A CONSUMERS GUIDE
By Oregon Water Resources
This booklet provides general
information about well construction, maintenance and
abandonment laws & practices in Oregon. The
information included is primarily for those
individuals who wish to construct, abandon or
contract for the construction or abandonment of a water well in Oregon. It may also be helpful
to people wanting to buy or sell property, and to
people who own land on which existing wells
are located. This information is subject to
change. Please call the State of Oregon Water Resources
Department to verify its current applicability.
FINDING GROUND WATER
The amount and quality of ground water in an area can depend on yearly rainfall, geologic conditions, topography, distance to nearby wells, and surface water supply. You can learn about the quantity and quality of well water in your area from local water well constructors help you estimate well depth, yield, and cost.
WATER WELL REPORTS
Another useful tool for learning about your
local ground water is the water well report,
often called a "well log." Well logs are
prepared by the well driller as required by
Oregon water law. Well logs provide
information on geologic formations encountered
in a well and list details concerning well
design, construction, and yields. They are a
basic tool used in checking for ground water
The Water Resources Department has well logs
for most of the water wells drilled in Oregon
since 1955. However, the likelihood of finding
records for wells drilled after 1970 is much
higher than for older wells. Well logs are
available on the Department's Internet website:
From the home page, select "Access Well Logs"
or "GRID-Web." There are numerous ways to
query the information. One of the most useful
ways is to search under Township, Range, and
Section. The data for all of the wells in the
section(s) will be displayed onscreen. For
effective searches, use a unique identifier, such
as the original owner's name, tax lot
information, street address, or age of well. You
may view an image of the well log if you have a
TIFF viewer on your computer, typically
provided with systems like Microsoft Windows
95 and 98.
Water witches or "dowsers" claim to predict the presence of water with hand-held tools such
as forked twigs or metal rods. Since there is no
scientific basis to dowsing, most geologists do not recommend the practice. Although most
water witches charge only a modest fee, the
U.S. Geological Survey and National Ground Water Association advise against employing a
water witch to search for ground water.
Once you know ground water is available, you
must estimate how much water you need. To
estimate your daily peak water demand, add the
appropriate quantities of water for all uses
which would likely occur on the day of the year
in which water needs would be highest. Peak
demand in the home normally occurs at the
beginning of the day, at bedtime, or during
laundry or irrigation uses. The following guide
will help you determine peak demand.
Type of Use
Gallons per Day
Single family (per person)
- Estate units (per person)
Lawn and garden
Livestock (drinking per animal):
Some domestic water systems are designed to store water during times of low demand (such
as night time). This stored water can be used later to supply water during peak demand
(laundry, lawn watering). An experienced pump installer or plumbing contractor can plan a
water system based on your needs and water source. In contrast to a domestic well, an
irrigation well must be able to produce water at
steady high rates for extended periods of time. Irrigation systems must be carefully designed to
minimize pumping costs and to prevent
excessive drawdown of the well.
LOCATING YOUR WELL
Water well constructors have local knowledge and experience with state regulations; they can
help you site your well.
The following standards apply to the placement of wells:
• Locate the well away from septic tanks, sewage disposal areas (such as a drain
field), and other sources of contamination such as stock yards, storm sewers, privies,
or refuse dumps. The minimum distances
of 50 feet from septic tanks and 100 feet from sewage disposal areas are required
by the well construction rules. Soil type and topography in your area may require
• Increase the distances in areas of highly permeable formations (i.e. sand and
• Run drainage away from the well on all sides; divert up-slope drainage away from
• Locate the well above (higher in grade) disposal areas if possible.
• Locate the well far enough from buildings to allow easy access during
maintenance, repair, testing, or redrilling. Remember to plan future well construction
or repairs before building a shelter around the well.
• Locate the well in an area free from flooding or plan extra precautions to
• Site your well as far as possible from neighboring wells. When wells are close
together, they can interfere with each other and produce less water.
• Site your well a safe distance from your property line. This will prevent difficulties
with neighboring septic systems and
boundary line inaccuracies. After legal requirements, the main consideration in
locating your well is convenience. If conditions allow, locate the well near
where you will use the water and near a power source.
Contact your county health and planning departments for additional well location and
permit requirements before you drill.
OBTAINING WATER RIGHTS
Under Oregon law, all ground water is considered a public resource. With some
exceptions, anyone intending to use ground water must first obtain a permit from the Water
In general, a ground water permit must be
obtained before using water from any of
• A well.
• Any artificial opening in the ground.
• An artificially altered natural opening (may not include developing a natural
• Tile lines placed beneath the surface.
• A sump. The following uses of ground water do not require a water right permit.
• Group and single-family domestic use up to 15,000 gallons per day.
• Stock watering.
• Watering any lawn and/or non-commercial garden totaling one-half
acre or less in area.
• Down-hole heat exchangers.
• Any single industrial or commercial development up to 5,000 gallons per day.
These exempted uses are on a per-property or per-development basis and cannot be increased.
For example, you cannot double the amount
exempted from filing by adding a second well.
A number of Oregon counties also require permits for certain developments. Contact your
county government for local rules.
For uses requiring a water right, you must file an application with the Department, including a
map of the proposed site to be developed. The application review takes about eight months.
This time lapse allows the Department to examine the application and allows an
opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed use. If the proposed use is granted,
well construction must begin within one year
from the date the permit is issued. Contact the
Water Resources Department for application
forms, a list of Certified Water Right
Examiners, and a copy of state well
construction and mainenance standards and
The Oregon Water Resources Commission is
responsible for managing ground water to
prevent depletion of the resource. In many
areas, high demand on the ground water supply
has required that new uses be restricted or
prohibited. The uses which may be affected can
also include those for which water rights are
not required. Before making any expenditures
on a planned well, you should consult with the
Department to confirm that your planned use of
water is permitted by the Department. (District Watermaster offices are listed at the end of this
WELL CONSTRUCTION STANDARDS
Oregon's well construction standards are designed to protect the ground water resource
and the public. They help prevent contamination
of the well or aquifer by surface and subsurface leakage which may carry harmful chemicals or
bacteria, and they help prevent physical injury and waste of water.
You should check the constructor's performance and materials to be sure they meet each item in
your contract, if you have one.
In some cases, due to site conditions, it may not be possible to construct or abandon a well in a
manner that meets the minimum state standards. When the minimum construction standards
cannot be met, the person responsible for drilling, altering, or abandoning the well must
obtain a "variance" from the Department. The variance allowing exception from the standards
must be obtained before completing the work and must adequately protect the ground water
resource. The cost of a well is not a compelling reason to grant a variance.
The following are some items you should track as your well is constructed. well depth can be
measured by using a weighted line. The depth should be close to the depth recorded on the
required well log.
CASING is steel or plastic pipe installed to prevent the borehole from caving in and to seal
the upper portion of the well. The total length of casing used should be the same as that recorded
on the well log.
SEALING the space between the borehole and the casing helps prevent commingling or
contamination of the aquifer. The seal should be
placed in one continuous operation from the bottom upward. A proper seal consists of neat
cement (cement and water) or bentonite (a dry clay) which extends from the ground surface to
the depth required by the construction standards that apply to the particular well. State rules
require a minimum 18-foot seal.
COMMINGLING occurs when a well draws water from more than one water-bearing formation. In
no case shall a well be constructed to tap into multiple ground water sources.
DEVELOPMENT involves vigorously pumping the well to help clean out drill cuttings and to
maximize production of the well. Development should result in a well which produces
sand-free or mud-free water when operated properly.
OPENINGS—All wells must have an access port for measuring the water level or a pressure
gauge for measuring artesian pressure. The access port must be unobstructed. If an airline is
installed for measuring the water level, it must not block the access port. Make sure the access
port is capped and that all other openings are plugged, sealed, or designed to prevent surface
water from entering the well casing.
TOP TERMINAL HEIGHT—The casing head or pitless unit of any well must extend twelve
inches above the finished ground surface or pumphouse floor, and twelve inches above the
local surface runoff level.
YIELD TEST—The driller will conduct a yield test to see how much water the well produces.
One of these methods is used: pump, air, or bailer. The static water level, the date, the
drawdown at the end of the test period, the pumping rate, and the length of the test period
are recorded on the well log. Note whether the water level stabilized during the test. A
one-hour minimum yield test is required upon completion of every well. Oregon law requires
owners of wells requiring a water right (usually large industrial or irrigation wells) to conduct a
well pump test once every ten years and report the results to the Department.
WELL IDENTIFICATION NUMBER—A stainless steel label, preprinted with an assigned number,
should be attached to the well casing within 30 days of well construction. This unique number
identifies your well and will be used to track any future modifications to the well. Please do
not remove this label.
WELL LOG—You should receive a copy of your water well report (well log) from the water
well constructor. You may also be able to obtain a copy on the Department's website
under "GRID-Web" or by contacting the Department. Keep your copy of the well log.
This is one of the more important records of your property.
SELECTING A WATER WELL CONSTRUCTOR
Be sure to choose a water well constructor who is licensed and bonded to construct water wells
in Oregon. Names of local water well constructors are available from the following
• The Water Resources Department's central office or your district
• The Oregon Ground Water Association.
• Your local telephone directory.
• Your neighbors.
• Through the Department's website.
You can check a constructor's qualifications by talking with them and their former customers.
The Department also maintains records which
may show if a formal enforcement action was ever taken against a constructor.
You may want to ask the following types of questions before selecting the constructor for
• Do they have a valid well constructor's license and bond?
• How long have they been in business and constructing wells?
• For whom have they recently drilled wells?
• Will they provide a written agreement or contract which sets down an understanding
of the work to be performed?
• Are details and costs of well construction included?
• Are the following items in the checklist mutually agreed upon?
This checklist will help ensure there is agreement between you and the well constructor
about what is to be done. All of the items below should be addressed.
||hole diameter, changes in diameter
||casing material and diameter, cost per
||drive shoe, if necessary
||approximate depth of well (set limits
based on geology and individual needs) and cost per foot
||liner pipe, if necessary
||sealing method; interval and costs
||well development - duration, rate per
hour or per day, completion criteria (for
example, sand-free or mud-free water)
||intake diameter, perforated casing
material, or screens
||yield test - length of test, method of
test, water level drawdown
||additional costs if the well is a
flowing artesian well
||abandonment procedures if the well is
||pump and installation costs (if the
constructor provides this service)
||guarantee of materials and quality
||projected completion date
||county permit (if applicable)
||well identification number
||additional specific items
DRILLING YOUR OWN WELL
A water well is much more than just a hole in the ground. To prevent ground water
contamination, a well must be constructed using proper methods and equipment. Licensed and
bonded water well constructors have the equipment, knowledge, and experience required
for proper well construction. For this reason, the Department discourages landowners from
drilling a well by themselves.
If you decide to drill, alter, or abandon a water well by yourself on your own property, you will
have two responsibilities:
1. Obtain a Landowner's Water Well Permit from the Department. You must submit an
application, file a $2,000 landowner's bond, and a $25 application fee.
2. Construct, alter, or abandon the well according to ground water law and the general
standards for construction and maintenance of water wells in Oregon.
You may obtain an application for a Landowner's Water Well Permit, a bond form,
and a copy of current state well construction standards and regulations from the Department.
A landowner who desires to deviate from the minimum well construction standards must
obtain a variance (allowing exception from the standards) from the Department prior to
completing the work.
PURCHASING AND INSTALLING A PUMP
Well pumps are sold by pump dealers, some water well constructors, plumbing supply
dealers, and various retail outlets. The water well constructor can tell you the well
production and drawdown of the yield test. Using this information and the well diameter,
you can select a pump to meet your water needs. The delivery system should produce enough
water while using as little energy as possible. Selecting a pump with a capacity greater than
the well yield can cause problems, such as muddy or sandy water, pump failure, or even
Several types and sizes of pumps are used in domestic wells. Each has certain advantages,
depending on the depth to water, the size of the well, and the amount of water needed. Your
pump supplier can recommend the best type and size for your needs. Selection of a pump too
large for your well has no advantages and may damage your well.
MAINTAINING YOUR WELL
Some simple well maintenance and record-keeping will help protect the quality of
your water and your well.
WATER QUALITY — Have a water sample analyzed for bacteriological quality at least
once a year. Have a sample checked for chemical quality (such as hardness or specific
conductance) every five years. Changes in water quality provide early warning of
defective surface casing, seals, or contaminated aquifers. Many local water treatment or
conditioning businesses, and some local health Department offices or independent laboratories
will perform these tests for a reasonable fee.
WATER LEVEL — Keep a permanent record of the depth to water from a reference point such
as the top of the well casing. These measurements will provide an early warning of
water supply problems. Measure the water level at least twice a year and record the time
and date. Measurements should be made on approximately the same dates each year, usually
in the spring and fall. Let the well sit without
pumping for one to two hours before measuring. If you have any questions about how to do this,
ask your constructor.
SHELTER — Do not store poisons, pesticides, petroleum products, or other hazardous
materials in your pumphouse or near your well. Do not use the pumphouse to shelter animals.
The landowner carries the ultimate responsibility for maintenance of their
well(s). If well construction problems are discovered that may contribute to contamination or waste of
the resource, the Department may require repairs to eliminate the problem. The
Department will look first to the well constructor to determine if the standards were
not adhered to. However, if the constructor is unable or unwilling to perform the repairs, the
landowner must assume the costs. Also, over time, well casings and seals may fail and
prompt the need for repairs.
ABANDONING YOUR WELL
Unused wells that are not properly abandoned can cause ground water contamination, waste,
or loss of artesian pressure. Ultimately, landowners can be held responsible for harm to
the ground water resource resulting from old or unused wells. Oregon's well abandonment
standards are designed to prevent contamination of the well or aquifer by surface and subsurface
leakage which may carry harmful chemicals or bacteria. The standards also seek to prevent
physical injury, waste of water and loss of artesian pressure. The Water Resources
Department has minimum standards that describe the acceptable methods for two types
of well abandonment.
temporary abandonment — A well is considered temporarily abandoned when it is
taken out of service but still exists. Owners of
temporarily abandoned wells intend to bring them back into service at a future date.
Temporarily abandoned wells must be covered by a watertight cap or seal which prevents any
materials from entering the well.
permanent abandonment — A well is considered permanently abandoned when it is
completely filled so that movement of water
within the well is permanently stopped. With the exception of hand-dug wells, a permanent
abandonment must be performed by a licensed
water well constructor, or the landowner under a Landowner's Water Well Permit.
The appropriate permanent abandonment method will depend on information obtained
from an examination of the well log and an
onsite investigation of the well. Generally, a drilled well with steel or plastic casing will be
abandoned by either removing or ripping the
casing and filling the borehole with cement from the bottom up. Any pump, wiring, or
debris in the well must be removed before the
cement is placed.
If a review of the well log indicates that the well is a filter or gravel-packed well (where
pea gravel is used to screen out loose geologic material in the well), the Department must
preapprove any abandonment method. A greater potential exists for harm to the ground water
resource from incorrect abandonment of this type of well due to the artificial gravel-pack
If a hand-dug well is to be abandoned, you must notify the Department and obtain approval for
the abandonment method before beginning the
abandonment. Typically, a hand-dug well free of debris may be abandoned by filling the well
with cement or concrete to above the
water-bearing zone and then clean fill (not gravel) to land surface. Hand-dug wells
containing debris may be subject to other abandonment methods.
For more specific information about well abandonment, contact a well constructor or the
If you plan to construct a well to serve more than one household, a carefully drawn
agreement should be negotiated. Generally, legal advice is sought for such an important
document between water users and well owners. The agreement should address these
Who will maintain the well?
If the well serves more than three households, it is considered a public water system. Public
water systems are regulated by the Oregon
Who may access the well for maintenance?
Under what conditions can the property on which the well is located be bought and sold?
How will power costs and water availability be shared?
What is each party's interest or right to use the water?
What type of organization will manage operation of the well now and in the future?
How will costs of well reconstruction or pump replacement be
shared? Consult with your lending institution about their restrictions on lending for shared wells.
Health Division, Department of Human Resources. The Health Division should be
contacted for further requirements.
If you need help financing your new well, check with lending institutions in your area before you
look for a well constructor. Some lenders have
specific requirements for well production, water quality, and well depth, and may have
standards for sharing wells with one or more neighbors.
Several types of loans for well construction are available. The cost of a well may be included
in a loan for construction of a home. Sometimes
interim loans are needed to cover the cost of the well until you receive financing for home
construction. These are available from a variety
of lending institutions.
Oregon Water Resources Department
725 Summer Street N.E., Suite A
Salem, Oregon 97301-1271
Tel: (503) 986-0900
Fax: (503) 986-0904
Oregon Health Division
800 NE Oregon Street
Portland, Oregon 97201
Tel: 1 (800) 422-6012
Drinking Water Section: (503) 731-4317