is it legal to drill your own well

Is It Legal To Drill Your Own Well? Answered

Is it even permitted to create a water well in my neighborhood? What licenses, if any, would I need to get in order to do that?

The short answer is that water rights are mostly handled at the state level.

And while some states only allow licensed well contractors to perform any type of drilling at all, many states will allow a homeowner to dig a private well on his/her own property as long as a permit is applied for and approved.

What Are the Laws in the US?

Groundwater Law Doctrines

We’ll go over some of the most crucial principles that will help you better understand groundwater rights in your area because US water law is a complicated and wide-ranging subject.

Water availability varies greatly from coast to coast in the United States due to the country’s varied topography. As a result, the Eastern states, which have more access to water than the drier Western states, have different water laws.

Different from surface water and rainwater law is how groundwater law is applied. And determining water “ownership” can be tricky when underground aquifers often extend beyond private property lines.

In order to determine how to distribute and use the water below in the most appropriate manner, we’ll look at five of the most prevalent groundwater law doctrines that states adhere to.

The Doctrine of Reasonable Use

The Reasonable Use doctrine, also known as the “American Rule,” is a variation of the doctrine of absolute Dominion. A property owner may have access to all the groundwater underneath his/her property as long as it is used “reasonably” and doesn’t greatly affect the rights of those who may share the same aquifer.

The word “reasonable” can be interpreted differently between states but the underlying principle is that neighbors who share the same groundwater source should be able to enjoy it responsibly and without excessive wasting. The majority of household uses, including gardening, caring for animals, and indoor use, are generally covered by this.

Many states have adopted the “reasonable use” doctrine as a way to balance water rights and water availability as groundwater levels become more unstable and the population grows nationwide.

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia are among the states that adhere to the reasonable use doctrine.

The Doctrine of Absolute Dominion

Also known as the “English Rule,” this doctrine allows the landowner to pump as much water from the aquifer that exists underneath their property as they see fit, regardless of the impact it may have on others who may share the same aquifer. The Absolute Dominion doctrine naturally benefits water well owners with the biggest and most robust pumping system since there would be no cap on the amount of water that could be drawn.

Since it encourages industries to pump significant volumes of water while disregarding groundwater levels, many states have abandoned this doctrine. But this doctrine is undoubtedly the least restrictive for private property owners in areas with more abundant groundwater. Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont are among the states that still adhere to the doctrine of Absolute Dominion.

The Doctrine of Prior Appropriation

Also known as the “first come, first serve” doctrine, One of the earliest water doctrines in the United States dates to the time of the 19th-century gold rush. It is known as prior appropriation.

According to this doctrine, the first person to use a groundwater source has the first legal claim to it. Many states have either moved away from this doctrine or modified it to resemble a more “Reasonable Use” approach.

Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming are among the states that uphold the Prior Appropriation doctrine.

The Doctrine of Restatement of Torts

The Absolute Dominion and Reasonable Use doctrines are seen as merging into the Restatement of the Torts doctrine. According to its guiding principle, a landowner who uses water for beneficial purposes is not liable for interference as long as a reasonable share of the total groundwater store is not exceeded.

The states of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin adhere to the Restatement of Torts doctrine.

The Doctrine of Correlative Rights

is it legal to drill your own well

The Correlative Rights doctrine’s main tenet is that all landowners, including those directly above an aquifer and those wishing to divert groundwater, have an equal right to that resource, as determined by the courts. Particularly in areas where groundwater is scarce and needs to be appropriated equally, this doctrine is applied.

Arkansas, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Nebraska are among the states that adhere to the Correlative Rights doctrine.

How to Apply These Doctrines?

Each state adheres to at least one of these doctrines, a variation of them, or a synthesis of two or more of them.

As a private well owner, the one doctrine that almost always applies to you, regardless of which state you live in, is the Reasonable Use doctrine.

This states that you are free to reasonably use your well on your own property as long as it doesn’t unreasonably affect the usage of others who may be drawing water from the same aquifer and as long as your usage isn’t excessively wasteful. So, drawing just enough water to supply your home, garden, and anything else for personal use is considered “reasonable.”

You will be in compliance with the majority of groundwater laws worldwide as long as this principle is applied.

What About Digging Your Own Well?

Both shallow and deep wells are divided into groups by the USGS. A shallow well is a well with a water table of less than 25-30 feet deep and can be accessed with relatively simple equipment. If you’re thinking about digging your own well, check with your local water resources department to see if you’ll have any luck hitting a shallow water table.

Deep wells can reach depths of 300 feet and beyond and will require professional contractors with drilling rigs and heavy equipment. For deep wells, you’ll need to hire a contractor unless you’re a qualified driller yourself.

However, you only need to find out if your state will allow it if you are confident that you can hit the water at less than 25 to 30 feet and have familiarized yourself with the water table in your area.

How Deep Can You Drill?

You can now start considering what kind of well you would like, provided that all of your permits have been verified or that you simply reside in a state that grants you immediate access. You would know exactly where that lovely, lovely oasis is located if you had done more research. If not, drilling until water is encountered also yields results, so I wouldn’t worry. Again, the answer varies from state to state, but as a general rule of thumb, you usually want to drill your well down until you reach that groundwater basin supply. This may range in height from 20 feet to 800 feet. However, depending on the state, this could change. In Florida, for instance, delving deeper only yields saline water, but there are reports of drilled wells in Oregon that descend 800 feet to a fresh groundwater source. Before you normally reach your groundwater source, you would be looking at a normal depth of 20 to 50 feet. In order to prevent surface contamination, the majority of states mandate that drilling well casing be at least 20 feet deep. Ask your neighbor how deep their well is so you have a reference point for when other nearby wells can access the water.

What You Should Know?

Before contacting your state and local agencies, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the terms since water laws can be somewhat complicated. The distinctions between state-issued permits, professional licenses, and water rights will be discussed in this section.


A temporary authorization to dig a water well within certain parameters is known as a permit and is issued by a state or county agency. Although the majority of states demand that a person obtain a permit before digging a well on their property, some local counties also demand special permits in addition to a state permit.

Permit applications are typically submitted to the state’s Water Resources or Environmental Quality departments, and frequently a fee is charged. It’s common practice to ask about details like the type and depth of the well, as well as the quantity and use of the water.


The distinction between a license and a permit is that a license is a state-issued warrant that water well contractors must possess in order to carry out their professional responsibilities. A state board will then grant you a license after you complete the necessary education, training, and testing requirements.

If a state requires a license before a well can be drilled, it’s frequently because the water table is too deep for an unlicensed property owner to dig on their own or because there are hazardous groundwater conditions that need to be handled professionally.

The best course of action is to get in touch with a certified well contractor for the following steps if your state mandates a license for Well drilling. They frequently take care of any requirements for permits that the state or county may have.

Water Rights

is it legal to drill your own well

The ability to drill or dig a well is restricted in some states, particularly those that adhere to the Absolute Dominion and Prior Appropriation doctrines. It is best to first check with the state because water rights frequently do not correspond to property rights.

While some water rights are transferable, others must be grandfathered in. If your state mandates water rights, consult their records of water resources to see if you already possess them and, if not, how you can do so.

What Do You need to Drill Your Own Well?

  • Avoid assuming that you can drill or dig a well on your own property without a permit, license, or water rights by checking with your state’s water jurisdiction. Groundwater regulations are handled differently by each state.
  • Always check with your local county and city agencies for any additional permit requirements, as some smaller municipalities may have their own requirements in addition to the ones set forth by the state.
  • While the majority of states permit private well-digging with the approval of a permit, a small number of states only permit licensed professional contractors to engage in private well-digging. Using the information provided by the property owner, the contractor typically fills out and manages the permit in these situations.
  • Despite the fact that some states do not call for a permit or license, it is still wise to research any rules that must be followed.

What is the Average Cost of Drilling a Well?

The next step should be estimating the cost of the entire well drilling operation once you have confirmed that it is legal for you to drill your own well.

Although it varies by location, the average cost of drilling a residential well is in the range of $3,750 to $15,300 or $25 to $65 per ft. All the equipment, labor, and supplies required to drill the well are included in this price.

Can You Dig a Well by Hand?

The answer is yes, but we don’t advise hand-digging wells. The risk of the well collapsing and the lack of oxygen as you dig deeper make manual well digging extremely dangerous.

According to state regulations, even if you choose to dig by hand, you are only permitted to excavate a shallow well that is 20 to 30 feet deep underground. Since they are vulnerable to pollution, shallow wells unfortunately have a significant drawback.

You can’t be sure you’re digging in the right place without the right direction. If you encounter a bedrock, you will have to restart your project. Therefore, we don’t recommend that you hand-dig your well. The best course of action is to hire a contractor.

Most people consult experts before starting a self-directed drill because contractors have the tools to locate a water source. There are a few things you should be aware of if you’re determined to move forward with the project.

  • Typically, hand-dug wells have a three- to four-foot diameter and are circular in shape. Anything narrower than this could trap the person digging the well.
  • Expand the diameter to at least five feet if more than one person is needed for the process.
  • When manually digging a well, establishing a good lining is crucial. Bricks are an alternative to concrete for the good lining. The lining should be thick so that the uneven water pressure won’t lead to shattering points.

Making your own well at home is a difficult task. Asking a contractor for advice and pointers in advance is a smart idea, even if you have to manually dig a well. Naturally, you could always get a qualified contractor to do the digging for you.

How to Maintain Well?

Here are some further tips for maintaining your well, according to the NGWA:

  • Remember to conduct an annual water quality test. If your water’s flavor and consistency change, repeat this test more frequently.
  • Make sure that no chemicals, fertilizers, paints, pesticides, or oil come into contact with your good infrastructure.
  • Verify that the good cap and cover are securely fastened to the good casing.
  • Avoid back-siphonage. When applying pesticides or fertilizers, keep the hose away from the good container.
  • When landscaping, keep the well’s top one foot above the surface.
  • Your well’s casing needs regular maintenance. This includes clearing away extra grass, snow, and leaves.
  • Keep a copy of your well’s records close by at all times. The construction report, system upkeep, and water tests need to be stored with the utmost care.
  • Watch out for the area around your well.
  • Have a well-sealed by a qualified contractor once it is no longer functional.

Is It Legal to Drill Your Own Water Well in Texas?

The drilling of a well and the pumping of groundwater are not subject to the Rule of Capture’s permit requirements.

As you can see, drilling a well on your own is a difficult task. Before you even consider contacting a qualified contractor, you must conduct research, acquire the necessary permits, and estimate the drilling costs.