Tuesday, July 11, 2000
Well water signs
dot city after restrictions
By Jason Gibbs
Reporter-News Staff Writer
Abilene homeowners are looking beneath their
browning lawns in an effort to keep their vegetation green.
City officials estimate there are between
300 and 350 private residential wells in the Abilene area. And
more are being drilled every day.
Russell Southerland, owner of Southerland
Water Wells, is hard-pressed to keep up with the demand for new
Since City Hall enacted restrictions last
August on the use of city water for lawn sprinkling to conserve
Abilenes dwindling surface-water supply, the demand for
privately owned wells has risen.
Were busy, busy, busy,
He has three drilling rigs, two of which
operate full-time. All three would be running eight hours a day,
five days a week if he had enough employees to run them, he said.
Customers face a wait of two to three weeks because of a backlog
Southerland estimates nearly 200 wells have
been sunk in the Abilene area in the last year.
The water in these wells is sought mainly
for irrigation. High levels of calcium and other minerals make
it unfit for drinking and washing. And treating the water for
use inside the home is a costly proposition.
A whole-house system with a softener, sediment
filter and chlorine unit costs between $2,500 and $3,000.
Not everyone in the Key City has access
to underground water. Drillers are most successful in the citys
northwest quadrant, which is fed by an underground river that
flows through downtown. The citys southwest, particularly
near the creeks, also yields plentiful water, but primarily inside
the loop, northeast of Highway 83/84.
The earth around the Mall of Abilene and
southward the citys fastest-growing sector
is practically bone-dry, drillers said.
The process of sinking a well usually begins
by drilling a test hole to determine if water is beneath a particular
location. But drilling a test hole may not be necessary.
We know the areas around town where
theres water, Southerland said. If were
on a marginal edge or a new area, well drill a test hole.
Test holes cost about $4 a foot to drill
down to the water level, anywhere from 40 to 60 feet. If water
is found, a bigger hole usually 9 inches in diameter
is drilled into the water table. The drilling takes about four
Once the hole is cased with a 5-inch pipe,
gravel is used to refill the hole and secure the pipe. A cement
slab is then poured to support a pump. The cost starts at $1,500.
The entire process takes about a week from
the time prospecting begins until the water starts to flow from
the pump. Most residential wells produce 10 to 50 gallons of water
The expense does not seem to dissuade many
Abilenians from tapping into the underground water source. Southerland
said his company is drilling eight to 10 wells every week.
For many homeowners, savings on their water
bill offset the cost.
Dean and Ella Ferrell live in the 4100 block
of Hartford Street. They sank a well last summer and have realized
a savings of more than 50 percent on their water bills since they
began irrigating with well water.
Our water bill was so high,
Mrs. Ferrell said. Weve got a huge yard. We call it
Like most well owners, they use city water
for household purposes and well water strictly for irrigation.
In the middle of the Ferrells well-manicured expanse of
green grass sits their well. A neatly printed sign on the pump
alerts passers-by that while lush their yard is
not kept verdant at the expense of the municipal water supply.
A similar sign is tacked to a fence nearby,
shaded by a mimosa tree heavy with pink blooms.
Its doing great, Ferrell
said. Weve put lots of bushes and plants out there.
The use of well water for irrigation is
a boon to the city because it reduces the demand for municipal
drinking water, said Dwayne Hargesheimer, the citys director
of water utilities.
But the growing number of people tapping
into the underground water supply has led to a rising concern
over falling water tables.
The underground water being tapped is slow
to replenish, Hargesheimer said. It relies on rainfall seeping
through a geologic formation southwest of Abilene. Less rain and
more people drawing on the ground water have dried out the patches
of underground gravel where the water accumulates.
In recent weeks, several wells on the fringes
of the water-bearing formation have begun to go dry, Hargesheimer
Southerland said he, too, has noticed a
slight drop in the water table. He emphasized the decrease is
only slight, however.
Most of the water were finding
is thick water theres plenty of it, the driller
said. Were sinking wells that are producing what the
people need and theres still plenty of water down there.
Contact staff writer Jason Gibbs at 676-6734
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