Monday, May 24, 2021

Episode 578 (5-24-21): Water Well Construction is an Ancient and Modern Human Practice

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (3:51).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 5-21-21.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of May 24, 2021.  This revised episode from June 2014 is part of a series this year of groundwater-related episodes.

SOUND – ~5 sec

That rattling and humming sound opens an episode on an ancient human practice related to groundwater.  Have a listen for about 10 more seconds, and see if you can guess what’s making the sound.  And here’s a hint: think deep into human civilization, and you’ll guess well enough.

SOUND  - ~9 sec

If you guessed, drilling a water well, you’re right!  That was the sound of a well-drilling rig in June 2014, working through 100 to 200 feet of limestone bedrock to reach groundwater for a residence in Montgomery County, Virginia.  For thousands of years, humans have been developing ways to dig below the earth’s surface to reach groundwater aquifers.  Digging with hands and tools was the first method, of course.  Today dug wells, as well as bored or driven wells, remain in use in areas of the United States and in other parts of the world.

But drilling allows deeper and narrower wells.  In the United States, water-well drilling dates back to the early 1800s.  Since then, many different drilling methods and machines have been developed to adapt to the various geological conditions drillers encounter and to make drilling more efficient.  Modern well drillers also must follow regulations intended to prevent groundwater pollution that could threaten public health or the environment.  In Virginia, that tradition dates back at least to 1610, when the Colony of Virginia’s first sanitation law required that, quote, “no man or woman...make cleane, any kettle, pot, or pan, or such like vessell within twenty foote of the olde well.”

Thanks to Blacksburg well-driller Wayne Fenton for permission to record this week’s sounds.

We close with some music from the era of that 1610 well-protection law in the Virginia colony.  Here’s about 20 seconds of “Sir John Smith His Almayne,” composed by John Dowland, a popular English musician during the early 1600s, and performed here by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg, Va.

MUSIC - ~24 sec – instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 219, 6-23-14.

The sounds in this episode were recorded on June 20, 2014, at a residential well-drilling site in Montgomery County, Va.  Thanks to Wayne Fenton, owner at that time of Fenton Well Drilling and Pump Service in Blacksburg, Va., for permission to record his work that day and for providing information in for this original (2014) version of this episode.  More information about Fenton Well Drilling and Pump Service is available online at

“Sir John Smith, His Almayne,” from the 2006 album “Jamestown: On the Edge of a Vast Continent,” is copyright by Timothy Seaman and Pine Wind Music, used with permission.  More information about Timothy Seaman is available online at   According to Timothy Dickey (“John Dowland—Sir John Smith, his Almain, for Lute, P47,” AllMusic Web site, online at, an almayne, or almain, is a dance typically considered to be of German origin, or a tune for such a dance; and John Dowland (ca. 1563-1626), composed this piece for some Englishman with that fairly common name (but not, evidently, for the Captain John Smith of Jamestown Colony fame).  More information from Timothy Dickey on John Dowland is available online at  This music was used previously by Virginia Water Radio in Episode 350, 1-9-17.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Top: Well-drilling rig.  Bottom: Rotary drilling and the mixture of soil, rock, and water being brought to the surface.  Both photos taken at a Montgomery County, Va., residential well-drilling project by Fenton Well Drilling and Pump Service of Blacksburg, Va., June 20, 2014.


Used for Audio

Charles W. Carlston, “Notes on the early history of water-well drilling in the United States,” Economic Geology (Vol. 38, pages 119-136, 1943); available online at (subscription may be required for access).

Thomas V. Cech, Principles of Water Resources: History, Development, Management, and Policy, Third Edition, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, N.J., 2010, pages 1-4.

Fletcher G. Driscoll, Groundwater and Wells, Second Edition, Johnson Screen, St. Paul, Minn., 1986.

Henrico County, Va., “Well Water FAQ” (undated), online at as of 5/21/21.

Bruce Misstear et al., Water Wells and Boreholes, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester, England, 2006, pages 1-6.

U.S. Geological Survey, “Groundwater Wells,” online at

U.S. Peace Corps, “Wells Construction: Hand Dug and Hand Drilled (M0009),” April 13, 2017, online at

Virginia Department of Health, “About Us (Old)” online at (information on Virginia’s 1610 sanitation law).

Virginia Humanities, Encyclopedia Virginia, “Lawes Divine, Morall and Martiall,” online at (information on Virginia’s 1610 sanitation law).

Virginia Legislative Information System, “Private Well Regulations,” Virginia Administrative Code, Sec. 12 VAC 5-630, online at  “Design and Construction Criteria” are in Part III, starting at Section 12 VAC 5-630-350, online at

Virginia Places, “Waste Management,” online at (information on Virginia’s 1610 sanitation law).

WaterAid, “Technology Resources,” online at

For More Information about Groundwater in Virginia or Elsewhere

Stan Cohen, The Homestead and Warm Springs Valley, Virginia: A Pictorial Heritage, Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, Charleston, W. Va., 1984.

Marshall Fishwick, Springlore in Virginia, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, Bowling Green, Ky., 1978.

Philip LaMoreaux and Judy Tanner, eds., Springs and Bottled Waters of the World:  Ancient History, Source, Occurrence, Quality, and Use, Springer-Verlag, Berlin and Heidelberg Germany, 2001; information available online at (subscription may be required).

National Speleological Society, online at

“Pulse of the Planet” (Web site: segments with Virginia well-driller Eric Rorrer and with Erin Ling, the coordinator of the Virginia Household Water Quality Program and Virginia Well-owner Network (in the Virginia Tech Department of Biological Systems Engineering).  The three segments are as follows:
March 10, 2014: Water-Drilling
March 11, 2014: Water - Surface and Ground
March 12, 2014: Water-Well Maintenance

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Ground Water and Drinking Water,” online at

George Veni et al., “Living with Karst,” American Geological Institute Environmental Awareness Series, 2001; available online at 

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “Virginia Natural Heritage Karst Program,” online at; see particularly “Introduction to Virginia’s Karst,” online (as a PDF) at

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “Commonwealth of Virginia State Water Resources Plan,” April 2015, available online at

Virginia Museum of History and Culture, “The Regions of Virginia,” online at 

Virginia Places, “Caves and Springs in Virginia,” online at

Virginia Places, “Thermal Springs in Virginia,” online at

Virginia Water Resources Research Center groundwater-related publications from the 1980s to the 2000s are listed and linked online at  Here are some key publications:
*Author unidentified, A Guide to Private Wells, 1995, online at
*J.A. Poff, A Guide to Virginia’s Groundwater, 1997, online at
*J.A. Poff, A Homeowner’s Guide to the Development, Maintenance, and Protection of Springs as a Drinking Water Source, Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Blacksburg, 1999, online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (

Following are links to other groundwater-related episodes.  Note that some of these episodes are being re-done in May-June 2021, following posting of this episode.  If that has occurred at the time you are viewing this post, the links below will redirect you to the updated episodes. 

Caves, caverns, and other karst features – Episode 527, 6-1-20.
Eastern Virginia groundwater and the SWIFT project –
Episode 534, 7-20-20.
Groundwater introduction –
Episode 575, 5-3-21.
Information sources on Virginia’s water resources generally, including groundwater) –
Episode 546, 10-12-20.
Springs –
Episode 576, 5-10-21.
Testing water from wells and other household water sources –
Episode 361, 3-27-17.
Virginia’s Western Highlands and thermal springs –
Episode 577. 5-17-21.
Winter precipitation and water supplies, including the role of groundwater replenishment –
Episode 567, 3-8-21.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2020 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2018 Science SOLs

Grades K-5: Earth and Space Systems
3.7 – There is a water cycle and water is important to life on Earth.

Grades K-5: Earth Resources
K.11 – Humans use resources.
1.8 – Natural resources can be used responsibly.
3.8 – Natural events and humans influence ecosystems.
4.8 – Virginia has important natural resources.

Grade 6
6.6 – Water has unique physical properties and has a role in the natural and human-made environment.
6.8 – Land and water have roles in watershed systems.
6.9 – Humans impact the environment and individuals can influence public policy decisions related to energy and the environment.

Earth Science
ES.6 – Resource use is complex.
ES.8 – Freshwater resources influence and are influenced by geologic processes and human activity.

BIO.8 – Dynamic equilibria exist within populations, communities, and ecosystems.

2015 Social Studies SOLs

Grades K-3 Economics Theme
2.8 – natural, human, and capital resources.
3.8 – understanding of cultures and of how natural, human, and capital resources are used for goods and services.

Civics and Economics Course
CE.7 – government at the state level.
CE.10 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.3 – how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.
WG.4 – types and significance of natural, human, and capital resources.

Government Course
GOVT.8 – state and local government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – public policy process at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT.15 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15
– on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15
– on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16
– on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16
– on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18
– on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18
– on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18
– on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19
– on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20
– on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20
– on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20
– on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.