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Question DetailsAsked on 6/7/2016

How do I find out if there is a well (or what it is) in my backyard?

I was digging for a foundation for a new patio, and came across a big concrete box in the ground with a lid, and it had fresh water in it. I'm trying to find out what it is and how to work around it.

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Assuming this is truly fresh water (no floating scum or oil layer or floatables such as might be flushed down a toilet or such) could be a wetwell for draining away storm water from gutters or sump pump, could be a fresh water cistern (fed from roof runoff), or a well. Or if not really "big" could be a water meter or shutoff valve box (usually about 16x24 inches or less) that has filled with water. Remotely possible it is a utility vault - electric or telephone - that has filled with water, though usually that would take out the utility service but not always.


Or a septic leach infiltration well, septic lift pump pit, or leach field junction box that is not in use because your house is now on public sewer, so the water has "cleaned up" in time and no longer smells and has "clear" water at the top - though would commonly still have a scum or built-up gunk layear at the waterline, though an unused cistern or well can have that too.


Tracing what feeds into it, if anything, could mean having to have a plumber try a tracing dye at different potential sources to see if it pops up in the pit. Course, make sure it is not fresh water supply to the house (a well or fresh water cistern) before doing that because the dye should not be drunk. And of course, checking depth might be an indication of possible use - infiltration pit or cistern would rarely be more than about 6-15 feet deep, wells commonly but not always more than 15 feet, leach field junction box commonly less than 3 feet except in deep frost areas.


Might well be shown on your property survey from when you bought the house - small copy of the surveyor's sketch is commonly in the title insurance package, otherwise you can check the plat for your property at County Recorder's office.


You could also check local building department to see if they have any old construction permits for the property that show construction of something that could be it - some have good records, some almost nothing.


Also, ask neighbors if they know what it is - if they have lived there for awhile they might remember a sewer or storm drain cleaning out being done in the past. And call/eMail previous owner if you have contact info.


Otherwise, I would start with a public utility locate by your local utilities to see if they say it is part of those systems, though generally would not be in back yard unless you have utility feeds from an alley between houses, though could be a public drain manhole in backyard.


If the lid is a manhole cover or large metal lid (big enough for a man to go into) quite likely part of a storm drain or sewer system - lid will usually but not always have STORM DRAIN or SANITARY SEWER embossed on the lid. Check with local public works department or drainage district if there is one - or the utility locate service (call 811 in many areas) may locate and define it for you as part of their locate. Be sure to tell them you want not only water and sewer but also any public drainage system located. Also check with road department owning nearest road - could be part of a storm drain trapping a spring or stream and carrying it away underground to prevent road flooding. If a culvert connection box or cleanout for that purpose would normally be concrete cover over galvanized culvert standing on end, with the drain culvert coming in further down into it, and the concrete cover is commonly designed to be lifted off with a boom truck or crane to prevent people/kids getting into it.


If it has electrical wires or piping in it, then almost certainly a sewage lift pump pit, a well, or a drywell (drowned out) or wetwell for an outdoor sump pump to catch runoff/drainage from sump pump or more commonly a french drain which it then pumps away elsewhere. If your electrical panel breakers are labelled, perhaps you could look for a sump pump, wet well, lift pump, or similar marked breaker that might indicate such a thing.


Usually some nosing around, digging a touch and checking if the concrete box is solid concrete or just a concrete cover sitting on top of brick or stone or concrete liner rings (meaning almost certainly a wetwell or water well) or on a culvert on end (usually storm drain pipe intersection) will tell you what it likely is.


And checking with a hose at possible source areas (roof, sewer cleanout, french drain cleanout standpipe, etc) to see if the water is disturbed or rises when water is run will tell you something, and of course if within about 25' or so of a septic tank or leach field likely related to the septic system, but at times you have to pump such a hole out to see what leads into/from it and how deep it is. Most plumbers can do this for shallow boxes (or you can try bailing with a bucket or wet-dry vac), of course for deep holes you need a septic tank pumping service if sewage related, or a well and pump contractor if a deep freshwater cistern or well.


Other option - especially if you know your house does not get water from the ground or have a septic system (i.e. on public sewer and water) would be to build around it with a sanded or flexible membrane sealant gap between the patio and the box, and leave it showing in the patio if same level, or block out with a stone or block rim or such around it if below patio grade (though that is not legal with a fresh water source or well - has to be above surrounding grade).

Answered 2 years ago by LCD




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