Drought reducing well water levels, causing stress on well-owners

Friday, August 3, 2012 | 6:47 p.m. CDT; updated 11:52 p.m. CDT, Friday, August 3, 2012

COLUMBIA – As water started to dribble rather than stream from the faucets and hoses at his house in Cole County, Dan Bernskoetter realized about three weeks ago that the well was running dry.

"It got to the point where we hardly had any water," Bernskoetter said.

Because of the drought, homeowners all over the state have had to cut back on their water use, cutting showers short and letting houseplants get dry.

So far, the drought has not had a major impact on Boone County wells.

"We have seen a drop in water levels and pumping levels," said Bob Leonard, general manager of the Consolidated Water District I of Boone County. "However, it has not been significant up to this point."

In other parts of the state — including Cole County — the water table has lowered due to the drought, Leonard said.

Bernskoetter had to make adjustments, such as conserving drinking water and pumping from his private lake instead of his well to water his garden. His main worry, though, was the potential risk of a fire.

"I was concerned that if there was a fire I wouldn't have enough water to hold it off before the fire department came," Bernskoetter said.

The shortage is keeping some well-diggers busy.

Boesson Underground, a well-drilling service in Osage County, has been digging deeper wells for those homeowners in particular whose wells are 30 to 35 years old. Some of these wells also weren't deep enough to start with and are only now having problems due to the drought. Others are in areas where more wells have been drilled in the subsequent years, forcing the older wells to share the same limited water supply, said Kenny Boesson, owner of the well-drilling service.

Business at Flynn Drilling Company in Troy has picked up as homeowners have called to have their pumps lowered, wells deepened or to have entirely new wells drilled as their old well has dried up.

"The drought is not only affecting your farmers who are landowners, but also your everyday person who lives in the rural community," said Danny Flynn, owner and president of the company.

Before a domestic well runs totally dry, the water may come out milky, which indicates that there is air in the water. Or it will cut off after being on for a very brief time.

The cost for deepening a domestic well, drilling a new well or lowering the well's pump can be high. Depending on how deep the well is and its location, Flynn estimates that deepening a well can cost up to $5,000. The cost of drilling a new domestic well is around $10,000 to $12,000. To lower the pump 100 feet or so is around $750 to $800.

In the past month, Columbia's water levels below ground have dropped about 30 feet due to the drought, according to data provided by the Department of Natural Resources. Columbia gets its water from the Missouri River bottoms.

The MU campus gets its water from its own five wells on campus.The average water levels of the campus wells have decreased 5 percent in the last month, MU Campus Facilities communication manager Karlan Seville said.

The city and campus water supplies are interconnected, and when water levels get especially low, valves can be opened so the city and campus can supplement each other's water supplies. However, there have been no breaks or shortages in either system that have required this so far.

But the drop in water levels in Columbia may potentially cause long-term difficulties for wells in the county, Leonard said.

The groundwater wells pump from is stored in an aquifer, an underground reservoir. It takes many years for rain water to accumulate in the aquifer, so its limited supply of water does not get replenished by precipitation that falls today. The amount of water going into the aquifer must be equal to the amount being taken out so that it does not run out of water. So while there's no shortage today, there could be in the future.

"Water is not an endless supply," Leonard said.

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Mark Foecking August 4, 2012 | 5:28 a.m.

We need to start looking at storing stormwater, rather than washing our creeks and streams out with it (the sheer volume of water being very damaging). Systems of reserviors throughout the city and county, fed by local stormwater, would go a long way toward making drought more manageable.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 4, 2012 | 7:11 a.m.

@Mark Foecking:

Absolutely! Years ago, when we lived in South Euclid, Ohio, there was what was called the Langerdale Retention Basin. This was a large depression, fenced, that was a catchment for a certain amount of storm water drainage that would TEMPORARILY fill and then would be allowed to slowly drain into the regular storm water system. (At that time, the Cuyahoga River was possibly the most polluted stream in the United States; however, the pollutants weren't all coming from the washing action of storm water.

The system I've just described allows more control over the volume of water entering bodies of water (creeks, etc.) that receive storm water drainage, and is an aid to preventing flash flooding. Langerdale was, according to my understanding, built more to prevent flash flooding than anything else.

So, aside from the cost of construction, what's the problem? There's a very BIG problem: where do you put the basins, especially if all the available land is already been built upon?

Ground water depletion will become an increasing problem in both the United States and the world. While ground water can be replaced in geological time, rapid replacement isn't in the cards in most cases. As Professor John J. Renton, West Virginia University and author of the textbook "Planet Earth," puts it: "They say ground water is renewable, but once it's exhausted you won't see it again in your lifetime."

As they say at New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology, "WATER IS LIFE - DON'T WASTE IT!"

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 4, 2012 | 11:15 a.m.

Mark/Ellis: Columbia has needed a large lake for decades; calls to that effect have fallen on deaf ears, however. Apparently the thought of drowning a creek/stream sends folks into hissy-fits.

I think the only thing harder to do in this county would be to open a coal mine. Or turn the local newspapers into bastions of conservatism. Toss-up.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 4, 2012 | 11:35 a.m.


See my prior post. You have to put a fence around such a facility. Otherwise kids, drunks, acid heads and/or animals will get in and could drown. The fence alone won't prevent someone or something getting in, but its presence assists you in fending off lawsuits.

Fences are EASY: they just cost money. Turning the local newspapers into bastians of Conservatism would be for all practical purposes an impossibility.

Keep in mind that a facility of this type would have no water in it much of the time. I''m not sure I ever saw Langerdale full of water.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 4, 2012 | 2:24 p.m.

I'm not talking about some piddling sort of lake.

I'm talking about putting a dam across Perche Creek, Hinkson Creek, and/or Cedar Creek.

I want a LAKE, not some candy-a**ed lake that needs a fence.

Lake of the Ozarks doesn't have a fence. Neither does Truman Lake, Springfield Lake in Springfield MO, or Prairie Lee/Lake Jacomo in KCMO.

PS: For that matter, neither does Stephens Lake or some over-your-head hole in the Hinkson.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 4, 2012 | 2:48 p.m.


Sounds terrific. Can I use some of the water to operate my steel mill? (That ought to wow 'em at the local Sierra Club.)

I'm going to have continuous steel casting; none of that candy-a**ed ingot pouring for me!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams August 4, 2012 | 2:59 p.m.

Ellis pleads, "Can I use some of the water to operate my steel mill?"

No, I need it for my poppy irrigation.

You can fish in it, though.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith August 4, 2012 | 5:23 p.m.


Darn! I was hoping to show the folks in academia how the other half lives, also, what a REAL union looks like. :)

Party pooper.

Which reminds me, I note that the current governor of Colorado is named Hickenlooper. Iowa once had a governor and senator (same guy) with that name. In those days there was no governor's mansion; the governor got a housing allowance and had to arrange his own housing. Hickenlooper rented a house near my old grade school.

One of his kids was in my grade. The other kids christened him "Chickenpooper," and that was all he was ever called.

Children can be cruel; then they grow up and some of them become REALLY cruel.

(Report Comment)

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