Is It Legal To Drill Your Own Well For Water? State Guide

Water is needed to carry out our day-to-day activities, and one of the effective ways of constantly having your own water supply in your home is well water.

However, before drilling a hole in your ground in search of water, you should first ask whether it is legal to drill your own well. 

In the article, I will be telling you if drilling your own water well is legal and the steps you should take first before drilling your own well. 

Is It Legal To Drill Your Own Well?

Yes, it is legal to drill your own well for domestic use. However, not in all locations. 

In some states, you need to go through the process of getting a permit, license, or water rights first before drilling a well.

I will explain the meaning of these terms and why obtaining them is essential.

There are also five common groundwater law doctrines that different states act by, which we will discuss in the next chapter. 

Steps You Must Follow Before Drilling A Well 

Find Out The Groundwater Law Doctrine That Your State Follows And Act By It

There are five common groundwater law doctrines which are:

• Doctrine Of Reasonable Use

• Doctrine Of Absolute Dominion

• Doctrine Of Correlative Rights 

• Doctrine Of Prior Appropriation

• Doctrine Of Restatement of Torts 

Doctrine Of Reasonable Use

The Doctrine of Reasonable Use gives property owners full access to all the groundwater in their property but cautions them to use the water reasonably so as not to affect others using the same aquifer. 

This doctrine, also called the American Rule, prevents you from wasting water excessively so that your neighbors who use the same water source can use it also.

This doctrine is used the most in the United States, and more states are adopting it to make water available to the ever-rising population in the country. 

Another positive aspect of this doctrine is that following it keeps you in compliance with other groundwater laws.   

Doctrine Of Absolute Dominion

This doctrine allows you as a property owner to pump as much water present on your property as you want without caring about the effect it will have on your neighbors and others who share the same water source with you.

Also called the English Rule, this doctrine is the least restrictive, and it mostly favors you if you are a well owner with a powerful pumping system.

Many states who used this doctrine in the past have moved away from it because homes and industries with robust pumping systems draw a large amount of water while ignoring the water level. 

Presently, only 11 out of the 50 States in the United States follow this doctrine. 

Doctrine Of Correlative Rights 

The court determines this doctrine, and those who own lands directly over the water source and those who want to redirect the groundwater is given the same access. 

This doctrine is mainly followed in states without enough groundwater that needs to be appropriately shared. 

Doctrine Of Prior Appropriation

This doctrine has been used since the 19th century, states that whoever uses the groundwater source first is the person who holds the rights to it.

This doctrine, also called the “First Come, First Serve” doctrine, has been dropped by many states who used it in the past, with many adopting the Reasonable Use doctrine. 

Doctrine Of Restatement of Torts 

This doctrine states that if you, as the land owner, use the water for beneficial use and only use a  reasonable amount of it, you are right and shouldn’t be questioned. 

This doctrine used by three states in the United States is regarded as a  combination of the Reasonable Use and Absolute Dominion Doctrines. 

Obtain A Permit, Water Right, or License 

Permit

A Permit, in this context, is an authorization given to you by the agency in your state or country for you to dig a well. 

A permit comes with specific guidelines and is required before you even start digging a well.

However, in some states, there are other permits that you must obtain along with the state permit before you can dig your well.

A permit fee is required to obtain a permit; information, such as well depth, well type, and what the water will be used for, is also expected.

To get a permit, send an application to the department of environmental quality or the division of water resources in your state, or any other state agency in charge of these regulations.   

Water Rights 

States who act by Prior Appropriation and Absolute Dominion Doctrines demand that you obtain the required water rights before you dig a well. 

So, if you are in a state that follows any of these doctrines, ensure that you obtain these water rights before digging a well.

License 

A license is a warrant given to well contractors by your state’s agency after they have undergone specific training and education. 

This training teaches them how to handle groundwater conditions professionally and drill deep wells, which unlicensed individuals can’t.  

So if your state requires a license for a well to be dug, you should employ the service of a licensed well driller. 

Look For A Good Location For Your Well

After getting a construction permit and finding out the legal doctrine of your state, the next step is to look for an excellent location to dig your well and septic system.  

While searching for a good well location, you must ensure that there is no groundwater contamination in the area you want to dig your well. 

Dig Your Own Well

There are two types of water wells: shallow water wells and deep water wells.

Shallow wells can be dug with simple equipment. The water table of these wells is usually 25 to 30 feet deep or less.

On the other hand, deep wells go as deep as 300 feet and beyond. Which makes them secure from running dry.

It is impossible to dig this well with a small piece of equipment, so heavy equipment is used instead.

The digging of this well requires professionalism, so you should hire the service of trained and licensed well drillers to construct it for you instead of trying to do it by yourself. 

The time required to drill a well depends on the soil type and how fast the drill bit can go through it.

While digging your well, ensure it is not too far from your septic tanks.

Also, before drilling your well, use duct tape to guard the air hose to your PVC pipe to prevent it from getting entangled. 

Get A Well Driller That Is Licensed

Some states require that well drilling must be done by a licensed well driller or contractor.

You are not permitted to drill a well on your property in these states. 

This is because licensed well drillers know the standards for constructing wells and how to build a well to match these standards.

Licensed well drillers also know the plugging requirements, drilling requirements, and installation equipment required to construct an adequate well. 

You can also get assistance plugging abandoned wells with licensed water well drillers. 

So, if you are in a region that prevents you from drilling your well by yourself, ensure you get a licensed driller to do it for you. 

In South Dakota, for example, after drilling of new wells and the pump installation by the pump installer/well driller, the water sample from that well must be submitted by the well driller to an approved lab for analysis before you can know if it is great for drinking or not. If you notice any strange smell, it may be a warning sign.

All You Need To Know About Digging Your Own Well In The 50 States In the USA 

StateLicense RequiredPermit RequiredWater Rights Required Primary Doctrine
AlabamaYes, a well-driller’s license is required. No No Reasonable Use 
AlaskaNo NoYesPrior Appropriation
ArizonaYes, a license is required for no-exempt wells. No, a notice of intent is required insteadNoReasonable Use 
ArkansasYes, a contractor’s license is required. No, a certificate of registration is required instead.NoReasonable Use and Correlative Rights 
CaliforniaNoYesNoCorrelative Rights 
ColoradoNo Yes No Prior Appropriation
ConnecticutYes Yes No Absolute Dominion 
DelawareYes Yes No Reasonable Use 
FloridaYes, but only if your well is above two inches in diameter YesNo Reasonable Use 
GeorgiaYes, a license from public health is requiredYes, a permit from the Environmental Protection Division is required NoAbsolute Dominion
HawaiiNo YesNo Correlative Rights
IdahoYes No No Prior Appropriation
IllinoisYes, except if you are a homeowner who is constructing a well on your own property.  The county agency might require a permit. NoReasonable Use
IndianaYes No No Absolute Dominion 
IowaYes No No Correlative Rights
KansasYes NoNoPrior Appropriation
KentuckyYes NoNo Reasonable Use 
LouisianaYes NoNoAbsolute Dominion
MaineYesNoNoAbsolute Dominion 
MarylandYesYesNoReasonable Use
MassachusettsYesNoNoAbsolute Dominion 
MichiganNoYesNoReasonable Use 
MinnesotaYes, but not for a drive-point well. Yes, but not for a drive-point well. NoAbsolute Dominion 
MississippiYesYesNoAbsolute Dominion
MissouriNoYes, except if you own private property. NoReasonable Use 
MontanaYesYesNoPrior Appropriation
NebraskaYes, except if you are digging a well on your own property. NoNoReasonable Use 
NevadaYesNoNoPrior Appropriation
New HampshireYesNoNoReasonable Use 
New JerseyYesNoNoCorrelative Rights 
New MexicoYesYesNoPrior Appropriation
New YorkYesNoNoReasonable Use 
North CarolinaNoYesNoReasonable Use 
North DakotaNoYes, except for private wellsNoPrior Appropriation
OhioNoYesNoRestatement Of Torts 
OklahomaYesNoNoReasonable Use 
OregonNoNoNoPrior Appropriation
PennsylvaniaYes, except if you own the property. NoNoReasonable Use
Rhode IslandYes, except if you own a private well. NoNoAbsolute Dominion 
South Carolina Yes, except if you are drilling on your own property.YesNoReasonable Use 
South DakotaNoYes except if you are using it for domestic purposes NoPrior Appropriation
TennesseeYesNoNoCorrelative Rights
TexasYes, except if you are building on your own property. NoNoAbsolute Dominion
UtahYes, except for private wells. NoYesPrior Appropriation
VermontYesNoNoReasonable Use 
VirginiaYesYesNoReasonable Use 
WashingtonYes, except if you own your own propertyNoNoReasonable Use 
West VirginiaYesYesNoReasonable Use 
WisconsinA license is required for pump installation but not for drillingNoNoRestatement Of Torts 
WyomingYes, except you are drilling on your own property.YesNoPrior Appropriation
Digging Your Own Well In The 50 States In the USA 

Is It Legal To Drill Your Own Well Summary

It is legal to drill a well once you obtain the required license, permit, and water rights, and also act in accordance with the groundwater doctrine that your state follows. 

However, if you find the regulations, and procedures involved in drilling your own well too much to follow, you can go for another water supply option such as rural water or city water, which you can use for your domestic purposes. 

With rural or municipal water, you can also enjoy clean water, treated water with high water quality, a great water service and you can also prevent many legal requirements.

Also, with rural water, you won’t be worried about maintenance issues and you do not require a permit, or license despite your water use.