Borehole water wells

Borehole Water, Wells & Private Water Supplies

In this expert guide the specialists at Water Treatment Services take an in-depth look at the construction and on-going management of borehole water wells and private water supplies for commercial, industrial and domestic purposes. The guide reviews the things you need to consider before you start drilling; together with the consent process, licensing and registration. It goes on to examine the regulations dealing with private water supplies, and the need for water quality testing and effective borehole water treatment and disinfection processes.

What is a borehole?

Any narrow or small bore vertical or horizontal shaft drilled in to the ground can be called a borehole. There are lots of different reasons why companies and private land owners would want to construct a borehole. It may be done to extract water, oil or natural gas from the ground, to investigate the geology of an area to explore whether there are minerals worth extracting, or to provide pile foundations for piers or other underground constructions.

Environmental consultants, engineers and hydrologists tend to use the word “borehole” as a collective term for all the different holes which might be drilled in to the ground during the exploration of a site. Holes might be made to take samples of water, rock or soil. Usually, samples taken from boreholes are transported offsite for testing in laboratories. Scientists test their exact composition, or test for levels of particular chemicals or potential contaminants.

A borehole can be described as any narrow or small bore vertical or horizontal shaft drilled in to the ground.

Boreholes can also be used as a well to extract water from below ground. A vertical pipe that acts as an outer shell or shaft casing will be typically placed into the borehole to stop its walls from collapsing in on itself. Doing this also stops anything leaching into the borehole from the ground which could cause contamination. It also helps to protect any pumps or other extraction equipment which are installed from sediment and sand. This type of well isn’t just used for extracting water, it can also be used for the extraction of oil or natural gas.

What is groundwater?

Water taken from a well or borehole in this manner is known as groundwater. The term describes water that’s found underground in the soil, cracks and crevices, sand and rock below our feet. Although most British homes and businesses take their water from reservoirs, lakes or rivers, it’s estimated that there is much more fresh water contained below the ground than there is in surface water.

Typically, groundwater is likely to be less contaminated than water stored above ground as it’s protected by a thick layer of rock. If you construct your well or borehole properly, this is a great way of accessing good quality water, and with suitable treatments it can usually be made clean and safe for drinking.

Things to consider before you start borehole drilling

Boreholes which are well constructed and properly maintained can last for a very long time. If you’re thinking about drilling a borehole for domestic water extraction, commercial or industrial purposes, there is a lot to think about before you start hiring engineering specialists, equipment and breaking ground.

One of the main things to consider when planning to excavate your borehole is where you are going to locate it. The optimum position is as far away as possible from any sources of contamination that might exist on your site or affect the land or any adjacent sites. It’s also a good idea to calculate how much water you need to be able to extract through your borehole to make drilling and operating it financially viable.

Think about the local geology and type of rock you’re going to have drill through, and what diameter the borehole needs to be.

Additionally, when purchasing shaft liners and casings for your new well, make sure everything conforms to the appropriate regulations and relevant standards.

Drilling a borehole to extract water

In the UK you’re not free just to start drilling boreholes wherever you fancy, even if you own the land. After you’ve investigated whether the borehole will provide enough water to meet your needs and whether the geology of the area is suitable for a borehole, you need to put together a report estimating how the well will perform. There are various organisations around the UK which can help you do this.

Unless you’re an expert in geology and hydrology, you should also enlist the services of a specialist, with borehole expertise to advise on issues that need to be considered when drilling a well. Hydrologists can advise not only on the initial decision about where to locate a borehole, but can also help manage the process of having it drilled, testing and commissioning. Additionally, you should also carry out water testing to determine the quality of the groundwater that is extracted to ensure it is suitable for your needs.

Getting consent to drill a borehole

After you have identified an appropriate site for your borehole, you will need to get formal consent to drill an exploratory well. If you’re in England or Wales, you should approach the Environment Agency for consent. In Scotland you should contact the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and in Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)

Wherever your proposed borehole is to be located, you’ll need to provide full details about what you intend doing and why, and agree to abide by the regulators conditions and rules before the licence is granted. Once you have permission to drill, you should search for an experienced contractor to do the work. The Well Drillers Association is a good place to start. Formed in the early 1940’s, it’s a UK based association for companies involved in the design and construction of water wells and boreholes.

What are borehole records?

Any borehole which goes deeper than 15 metres (50 feet) for the extraction of water has to be reported to the British Geological Survey (BGS) by law. If you use the services of a consultant to manage the construction of your new borehole, they will usually produce a report for you which can be submitted to the regulatory bodies.

Do I need a licence to extract water from the ground?

If you live in England of Wales, the Environment Agency will give advice on whether your plans will require a licence. Rules are changing all the time, so don’t make assumptions and always check first. The Environment Agency can also provide general advice and guidance about the process you need to go through to obtain a borehole licence.

The decision about whether you need a licence in England and Wales will depend on the quantity of ground water you are intending to pump out. If you have plans to extract more than 20 cubic metres of water a day, you will almost definitely need a licence. If you are planning to drill in an area where there are already many demands on groundwater, permission to extract may be denied irrespective of how little water you intend extracting.

In Scotland, you’ll need permission to extract even small amounts of water. You should contact SEPA, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency for further information and guidance.

In Northern Ireland, legislation around extracting groundwater was introduced in 2007. Usually, licences aren’t required if you are planning on extracting less than 20,000 litres of water a day. Given that the typical household only gets through 1,000 litres of water a day that means licences typically aren’t needed for a domestic well. NIEPA – the Northern Ireland Environment Protection Agency – can give you more details and advice.

How to register a borehole

If you have obtained a licence giving you permission to drill a borehole, then this will mean it is automatically registered with the relevant environmental protection agency for your location. Even if you’ve not needed a licence for your borehole, it’s worth letting the Environment Agency know about it as it helps their work in managing groundwater resources across the country.

As all new wells in Scotland have to be authorised by SEPA, there is no need to contact them again.

In Northern Ireland, it’s worth getting in touch with NIEPA to tell them about any new borehole as it will assist in groundwater protection.

The Private Water Supplies Regulations 2009

The Private Water Supplies Regulations 2009 cover all private water supplies including water from wells, boreholes or springs supplied from someone other than your local water utility company. Specifically, the regulations apply to water used for domestic purposes including drinking, cooking, food preparation and washing, together with water used for food production purposes

Testing borehole water

Wherever in the UK you live, you must arrange to have your private water supply, including extracted groundwater tested if you intend using it for drinking purposes, or to make food or drink which you then sell. In England, Wales and Scotland, you should contact your local Environmental Health department which will send someone out to test your groundwater. Basic water testing is usually done free of charge, but there may be a fee to pay if you require more in-depth laboratory analysis or regular water monitoring. Your local Environmental Health department can also give advice about minimising pollution risks with your groundwater. In Northern Ireland, the same job is done by the Drinking Water Inspectorate, which is part of the Environment Agency.

Maintaining the quality of a private water supply

While the responsibility for regulating private water supplies lies with local authorities, there are lots of things owners and users of private water supplies can do to protect themselves including:

  • Protect Water from Contamination

    Make sure your water supply is protected from contamination by animals or other pollutants washing down from upstream.

  • Water Treatment

    Introduce and run a water treatment programme to maintain water quality and safety… water treatment

  • Water Quality Testing

    Test regularly to ensure water quality is maintained to an acceptable standard … water testing

  • Disinfection

    Clean and disinfect all water prior to use.

  • Water Storage & Distribution

    Ensure all water is stored and distributed correctly to avoid contamination.

Borehole water treatment and disinfection

The quality of private water supplies can vary and sometimes they can present a risk to the health of users. If you are using a borehole or private supply for drinking water purposes then it’s highly likely you will need to treat it before it can be used or stored. The experts at Water Treatment Services can help you develop a programme of water testing and treatment activities to ensure water quality standards are met and maintained.

Laboratory based chemical and microbiological analysis of the borehole water should be carried out initially to identify the types and levels of any contamination that need to be addressed.

Once water quality analysis is complete and the results are available our experts can help develop a water treatment programme to deal with any contamination issues. This could include sediment filtration, water softening (for hard water areas), iron removal, cleaning, disinfection and other techniques.

Regular laboratory water testing should also be carried out to validate the effectiveness of the water treatment programme and ensure suitable water quality standards are maintained.

Specialist borehole water treatment and water quality analysis

Water Treatment Services offer a comprehensive range of borehole water treatment and laboratory water testing solutions. Find out how we can help you improve and maintain safety and water quality standards. Our experts can provide advice and full support to help you identify the most appropriate strategies for managing your borehole water and private water supplies.

With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained water treatment engineers and technicians we offer cost effective environmental support solutions across the whole of the UK and Ireland.

Further reading…

More information about our drinking water testing … here →

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Borehole Water, Wells & Private Water Supplies
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Borehole Water, Wells & Private Water Supplies
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An in-depth look at the construction and on-going management of borehole water wells and private water supplies for commercial, industrial and domestic use. The guide reviews the things you need to consider before you start drilling; together with the consent process, licensing and registration. It goes on to examine the regulations dealing with private water supplies, and the need for water quality testing and effective water treatment and disinfection processes.
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Water Treatment Services
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