Private Well Care, Repairs, and Construction

Keeping Your Well Sanitary and Safe

There are many ways to protect your well water.

  • Test your water regularly.
  • Keep the area around your well clear of possible problems, such as fertilizer or household chemicals.
  • Make sure your well cap or cover is properly sealed. Avoid putting wishing well yard decorations over the top of the well. These can actually attract pests and cause other problems.
  • Follow construction guidelines for wells. Keep wells out of pits or ditches, raise the casing to at least 18 inches above the ground level, and grade the ground away from the base of the well. Learn more about grading your well here.
  • For more information, see our Smart Well Owner Guide.

How to Find a Lost or Covered Well

Sometimes a wellhead may be hidden by the environment or hard to find on a large piece of land. RIDOH’s Center for Drinking Water Quality keeps Well Completion Reports  from 1972 onward. Contact us to see if we have one that matches your property. Remember, some wells were built before 1972, and it’s also possible that some drillers may not have filed their reports properly or submitted a map to show the well’s location.

You can also check septic permits at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), call your local building official’s office, or contact a well professional about inspections.

Construction Guidelines and Regulations for Wells

The State of Rhode Island Plumbing Code and Contractors’ Board regulations have guidelines for well construction. City and town building officials can also have higher standards or add their own requirements.

The Private Well regulations require specific testing for new wells and home transfers and all documentation must be filed with RIDOH’s Center for Drinking Water Quality when drilling a new well or deepening an existing well.

Any financing or mortgage requirement questions should be directed to your bank or  to the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Putting in a New Well

According to the Rhode Island Plumbing Code, new wells can only be installed in areas that are not already served by a public water system. New wells must:

  • Comply with the State Plumbing Code and Contractors’ Board well construction regulations;
  • Follow all setback distance requirements;
  • Test the water for everything listed in the Private Well Regulations (see section 2.12) when connected to the plumbing it will serve; and
  • Have a Well Completion Report filed by the contractor with RIDOH’s Center for Drinking Water Quality within 10 days of installation, even if it’s not connected to anything yet.

Some local building and zoning officials may require permits for new wells. Check with the municipal offices before starting any work. See our Putting in a New Well infosheet for the steps to follow when installing a new well.

What to Do if Your Well Runs Dry

Causes and Risk Factors

There are a number of reasons why a well may have a very low water level or run dry completely. The most common cause is hot, dry weather over a long period of time. This is especially true during the summer months or when the state has declared a drought.

Shallow wells such as dug wells or driven wells (also known as “point” wells) are at much higher risk of running dry. These are more common in older homes or certain areas of the state, such as near the coastline, where it may be somewhat difficult to drill deep wells.

If you have questions or concerns about the water level in your area, contact the Office of Water Resources at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM).

See our Well Yield Tip Sheet for more information about private well water levels.


Before doing any construction on your well, first check that the problem isn’t simply something mechanical like a broken pump or power source. Once you are sure, there are generally three options for restoring your water supply:

  • Deepening your well
  • Re-developing your well (such as hydrofracturing)
  • Drilling a new well

Talk to a well professional about which method may be best for your well. See “How to Find a Driller or Well Specialist” below for more details.

Do not pour water into your well. This includes water delivered by trucks or tanks, such as those used for swimming pools, or water from containers such as water jugs that are either bought at a store or filled yourself. This can contaminate your water and damage the pump and even well itself. Any water bought or delivered should be kept in its original container or stored in one specifically made for potable water.

Resources and Assistance

Depending on your policy, homeowners’ insurance may provide coverage for well-related issues. Also, your town may have programs, grants, or loans available to assist residents. Contact your local building official, town manager, or city hall to ask about options in your area.

Other potential assistance resources:

How to Find a Driller or Well Specialist

The Contractors’ Board maintains a list of all licensed contractors. You can verify a license or search for licensed professionals. There is also a Tip Sheet that lists important questions to ask before hiring a driller or other contractor for well work.

How to Take Care of a Dug Well

Dug wells can be more difficult to care for than drilled wells because:

  • They can be difficult to keep sanitary (hard to seal the cover properly or keep bacteria out).
  • They are at higher risk for contamination from the environment.
  • They can run out of water more often when it’s hot or there hasn’t been a lot of rain.
  • Many banks will not finance a home with a dug well.

Dug wells should be tested more often than drilled wells. You should ask your well professional before hiring them if they have specific experience with dug wells.

Public water systems cannot use dug wells as a source of water.

See our Facts About Dug Wells flyer.