What is lurking underneath the ground on your property? Do you know if there is an abandoned well that has been left for years since it was last used?
Abandoned and unused wells are not only dangerous but also illegal, and for good reason.
Just last year, on Oct. 14, 2015, a Thurston County man fell 15 feet into an old abandoned well while walking on property near Cooper Point Road Northwest and 28th Avenue in Olympia. The plywood cover gave way and he found himself in water up to his neck with a dead rat floating beside him.
Fortunately, he had a friend with him who was able to immediately call for help. Had the fire department not arrived to pluck him out, his injuries would have been much worse than hypothermia. He could have died.
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This man is not alone. Every year there are cases throughout the country of animals and people falling into abandoned wells and being injured or killed. In 2012, there were two local cases of horses that fell into abandoned wells.
In Centralia, a 1,800-pound horse was walking over one of these wells when the concrete lid collapsed. Although firefighters tried to save the horse, it eventually died of its injuries.
Near Shelton, a pet draft horse fell through a collapsed lid and into a well. Fortunately, rescuers were able to reach this horse in time to save and free it from the well.
All the above mentioned wells have now been filled in or decommissioned according to the standards set by the state Department of Ecology and no longer pose a threat. Unfortunately, the man and animals in these cited instances had to discover and experience these abandoned wells the hard way.
Abandoned wells also can be a direct pathway for contaminants to enter an aquifer that you or your neighbors might be using. This could contaminate the drinking water that you rely on every day.
Thurston County aims to keep your drinking water clean by keeping pollutants at a minimum. Therefore we encourage property owners to deal with these unnecessary wells.
Since abandoned wells pose a health risk, Washington law holds the current landowner responsible for the proper capping or decommissioning of wells. The landowner also is liable for any injury or death of animals or humans that may fall into improperly covered wells, and for any incidence of contamination.
For wells in use, or not yet decommissioned, proper covering with concrete or other non-decaying materials is essential to eliminate hazards. Property owners should inspect and maintain the cover of the well frequently to ensure it will not collapse.
If you are unsure whether you have an abandoned well on your property, here are some indicators to look for:
▪ Pipes sticking out of the ground.
▪ Old well-houses.
▪ Depressions in the ground.
▪ Concrete vaults, pits or tile.
▪ Old plywood lying on the ground or over concrete tile or vaults.
A licensed well-driller who has experience with well construction and decommissioning materials and methods can work with you to manage abandoned wells on your property. Stay safe through well safety.
Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501, firstname.lastname@example.org.