Deficit leads to dry wells

WAYNESBORO, Ga. --- The calls come in weekly, and the callers are plagued by the same problem.


"Their wells are dry," said Tommy Rowell, whose well-drilling business has boomed during a drought-parched 2007.

With rainfall deficits of a foot or more in most areas, falling water tables are reducing groundwater supplies, especially for owners of older, shallower wells, he said.

"I been doing this all my life, and this is about as bad as it's been," he said above the clamor of his hydraulic rig as it forced a drill bit deeper into the chalky soil.

His project involved drilling a new well next to an 80-foot well that had served a nearby brick home for half a century. This fall it went dry.

"We're drilling the new one down 160 feet, so it should work out fine," he said. "You usually hit water after 80 or 100 feet, but it has a lot of iron in it. We dig on down to the limestone and oyster shells."

In many areas below Georgia's Fall Line, the water table has fallen five feet -- and often more.

It is simply a sign of the times.

"Water tables have changed as much as 15 feet in some locations on tops of hills," said Georgia State Geologist Jim Kennedy, who monitors drought activity for the state Environmental Protection Division. "And if the water table drops, your well can go dry."

The geologic Fall Line that separates the Piedmont from the Coastal Plain creates different consequences for changes in underground water levels, he said.

"A lot of streams in the Piedmont are going dry because groundwater discharges to streams, and as the water table drops below the stream bed, it just goes dry," Dr. Kennedy said.

Well owners in the Piedmont fare better than those in the Coastal Plain because Piedmont wells are often hundreds of feet deeper.

"Those deep wells are not as affected because, even if it's a 20-foot change, with a 400-foot-deep well, it shouldn't be a problem."

The U.S. Geologic Survey, he said, studies groundwater changes across the state as part of its effort to predict ultimate consequences of the drought and to gauge its needed recovery time.

Mr. Rowell and his drilling crews plan to stay busy as long as they need to.

"Sometimes we can just deepen an older well, and if that doesn't work we just dig a new one," he said.

Although the dry soil is as bad as he's seen it, he echoed hopes that the rainfall will improve soon.

"My Granddad started this business and my Daddy did it all his life," Mr. Rowell said. "So here I am in it, too."

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119 or