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What Is an Artesian Well?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 17, 2024
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An artesian well is a pumpless water source that uses pipes to allow underground water that is under pressure to rise to the surface. This type of well seems to defy gravity because the pressure that builds up between layers of rock gets relieved when the water finds a path to the open air. In addition, the water has been naturally filtered because it passes through porous rock as it seeps into the Earth to reach the aquifer, which is the underground water source. For centuries, people have drilled artesian wells to drink filtered water that doesn't need to be manually or mechanically hauled up from the depths.

Pressurized Water

An aquifer provides the water source for an artesian well. This is the layer of permeable rock, such as limestone or sandstone, that absorbs water from an inlet path at high elevation, such as the top of a mountain. The water source might be fed by snowmelt or precipitation.

Porous stone is sandwiched between a top and bottom layer of an impermeable substance, such as clay soil or shale rock. This keeps the water pressure high, so that at a point below the entryway of the flow, there is enough pressure to bring the water up when the pressure is released. Natural springs form in the same way when a gap in the impermeable rock — perhaps triggered by an earthquake — allows the water to rise to the surface. Sometimes, if the pressure is especially strong in the aquifer, the water might thrust up like a fountain and form a geyser.

Prevalence

Artesian wells are found all over the world. Entire cities have relied on giant underground aquifers to provide fresh, cold water when there are no above-ground rivers. Where modern plumbing is scarce or nonexistent, people often must rely on an artesian well for clean water. The Great Artesian Basin, which provides fresh water to inland Australia, is the largest such basin in the world. Thousands of artesian wells have tapped into this aquifer.

Origin

The first known artesian well was drilled in 1126 by a group of monks who used a rod with a sharp end, called a bore, to penetrate a layer of impermeable rock to reach an aquifer. Their percussive drilling — just hammering on the end of the bore — broke through the rock with sheer human force. The water that rose to the surface had seeped through the pores of the rock, so that many contaminants have been filtered out, and it proved to be safer to drink than standing water from the surface or river water.

How Does an Artesian Well Work?

Artesian wells are a natural effort-saving innovation that requires no extra mechanics or filtering to obtain useable water. The word “artesian” comes from the French region of Artois where the technique was documented in the 12th century C.E. The water in an artesian well comes from an aquifer, a fancy term for a piece of rock or sediment that’s holding the water.

Water enters aquifers through soil drainage, also known as groundwater recharge. Rainfall is a chief source of groundwater recharge. This subsurface water fills in empty spaces inside and between rock and soil layers. For sufficient groundwater recharge to aquifers, rainfall levels must exceed what’s lost by evaporation or used by plants growing in the soil. Around 10% to 20% of precipitation on Earth makes its way into aquifers as groundwater.

Deep in the ground, pressure created between the rock layers can push groundwater up to the surface. While this groundwater remains trapped below the surface, the resulting pressure that builds up is called artesian pressure. The magnitude of this pressure can vary from well to well. The aquifer itself that contains the water is called an artesian aquifer.

How To Make an Artesian Well

Drilling is required to access groundwater and create an artesian well. You’ll commonly see these wells include a pipe or discharge line through which the water can rise. But their design doesn’t end at just drilling a hole and sticking a pipe into the ground. Flow control may be needed to avoid water waste and erosion, but it also may be required by state or local laws. And while many artesian wells produce clean water, some may require disinfecting measures to remove harmful microbes and toxins.

Controlling an artesian well’s flow can be done by adding a secured cap at the top of the pipe. This cap stops water from free-flowing out of the well, but it also shields the well from vermin, chemicals, and other contaminants. Along with this cap, the well can be equipped with control valves and pressure relief fittings. These controls prevent excess water from escaping, which in turn ensures that the well doesn’t prematurely run dry. Depending on the well’s design and the user’s needs, cement grout may be needed for proper sealing to enable flow control.

Common Artesian Well Problems

Artesian wells can be useful water sources. However, you do need to take some unique precautions. The water you use must be safe, but you must also take care to avoid problems such as erosion and water waste. Testing, decontamination, flow control, and sealing are some key issues you may need to consider.

Contamination

Scientists estimate that Earth’s upper crust holds nearly 6 quintillion gallons of water. This water supply chiefly resides in the upper 1.2 miles of our planet’s surface. While the porous rock in the crust acts as a filter, groundwater can still be contaminated by fracking, landfills, and septic tanks along with industrial and agricultural chemical runoff.

Artesian well water may also contain coliform bacteria, which can be present in the soil from animal and human waste. While filtering can remove a good percentage of the bacteria, some of it may still make it into water consumed from these wells. Coliform bacteria can cause symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, but serious illnesses such as polio and dysentery are also possible.

Proper disinfection is key to ensuring that your artesian well water is safe to use. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent recommend testing it at least once a year for coliform bacteria, nitrates, and total dissolved solids. You should also monitor the water’s pH levels and regularly observe its color, taste, and odor. If recommended, you may need to test for other contaminants. For further guidance on testing and disinfection, check with your local health department.

Flow Control Issues

While you want to adequately control water flow rates in an artesian well, care must be taken to balance flow and pressure. One common risk is frac-out, or hydraulic fractures occurring at nearby spots in underground rock. These fractures permit water to surface in unexpected places and reduce an artesian well’s reliability and function.

If a well has been abandoned or its wall has deteriorated, you may need to discontinue using it. Such wells should also be permanently sealed with cement plugs. PVC pipes or drill rods can inject cement grout into the bottom of each well until the walls are completely filled up to the well’s exit point at the surface.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon998888 — On Sep 15, 2017

I have an artesian well that is on my property but only four feet away from the road. I do not like people stopping to fill up all the time. Do I have a legal right to post a no trespassing signs up? I live in New York state.

By anon997211 — On Nov 29, 2016

If the water is slowing in the artesian well, does the bottom need scraped out? We scraped the bottom 40 years ago and have not had a problem until now.

By anon990637 — On May 01, 2015

I have an artesian well on my property and it's downhill from the septic tank. Its started to overflow last year and get smelly like a sewer. This year it is much worse. Do you think the septic tank could be leaking into it?

By anon989333 — On Mar 02, 2015

Our house is next to a large empty property in our town. We have been told there is an artesian well underneath this area. Now, the city wants to let commercial building begin on it (a tire and service store). Besides the noise this will generate, what harm will come to the water underground if this building is erected? I am concerned about runoff from their store.

By anon942817 — On Mar 29, 2014

Can a generator be used to pump water from an artesian well?

By anon339449 — On Jun 23, 2013

I am at a campground where there is an artesian well. Is this a bad thing?

By anon311081 — On Dec 29, 2012

I have an artesian well, I think, around my well pipe. What can I do? Water is flooding my entire yard and I'm getting sink holes.

By anon281304 — On Jul 23, 2012

I was born in the year 1933 and off the back porch was an artesian well flowing and as a young fellow growing up in Southern Ga. This was taken for granted. We had no indoor plumbing so one had always to go to the well for water!

By anon264460 — On Apr 28, 2012

How can we check whether a place has an artesian well or not?

By anon258191 — On Mar 30, 2012

We have an artesian well on our property and all we are getting is muddy water. What can we do?

By anon257607 — On Mar 27, 2012

We have an artesian well. We have lived here for 24 years and only had to have it pulled once due to a piece of pipe broke going into the house.

Recently, the water wasn't coming out of the pipe outside, but around the base of the iron pipe. a well company came out and pulled the pump ti was filled with rust. He flushed the well, and put in a new pump, that was a week ago. Tonight I was cleaning the mower with the hose which comes directly from the well and it started rust and sediment coming out the hose, then I lost pressure and very little water came out.

At this time I seem to have water in the house but we've changed the filter two times since they flushed the well. I put a gallon of bleach in the well. Should I have the well people come out again or do you have any suggestions?

By anon244378 — On Feb 01, 2012

Are any special water softeners required? Are any other special water purifiers recommended?

By seths1 — On Sep 07, 2010

we have two taps in the back yard fed from an artesian well and recently were hit with a 7.1 magnetude earthquake. we are near the beach, built on sand and have no damage whatsoever. however some streets within a mile away have houses written off from the damage from liquefaction. would an artesian well protect from this?

By anon108877 — On Sep 04, 2010

i am buying a home that had a new artesian well drilled. this home was a foreclosure sale. the previous owner sabotaged the well by back presuring the well. can this well be repaired?

By anon65326 — On Feb 12, 2010

How does a person know that they have a artesian well?

By hummingbird1 — On Sep 29, 2009

We built a home last year and our sump pump is going off constantly -- well over five gallons a day is being poured out. Could this possibly be an artesian well? We are not on a high water table nor is there a spring underneath us. Is there any kind of check we can do to determine where this water is coming from?

By anon38658 — On Jul 27, 2009

I have a artesian well on my commercial property and the health deparrtment had me get the walls cleaned and now I do not get the water being replenished at all. Had the guy come in and see what the problem is and he dug out dirt in the crevices which had water flowing in, but I am still losing water by an inch a day. Any suggestions? Never had the problem until I had the cleaning done?

By anon38398 — On Jul 26, 2009

I am in the process of buying a new house and property. The house sits on the side of a hill. The hill goes up another 20' higher then the house and water is seeping out of the side of the hill. I am told that this is an artesian well. How can I economically extract that water, to use for a fountain, garden tubs or anything else such as drinking? Also if I do have it run into a fountain or waterfall, will the excess runoff be able to soak back into the ground or do I need to find a way to capture it in a bigger pond? Keep in mind it is only seeping at this time. I would like it to flow in more of a stream like amount. It is seeping out from two locations at this time. Help me if you can, thanks.

By jillcarroll — On May 02, 2009

We recently purchased a home that has an artesian well. We live up in the mountains of NC and have a lot of water around us...in fact an 80 foot waterfall in our backyard.

My question - last night we came home to find water coming out of the well housing. It's not really a trickle, but rather a stream. It's coming out of a small hole at the top of the housing. There are also green/red wires that come out of the same hole.

After reading all the past questions this might be natural, but we want to be sure.

Thank you - Jill Carroll

By shelbycook2 — On Jan 08, 2009

I have just recently moved into a house with an artesian well. I have noticed that there are bubbles coming out of the ground around the pump. What are these bubbles and do I need to be concerned with them? My other question is this summer there was a pond around the pump do I need to be concerned about this? I have never heard of this kind of well before and we were told that the spout on the system had to stay dripping at all times is this true? Any other information that you can give me would be wonderful due to my ignorance with this type of well. Thank you for your time.

By usosue1967 — On Sep 30, 2008

Wow! you have answered a question that has been keeping me up nights for about a month. I do property management and we had a hole in one of our fields that opened up and has pressure points pushing the water up. I went through every process of elimination that I could do. We eliminated City water and sprinkler water, ground water and river water. I was lost. I remembered hearing about the artesian wells but did not know much about them but you sure do. Thank you for all the great information at least now I am sure of what I am dealing with. Your site is great. Sue Fort Myers, FL

By anon17685 — On Sep 04, 2008

The problem with an artesian well is that it is susceptible to contamination... lawn or farm fertilizer, someone dumping oil, neighbors failing septic system. So it really can't be assumed that it is clean water and safe to drink. The rock is porous and does not filter out anything dissolved in the water. A second thing to consider is if you have a home on property under the influence of an artesian well, there could be hydrostatic pressure behind your basement wall, and you will have to seal the wall or provide other barriers to keep the water out. A sump pump and drainage around the footings will help, but in most communities it is illegal to dump the water from a sump pump into the community water system.

By nas1826 — On Jun 25, 2008

I was wondering where could I get detailed information on how to build an artesian well.

By anon14676 — On Jun 21, 2008

Is it a negative to purchase property that has an artesian well on it? If so, why? I am concerned because we just purchased 2.40 acres and the owner mentioned at the closing that he had an artesian well on the property. Can this eventually cause a sink hole if you plan to build on the property?

By natzeri — On Jun 16, 2008

I'm interested in obtaining additional information regarding Artesian Wells. Are any special water softeners required? Are any other special water purifiers recommended? Can an Artesian Well run dry?

By perryb44 — On Apr 08, 2008

what can I do to resolve issue with an artesian well that has started draining water into my yard since we have had so much rain lately?

By Bgillis — On Apr 05, 2008

I'm thinking about buying a home in Farmington Hills Michigan that has an artisian well. Most of the homes in the neighborhood have municipal water. The homeowners have a water softener, iron remover and a bladder for pressure. The home also has a boiler for heat. What questions should I ask? What are the pros and cons of having a well in a residential area? The property is beautiful and is 1.25 acres.

By osmosis — On Apr 01, 2008

Of course, you have to be careful with the bottled water that says it is from artesian wells when we now know that a lot of it is just tap water!

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