Well Management
Finding Lost Wells
Searching for Wells on a Property

Unused wells are often visible as a 1¼ inch to 6-inch diameter steel pipe sticking above the ground, the floor of a basement or basement offset, or a well pit. However, older wells may have casing made of concrete, tile, rock, brick, or stone; and many newer wells are cased with plastic pipe. As discussed previously, some wells were originally buried, and if properties have been remodeled, wells may be built over or around, cut off, or buried. Wells have a life expectancy that can vary considerably. While some wells may last 100 or more years, a life of 25 to 50 years is more common. Properties with a long history may have more than one well. Farm properties are more likely to have multiple wells to serve barns, irrigation, and other purposes.

Well searches generally start with a visual inspection. The information listed under “Physical Evidence” may help find a well. People familiar with the property may be aware of the property’s history, and may be able to point to “lost” wells. State well records were not required before 1974. However, the Minnesota Geological Survey has collected historic well records where available. Counties, townships, or cities may have well information with building permit, sewer permit, or property files. In cases where the physical evidence, personal knowledge, or records are absent, some tools may be needed to locate wells.

On this page:
Individuals Familiar with Property
Physical Evidence
Record Search
Equipment and Tools for Well Contractors

Individuals Familiar with Property

  • Property owner.
  • Relatives or acquaintances who may know about wells on the property.
  • Previous property owners.
  • Neighbors who might be familiar with property (neighboring wells may also give a clue as to well location, depth, and construction).
  • Contractors (well drillers, pump installers, plumbers, remodelers) who have worked on property.
  • Inspectors (well, plumbing, building, septic system, milk).
  • Current or former employees, maintenance personnel.

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Physical Evidence

  • Casing visible above ground, concrete slab, or through basement floor.
  • Evidence of a well, such as circular ring in cement or patch in the floor.
  • Basement offset (small room off of basement, often under steps).
  • Glass block or patch in step or concrete (access for well below).
  • Windmill (usually directly over well).
  • Pit in yard or basement (may be covered with wood, concrete, or steel; well may be at the bottom of pit or the pit may be a dug well).
  • Waterline pipe or patched hole through basement floor or basement wall.
  • Water system components (for example, pressure tank, pump, or evidence of former components, like "shadow" lines on floor or wall).
  • Electrical components (wiring through basement floor/wall, control box).
  • Low spot in yard, circular depression (may be damp).
  • Outbuildings (may be well house).
  • Additions, false walls, paneling which may "hide" well.

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Record Search

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Equipment and Tools for Well Contractors

  • Metal locators and magnetometers (for example, fluxgate magnetic pipe locator or proton magnetometer).
  • Tape measure or "snake" to follow pipes (for example, Sondes, pipe locators, or tracers).
  • Ground-penetrating radar (outlining buried structures).
  • Excavation equipment including shovels, hammers, chisels, backhoe.
  • Small rotary hammer or corer, bits, extensions, vacuum.

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Questions?
Contact the MDH Well Management Section
651-201-4600 or 800-383-9808
health.wells@state.mn.us

Minnesota Department of Health
Updated Friday, 14-Feb-2014 09:56:57 CST