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Abandoned Wells in Michigan
The construction of water wells in Michigan using drilling machines probably dates back to the early to mid-1800’s. By the turn of the century, drilled wells of 1½ inch to 4 inch diameter steel casing were common throughout the state. Many early water wells were hand dug and lined with stone, brick, wood, or concrete. Historically, when household wells were taken out of service, they were abandoned without plugging. When a replacement well was needed, the water service line from the old well was often just severed. Sometimes the end of the water pipe was capped. On early wells, with windmills or hand pumps, the pump was often disconnected leaving the pump rods and plunger in the well. Some abandoned wells were filled with fieldstones and some drilled wells were merely capped by jamming something into the top. Occasionally, a municipal well was abandoned by shearing off the pump column, allowing it to drop to the well bottom. The pump motor was salvaged and a cover was placed over the well.
Well owners traditionally did not wish to spend money plugging a well, nor did they recognize the potential threat to their new water well. Some older wells were buried 4 to 5 feet to protect against freezing. Once they are abandoned, well locations can be easily forgotten. Vegetation grows around above grade casings obscuring their location. Buried wells are not visible at all. When property with an abandoned well is sold, existence of the well is often unknown to the new landowner. Many reports of well casings being bulldozed during demolition or paved-over during road building projects have been received by state and county officials.
No one knows exactly how many unplugged abandoned wells exist in Michigan. The National Ground Water Association reports that Michigan leads the nation in the number of new wells drilled annually. It is quite likely that Michigan has more abandoned wells than any other state.
Estimates conducted by other states have shown from one to four abandoned wells for every five wells in service. Another projection is that one abandoned well exists for each generation a homesite has been occupied. The highest concentration of abandoned wells is expected to be in urban and suburban settings where municipal water has been extended into areas of dense housing concentration that were once served by on-site wells.