Local well drillers and a county official whose department handles well permits confirm that this year has seen an notable increase in the number of new wells and wells to be deepened in the south county.
Local well drilling companies agree: this summer there has been a surge in the number of requests for new wells to be dug and existing wells to be deepened.
Aquarius Well Drilling owners Sharon and Ray Williamson have noticed a change in both well and spring viability this year.
Arley and Kristene Enloe, owners of Enloe Drilling and Pumps, Inc, have seen a marked increase in the number of requests they are receiving for new wells to be dug.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in wells dropping or going dry,” Sharon said.
In Dunsmuir, some areas of Weed, the Cantara Loop area, and from Hammond Ranch down to the Mount Shasta Resort golf course, Aquarius has had more work deepening wells or drilling new ones than in any other year in their 40 years in business, Ray said.
Depending on the original construction, some wells can be deepened and some cannot, Sharon said. If it can’t be deepened, property owners must dig a new well.
Ray said that recently a couple of 40 to 50 year-old wells on Hill Road in Mount Shasta “went to nothing.”
“They were fairly shallow, but we had to go about twice as deep to get water at sufficient volume,” he said.
In general, according to Ray, Aquarius has had to drill deeper recently to get good water volume in wells.
Arley Enloe has been drilling with the company he now owns for 10 years. He said he has not had this many requests for new wells since the housing boom in the early 2000s, when requests for new wells were tied to the boom in new construction and newly developed properties.
“A lot of dried up wells are starting to show up now,” he said. “I’ve put four to six new wells in Mount Shasta so far this summer, including two or three on Davis Place, and I’ve dug new wells in McCloud as well.”
Enloe said the demand is unusual, since “Mount Shasta and McCloud are usually pretty solid water-wise.”
According to Enloe, it’s mostly the shallower wells that are failing now.
That assessment is shared by Bill Navarre, Deputy Director of Environmental Health for the county Community Development Department.
Well permitting is one of the areas for which Navarre’s department is responsible.
“If you look at wells as straws in the ground, the short straws are drying up,” he said.
Navarre has seen a “definite increase” this year and last year in the number of well permits applied for.
He said there’s been a lot of new well construction and deepening of wells due to production drop-off and wells simply drying up.
“We’re in a drought cycle of about three years now,” Navarre said. “The Mt. Shasta area is a recharge area dependent on snowpack and rain water. It makes sense that ground water elevations are dropping.”
According to Ray Williamson, springs on the sides of hills that have been producing for years are drying up. Residents of Dunsmuir and Castella are requesting wells due to loss of springs viability, Ray said.
In the Weed area, he said, there is not as much problem with wells going dry, but people who have been depending on a spring for their water are having to have wells dug instead because their springs are drying up.
Weed City Administrator Ron Stock said Kellogg Spring, to which the City owns water rights, is losing volume.
Kellogg Spring is located on the hillside above the city-owned acreage on the east side of Interstate 5 near the South Weed exit.
Stock said the spring has been producing so little water that none is flowing onto the land.
“We sent the watermaster to check on the situation and she reported that nobody is diverting water inappropriately. The spring is just not producing,” Stock said.
Mount Shasta City Manager Paul Eckert said that city’s water is supplied in part by Cold Springs.
“Although that spring volume has picked up a bit in the last month or so, it is still lower than it has been in 20 years,” Eckert said.
Curtis Knight, Conservation Director for CalTrout’s Mount Shasta Region, explained that springs have different length cycles of return from snow to water.
According to Knight, some springs in the area, like Intake Springs in McCloud and Cold Springs in Mount Shasta, can cycle from snow to available water within a year.
Others, he said, such as Carrick Springs in Weed and Shasta Big Springs in Mount Shasta, are sourced from very high altitudes and have long return cycles. Their water takes anywhere from 20 to 50 years or more to cycle from snow to water in the springs.
Knight speculates that the hillside springs drying up now are smaller and likely young, with short return cycles that are vulnerable to drought.
“If you see a spring going dry you can expect that it’s tied to more immediate precipitation patterns,” Knight said.
Dealing with volume drop
Enloe’s business includes pump installation and repair. He reported that he’s been getting a lot of calls this season for pumps not working.
He said when he goes out on these calls, he’s finding that the well water volume has dropped below what the system is set up for,” Enloe said.
If a well’s rate of flow is 15 gallons per minute, for instance, it may have a pump installed that pumps 10 gallons per minute, he explained.
But if the well’s production volume drops to only five or seven gallons per minute, the system doesn’t work.
“If that five to seven gallons per minute is sustainable, we can put a valve on the pump so it pumps at a lower volume,” Enloe said.
But, he added, “unfortunately you don’t know if it’s going to continue to diminish.”
Enloe said storage tanks, pump valves, and pump protectors are ways of getting by with lowering well volume if a new well is out of the question.
Emily Vincent owns Siskiyou Plumbing and Electric with her husband Gordon. Their company doesn’t drill wells, but it does work with pumps.
Vincent said that, in her view, more people are protecting their pumps and installing water storage tanks now, which allows them to continue to use a well with a diminished flow.
Storage tanks hold a supply of water and are regulated by an electronic float device, Vincent explained. When the water level in the tank drops below a certain point, it signals the pump to draw more water from the well.
This helps ensure a constant water supply while giving the well time to fill again between pumping, she said.
“Pump protectors keep pumps from burning out – which happens when the water level is too low and air is being pumped instead of water,” Vincent said.
When the water level drops and air starts pumping, she said, the amperage in the protector gets high and it shuts the pump off for a period of time, allowing the water level in the well to rise.
Vincent speculates that people have been “self-regulating” over the past year or two as a way of dealing with diminishing well volumes.
“Folks have had a heads up. They’re learning to conserve water, not leaving hoses running all night and so on,” she said.
While there were no speculations made as to how long the drought would last, Enloe shared a cautionary observation of his father’s.
Enloe said his father owned Enloe Drilling and worked in the business for many decades.
“My dad’s perspective, based on working in this field during the drought of the late 1970s, is that wells continued to go dry for about five years beyond the time the snowpack and rain levels returned to normal.”
When the current drought ends, he said, the water problems in south Siskiyou County won’t necessarily end as well.