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How to locate water when DIY water well drilling

Homeowners install water wells on their property for both drinking water and irrigation. One of the biggest challenges in well installation is finding the water-bearing zone within the aquifer. The type of sediment present will present its own set of obstacles for locating the water. However, you can locate the water with a little patience and attention to the drilling activities. While many well installation activities involve a drilling rig, techniques for locating the water-bearing zone also work for wells installed by hand auger.

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  1. Set the drill rig where you want to install the well and attach the lead auger and bit. Stage additional auger flights next to the drill rig. Measure the length of your augers to help you gauge the depth to water. Most augers are 5 feet long; however, they may vary depending on the brand. Wear safety equipment for drilling.

  2. Start drilling the borehole for the well. As the augers rotate into the ground, soil cuttings will expel from around the outside of the augers. Watch the cuttings for a change in the soil from dry to wet. A capillary fringe is present on the top of the water table so you will likely see the cuttings change from dry to damp to wet as the augers pass from the unsaturated zone, into the capillary fringe and then finally into the water bearing aquifer. The capillary fringe is an area directly above the water table where water pulls water from the aquifer to the dry soil. This area contains damp soil.

  3. Stop the drill rig when you begin to see damp and wet soil cuttings. Look into the borehole to signs of the top of the water table. You can use a flashlight to see the water or you can drop a pebble into the borehole and listen for a splash. You will notice the water in sandy soil before clay soil. If you are drilling in clay, you should let the augers sit for a few minutes when you think you are in water to give the water time to fill the borehole.

  4. Drop the measuring tape into the borehole to measure the depth to the water. Lower the tape until you feel, hear or see the bottom of the tape intersect the water table and measure the depth of the water to the top of the auger. Subtract the length of the auger that is sticking out of the ground to calculate the depth of the water from the land surface.

  5. Tip

    You can also use an electronic water level indicator if you need a precise measurement to the depth of groundwater. If you do not own an electronic water level indicator, rent one.


    Hire a certified drilling company to install your well if your state requires a licensed driller to be on-site. Your state environmental or water bureau can provide you details on the requirements for drilling water wells. Always using personal protective equipment when working with drills and augers. Protect yourself with a hard hat, earplugs, safety glasses and work gloves.

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Things You'll Need

  • Drill rig
  • Hollow stem augers
  • Shovel
  • Weighted measuring tape
  • Flashlight

About the Author

Tracy Barnhart

Tracy Barnhart is an earth science expert. A professional geologist with over 16 years of technical writing experience, she has expanded her writing skills to include instructional articles on business, parenting, finance and science. She has Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in geology from Furman University and the University of South Carolina.

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