employ a licensed well driller or pump installer for this job or do it themselves after consulting the Division or the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. Extension Publication WQ 21 (1995), co-written with the Division of Water, is helpful for property owners who want to plug old abandoned wells.
A well that is not equipped with casing must be plugged by the driller within 72 hours (three days) after drilling is completed. Some dry holes produce so little water that no casing is installed in the borehole and no yield test is performed. Others have the pump and casing removed after an unsatisfactory yield test.
What should be done about an unusual well or cistern that is not described in Rule 10 of the well drilling regulations in the Indiana Administrative Code, 312 IAC 13)?
The Division of Water will advise property owners and well drillers or pump installers on plugging methods that fit unusual circumstances and closely approach the requirements of Rule 10. Preventing ground water contamination by effective grouting and plugging of wells is one of the most important goals of the well drilling statute and rules. The Division believes that devising a workable method to close an abandoned well is better than leaving the well open.
For more information on well plugging-
DNR Division of Water
Water Rights & Use Section
402 W. Washington Street, Room W264, Indianapolis, IN 46204
The Division's phone number is (317) 232-4160 or toll-free (877) 928-3755.