Abandoned Wells A Threat

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Abandoned farmsteads can often mean abandoned wells and a hazard to the environment, says Brandon Leask, agricultural water engineer with Alberta Agriculture.

“As much as these wells are awesome conduits for bringing water up, they’re also awesome conduits for bringing contaminants down,” Leask told producers from the Rocky Mountain House area during the county’s annual agricultural tour.

Leask recommends plugging old wells using granulated bentonite chips, cutting the casing below the surface and plugging it with bentonite clay. Alberta Agriculture currently has a program which helps producers seal their abandoned wells, he said.

Well pits in basements also present a significant hazard. Well pits were once seen as a good place to install jet pumps or store vegetables, but have been banned since 1993. There have been numerous health concerns related to well pits, and they are considered a confined space hazard.

Well pits can result in death in extreme cases and have also been known to be a haven for rodents, Leask said.

“Our first recommendation is to simply get rid of the pit. Get a backhoe in there to dig it out and install a pit-less adapter which provides a frost-free entrance into the house or barn,” said Leask.

The other option is a sanitary well seal, which helps prevent contamination of the water in the well. Inadequate well sealing is also an important concern. If casing can be moved or shaken, floodwaters can rush down the well and increase the risk of contamination, said Leask.

He encouraged producers to make sure they had a proper seal when drilling a well. Leask encouraged the use of well caps to keep out vermin and prevent contaminants from entering the well. “A proper well cap is a cheap and easy way to protect your water source,” said Leask.

He reminded producers that maintenance and well placement are also crucial to well safety. Wells should not be placed in low spots or in areas that are in close proximity to sources of contamination.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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