Somehow I've managed to break the water table
December 29, 2020 1:06 PM   Subscribe

The toilet ran all night and drained our well, I think. How long will it take to re-fill and is there anything we should be doing in the meantime?

2020 is just full of fun little surprises.

My family house in upstate NY is on well water, which feeds our house and one other house on our property. It's sulfur water, so we dont drink it, but its fine for bathing, washing dishes and clothes, etc. Every summer and especially this last one, our well almost goes dry due to drought. We have to be super careful and limit our water usage from about June to September of every year. This year was the worst I've ever seen, with our water actually going black with sediment for about a week, until we got some significant rain and it cleared up.

We've gotten good rain and snow the past month, so I assume the water table is healthy now. The stream on our property is running well. NOW COMES THE DISASTER. Last night I flushed the toilet around midnight and went to bed. Our stupid old toilet apparently misfired or something and kept running/flushing all night until my dad heard it around 6am and stopped it. And now... I guess it ran our well dry because the only water coming up is black and gross.

Clearly I do not know how this works, despite living in this house more than half my life. The water table as mentioned is healthy right now so... why wont it re-fill our well? It's almost twelve hours later and the water is still terrible. We dont think the pump is busted, because water is still coming out of the taps... but its dirty water. Does anyone have any suggestions or anecdotes or prayers we can say to fix this?

My questions are A. did I do serious damage to our water system, or will this resolve itself when the water builds back up? and B. if we just need the well to refill itself, how long will that take, approximately? Hours? Days? I know you're not a/our plumber. But we truly, truly, cannot afford to call a plumber right now. Any advice, even a "Hang in there, it'll be ok in a day or two" is appreciated!
posted by silverstatue to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have the answers you want, but here's what I do know... We're on a very slow well, and I've asked a question here before when it ran dry. So first, flip the breaker switch for your pump off so that it stops trying to pump sludge until it burns itself out. Wait for a while to give the well a chance to fill above the level of the pump before you turn it back on. (I don't know how long to wait , and it could already be fine -- more on that below.)

Second, you probably have an expansion tank that holds some number of gallons in it, and it sounds like that tank is probably full of sludgy water. Same with the water heater, maybe. So, when you turn on the tap, even if there's clear water in the well, it won't run clear until you clear out the pipes, the expansion tank, and the water heater tank if it's hot water you're running.

Our well is considered terribly slow, and it refills itself at 1/4 gallon per minute. Wells fill at very different rates, so without knowing your rate, there's no telling how long it will take to get a good bit of water back in there. (The company that drilled the well probably has a record of the rate.)

Finally, when we first moved in, there was sludgy water that we needed to drain from our washing machine, and until we figured that out, it smelled swampy. Water heaters are another appliance that doesn't like sludge. So once you've got clear water running again, wait a bit for things to settle before running any water-using appliances. And, you may want to drain your water heater and then let it refill. ...Though if you don't do that regularly, I've heard of that sometimes causing problems the first time in a long time that it's done. So, where you can't afford a plumber, I'm not sure whether it's better to do it or not to.

As an addendum, we have simple sediment filters before the water goes into our hot water tank and then into the rest of the house. Sounds like something you should have when you can swing it, so that your annual sediment-y water doesn't keep gunking up your water heater etc.
posted by daisyace at 2:50 PM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hang in there, it'll be ok in a day or two.

I'll admit I'm not the most well versed, but our good friends cabin we have use of has a well and it's been run dry several times by a forgetful individual. It normal recovers water within a day and the water clears up after another day (tho theirs is normally red vs black, which I'd chalk up to regional differences).

On preview: I agree on turning off the pump for a bit, and flushing the line/various tanks once clear water returns.
posted by token-ring at 2:54 PM on December 29, 2020

If it doesn't fill in a reasonable amount of time, can you get a batch of water trucked in to clear things out? I have vague memories from my childhood of our well going dry a couple times in summers and a tanker truck that normally delivered milk (we lived in a dairy-farming sort of area) bringing water. I don't know how much it cost, since I was more focused on the fact that there were little cows painted on the truck and that the driver brought chocolate milk for me and my sister.
posted by LadyOscar at 6:24 PM on December 29, 2020

Hey! Just wait. It will refill.

In the meantime, your water system probably has a filter. It is time to change it since all the sediment will have clogged it up.

If you have a modern clothes washing machine, it too likely has a small sediment trap at the water inflow point. Time to find that, remove it, rinse out the sediment and put it back in. Otherwise your washer will be straining to fill.
posted by slateyness at 8:27 PM on December 29, 2020

Just a point of information. The water table 70 or 80 or 250 feet down is not the same as surface water. It does not instantly refill just because it is raining a lot up on the surface. We are on a well also and this was news to me.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:33 AM on December 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

While deep wells usually don't immediately recharge from rain/snow a shallow well is heavily dependent on surface flows. I've experienced wells as shallow as 30' that were basically just tapping into the sub surface flow of creeks/rivers. A quirk of the law here makes it illegal to just draw water directly from surface water but it is legal to sink a well right next to the riparian zone which is defacto pulling from the surface water.

If you normally never run your well dry (or at least can manage it) that means normal day to day usage is less than the recovery rate. If you wait two days before using significant water you'll have at least a days regular use plus a days worth of reserve.

You've experienced the sediment before I wouldn't be concerned. It may require a little more flushing of lines etc to get rid of it this time but because you aren't drinking it there isn't much if any safety hazard. Obviously you don't want to flush it till you have some water in your well. And not drawing water for a say or two might allow the sediment to settle out in your well.
posted by Mitheral at 10:40 AM on December 30, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Our well is super deep (I think, 300 feet?) and it was here when we bought the property 50 years ago so, who knows. We're at about a day and a half later and the water is still murky but we're hopeful it'll resolve soon.
posted by silverstatue at 11:56 AM on December 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

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