Seven Letters Re: Advice on Deep Water Wells in a Grid-Down Era

Hi James,
There is a mission-oriented web site with a tutorial on making valve leathers at this site. There is other useful water well-related information on the site, too.

Where John C. is living, if the static level is 400 ft., then he will be looking at needing a fairly deep well. If he gets by with less than drilling a 500 foot well I’d be surprised. Water wells here locally have a 350-400 foot static level and run 700-800 feet deep. The depth, quantity, and quality of water you find all depends on the area you live in, the underlying geology, and hydrologic conditions within the aquifer.
I agree that the submersible pump is the best choice for a deep well. In a grid down situation, a wind mill is probably your best bet. It is possible to install both systems in one well. Basically, you set the submersible some distance below the wind mill’s pump cylinder. One thing you’d need to do is adjust the submersible pump so that the water level in the well is not drawn down past the top of the pump cylinder. One very important aspect to keep in mind when using a deep well with a sucker-rod type pump: use a open top pump cylinder (working barrel) where you can pull the rods, replace valve leathers and/or work on the pump valves, without pulling all of the tubing from the well.

As you mentioned, pulling up 400+ feet of 2-inch pipe from a well by hand is a challenge. It can, however, be done. Keep in mind that a 400+ ft. deep water well is actually much deeper than many early-day oil wells. Searching through old oil field related documents, photos, and museum displays can provide a wealth of very basic, mostly home built, technology that a water well owner can utilize.
Need a derrick to pull rods or pipe from your deep well? Check out what the Canadians used.

Tripod derricks were used in Canada and the U.S. in early oil fields. They were made from peeled trees, power poles, or pipe. Simple winches were used to hoist the rods and pipe from the hole.

Need a pumping jack to lift the rods in your deep well? You can’t get much simpler than these or these.

Once the jack is balanced, it doesn’t take a whole lot of power to lift the rods and pump the well. – Jeff B.

Hi Jim;
My wife and I are the founders of Woodhenge, an intentional community in the northern, rural part of New York State. We practice and teach self-reliance skills. One of the products that I’ve designed is a deep well hand pump that can be built from mostly off-the-shelf parts found in a hardware store. I sell the complete instructions for $20 and a pre-machined parts kit for $250. The kit contains all of the parts necessary for the 2″ PVC cylinder and the modified pitcher pump. One of the things that makes this pump unique is that it doesn’t use a rod to connect the piston in the lower part of the well to the handle but
a stainless steel cable and return spring. I do not include the cable or draw pipe…I don’t know the depth of the well. I do not know if my pump design could handle the static depth of 400′, but it easily handles depths of 150′. I recommend that the draw pipe diameter be reduced to keep the weight in the column of water to a manageable amount. I recommend that shallower deep wells (over 30′ to the static level of the water) use 1-1/4″ draw pipes, over 100′ dropping to 1″ diameter, etc. I will offer a big discount to the guy with the 400′ well if he wants to experiment with my kit. The frictional losses of water in a smaller diameter pipe are the only factor I don’t know how to calculate. My pump easily delivers about a cup of water per stroke. Further information on my pump as well as other things
we’re trying to do are available on our Woodhenge web site.

I am “the King of Scrounge” mentioned in your blog a few months ago. My book “The High Art and Subtle Science of Scrounging” is now available through me. Inquiries and information are available by contacting me at Thank you for what you do. – James S. Juczak


I’ve a reasonable amount of experience in electrical engineering and pumps in general so perhaps could give John C. some additional advice on deep wells.

First just a general note:
The work an electrical pump or any other electrical device needs to do requires a certain amount of electrical power which is Voltage X Current measured in Watts. As James correctly points out, a 24 volt pump requires considerably larger wires than does a 240 volt pump (to deliver the same amount of work) since wire size is determined by current (amperage). In this case figure a 24 volt system would need roughly 10x the circumference of the wire that a 240 volt system would need. Note: It’s the circumference of the wire that’s at issue not the area since current flows mostly along the outside of the wire. A simple way to think of electricity is to compare it to a river. The speed of the river flow is the voltage. The size of the river bed is the amperage. Both together determine the power.

Now, regarding deep wells:
Most deep wells in the west have low infiltration rates so my advice is to use a fairly small size 110 or 220 volt AC submersible pump of good quality (Grundfos make the best). The water pumped out of the well goes directly into a cistern which can be most any tank of a few hundred gallons. Mine was a 1,000 gallon fiberglass tank in the basement, which I installed before the floor was put in. Anyplace is fine as long as freezing temps are taken into account.

A simple automatic fill system is installed in the tank to turn on the submersible when you use some part of the tank up. This system allows the well to refill and also allows the pump to work better and last longer by avoiding frequent starts.You also have a ready source of stored water, if needed. You have to know your well infill rate and the depth of water over the pump inlet to determine how much to pump at any given time. Never allow a submersible pump to run dry and always install protection in the pump start control.

Since the cistern tank is unpressurized [, unless you can position it up on a hillside] you’ll have to provide a centrifugal pump to charge the household lines. You can then either pump out of the cistern tank into a small pressure tank or use a demand system that turns on a small centrifugal pump every time you open a faucet. Either way works fine and all of it is cheap to buy and easy to get at to maintain.

If there are any bacterial contamination issues a small ozone generator can be installed in the cistern. They killed 100% of bacteria and spores such as Giardia when I used one to clean a Colorado stream water source. They add nothing to the water itself since the ozone turns back to oxygen within seconds of it’s being generated. An ozone system does need constant power, but it’s a very small amount. Essentially it’s just a small UV light in a box with a tube into the water. A venturi off of a tiny pump like those used in ornamental fountains pulls the ozone into the tank.

In this system the submersible pumps into the cistern tank at “zero head” and you can get away with a smaller pump motor than you would normally use for a pressurized system. That’s not only a cheaper pump, but it’s easier to pull if needed. Also, since a well pump is frequently the largest power requirement in a household if you go off grid a smaller pump means a smaller generator- or something like this
Don’t forget that a pump requires a larger starting amperage than its nominal rating. Again check with the supplier. It’s important to have the pump operating in it’s ideal range which is based on total lift (head ) and water (GPM) required, so check that yourself too. The charts are easy to read.

In John C’s case, the water is at 400′, so he’ll need a well that’s around 500′. Put the pump at the bottom and that’s a safe 50 gallons of water available to be pumped.
Based on a 5 minute Internet search, a Grundfos 10SQ 1/2 HP pump costing $600 retail would give around 6 GPM pumping into the cistern. A 1,200 watt generator could drive it. Add a 400 gallon tank, 1/4 HP centrifugal pump for pressure, controls and it’s a done deal. The well itself is going to cost around 10 grand, and hopefully you’ll find water down the bottom of it.
Kind Regards, – LRM, Perth, Western Australia


I have some experience in this area in that our well has been solar powered for 5 years at our off the grid ranch.

We elected to put our well on top of a hill about 120 feet in elevation above the house. I did this because I did not want to pump my water twice and deal with a pressure tank in a separate building that I would have to heat and use additional solar power to keep up the pressure. Our four water tanks, 2,600 gallons each, are on a step, just below the well. A Pitless Adaptor allows water to be pumped into the water tanks at a depth of four feet underground for freeze protection. All pipe on the ranch is 3 feet underground, with freeze proof hydrants at key locations. There is enough thermal mass in the tanks that they do not freeze. There is 50 pounds of pressure at the house from gravity. Remember, it is always cheaper and easier to store water rather than electricity. Big water tanks are a good thing.

Our well is 300 feet deep and the pump is set at 240 feet. Static water level is 185 feet.

Having said that, a 400 feet deep well on solar power is no problem. There are two types of solar pumps I would recommend, and . I have a Lorentz pump. The Grundfos is also a very good pump. The Grundfos has the advantage in that besides solar power, you can hook up a wind turbine and have both wind and solar power going to the same pump. There are plenty of solar dealers selling these pumps. I have been served exceptionally wall by Dennis Austin at Solar Power and Pump Company. He always has time to help you out via phone with any questions. He does not publish his prices because they beat everyone else.

The controller on the Lorentz pump converts the DC power from the solar panels to AC power to go down the well to the pump. I am not sure how the Gurndfos system operates. Both these pumps are used extensively by aid organizations around the world to provide clean drinking water for less fortunate people in third world countries. They are pretty fool proof.

One additional consideration is that putting your solar panels on a dual axis solar tracker, will increase water output as much as 40% in the summer when you need water the most. We have a Wattsun dual axis tracker from . Their company has been around a long time and since they are active trackers with gears, they are not affected by wind like the Freon-balanced trackers.

Thanks Jim for all your hard work in helping us all out. – PD

My water has been off the grid for 12 years and while my well depth is shallower I offer my experience. The system described provides 5 GPM at 50 PSI for household laundry, bathing, and kitchen needs but I would not recommended for lawn or garden use.

I have 360 watts of solar panel and 340 amp hour of batteries [storage capacity]. The head of my well is 160 feet and I use a Sunpump SDS series well pump that draws 2 gallons per minute (at 0 pressure) to fill an 1,100 gallon cistern. The current draw is 2 amps at 24 volts. The current price for the pump is approximately $900.

The matching pump controller/current booster is a must. Note that the Sunpump SCS series is rated for 700 feet. The good news is the water pipe is ½” plastic roll pipe, bad news is the pump will need major service after about eight years.

The house is pressurized by a Dankoff Flowlight booster pump that draws from the cistern. Standard well system pressure tanks and switches complete a very reliable system. You can find the recommended 10 micron intake filters here.

The Cistern is a tank made of potable water grade plastic (made from the same mold used for septic tanks). This gives me 1,100 gallons of water that is not hot in the summer, freezing in the winter, safe from bullets, and was a fraction of the cost of an elevated water tank.

Extra battery power feeds a Magnum Energy inverter that saves some on the electric bill. – Jon in Texas

Hey Jim,
I would like to throw in my thoughts on pumping water in a power grid down situation.the wide variety of situations with water sources makes for a wide variety of solutions. I am a retired water well contractor, over twenty years residential, farm and public supply, doing both the well drilling and pumping equipment installations.

First off, if no one reads further, the best [short-term] solution is a generator powering your present system, it’s how it’s done, by the homeowner, farmer, by contractors, and small utilities. Larger utilities use a direct drive to the gear head on a line shaft turbine, but you won’t see that on smaller systems.

To get to the situation discussed in the article, a 400′ water table is considerably deep, so many times, folks think that the depth of the well is related to the depth of the water table, that’s just not so, I have drilled wells 300′ with static water levels 20 or more feet above the well head, hence, a naturally flowing well, and by contrast, 300′ wells with 150′ water tables, but generally, most levels in the 60′ range in deep wells in my neck of the woods. However, water wells are as varied as the land and aquifer you are looking to get the water out of.

So to go after the logistics of getting water out of the ground and then out of your faucet, you’ll have to start with the source, deep well, most common for private water systems, and the subject here, but don’t write off shallow wells, cisterns, lakes and rivers or rain catchment, it’s just that water out of a deep well will be free of organic compounds and safe to drink, but you should have it tested, another subject all together.

Well depth is part of it, but most important for using that well is the water table and capacity in gallons per minute. The diameter of the well will affect production to a certain extent, but mostly the diameter will determine what pumping equipment you can use, deep wells for private use will tend to be 4′ or 6′ steel or plastic casing, with open hole in the rock below that picking up water by capillary action and fissures, or even a screen for loose formations that produce water. A typical well install for me would be around a hundred foot of 4′ well casing, down to the bedrock, then open hole down into the floridan aquifer, ending up around 200′, to produce 20 gallons a minute or better with a water table about 50′ and a submersible pump set at least 10 feet below the water table, and another variable, if you pump more water than your well delivers, called “drawdown”, you’ll be setting your pump below that drawdown level of the water table.

Submersible pumps are a great way to get water out of your well, they “push” the water to the surface, and produce good “head” with their many impellers, “head” translating to how far up the pump is pushing the water from the water table, to theoretically how far above the point of use is, that’s your water “pressure”a pump that makes 300′ of head will pump from a 100 foot water table and be able to pump 200′ more feet above ground level, that would be more than enough to provide you with 50 or 60 pounds of pressure in your tank and at your faucet. Very efficient, generally run on AC current, and either filled with FDA-approved oil or sealed with epoxy and such to keep the electricity isolated from the water. I have heard of DC submersible motors, but never saw one, let alone installed one, something to research, I guess, may be as much to do with having an AC power grid as the the drawbacks inherit in DC motors in general. Last word on that is submersible pumps can pump from very deep water levels and are reliable, but replacement would be tough without specialized equipment,

Above-ground pumps are less efficient, but easier and cheaper to fix, especially for the do-it-yourselfers, which would be very important in a grid down economy. most common are jet pumps, one or two impellers and a jet either installed below the water table or on the face of the pump if the water level is within 30′ of the surface, very important distinction there, you can only lift water, “suction” 33 feet “‘one atmosphere”} vertically. Beyond that, the vacuum required will cause air bubbles to separate out of the water and you’ll lose the ability to pump the water. So, the “jet” a nozzle and venturi are placed in the well, with the pump cycling most of the water thru it, lifting an additional amount of water and producing the head pressure at the same time. I could envision a DC motor on a an above ground pump, imagine they’re available, if even to have one as a standby, but then again, do the math, if you’re wanting run a one horsepower DC motor that’ll turn the needed 3,400 rpm and to do it on twelve volts, you’ll soon see the cost and sizing differences are huge.but at least everything is right there where you can work it. again, a generator or a very large solar or wind system would work as well.

In a grid-down situation, a properly sized generator would run it, but to look to solar or wind power, just do the math, I did, by the time you size something that will start and run that pump, you’ve got a ten thousand dollar or more system, if you want to do your house or other uses, you could use the same system to power your pump when the need arises.

If you are lifting the water less than thirty feet, the possibilities wide and varied, a straight centrifugal pump or positive displacement pumps, such as diaphragm or piston, etc. which don’t need the rpm’s of the impeller pumps and can even be hooked up in multiples or series, depending on power source or what you want to do with the water. To have the ability to pump out of a shallow well, or even a surface water source, this would give you water, if only for irrigation or other uses, or to be purified and then used for drinking water, “potable water”.

The most viable pump system in a grid down situation, in my opinion, would be a sucker rod pump, or a pump jack, I worked on many of them, but generally just pulling them out and replacing them with submersible or jet pumps, or to abandon the well by pumping it full of grout. They are the pump systems you generally see under the old Aermotor windmills, the tall long levered hand pumps, and the much larger pump jacks used in the oil fields. The smaller sucker rod pumps are very simple, the up and down motion of the rod is transferred down the well and into [a pump cylinder under the static level of] the water, where it lifts the water one stroke at a time, very simple, with multiple power options, directly from the wind, human power, or motor driven electrically, or other, which could include about anything you could dream up as you only need to turn a pulley, the amount of power required would be widely varied as the rpm can be varied so much and it’ll still pump, less water, but water. One particular model I was looking for, but didn’t find is the old Crane Deeming pump jacks, a staple on the old farms, designed more for a power source other than the windmill or pump handle, although you could hook it up if the power was off. it would run on about any motor you hooked to it, as far as horsepower and rpm, “revolutions per minute” within reason, including electric, piston, or even the power take off (PTO) from your tractor. Also of consideration is that with a very low yield well, the ability to pump to a cistern or other holding device, and then to pressurize the water from there with another pump, old technology from when people made do, before our era of throwing technology and money at it till you’re happy.

Here’s a link to an article on building a pump jack. It drives the sucker rod that’s in the well, but depending upon where you’re at, the terms are kind used interchangeably. Go to the home page, browse around, or do your own search, lot’s of choices out there.

My thoughts on this, if I wasn’t going to use a generator if the power is down, is to have a separate well with a pump jack, or if you have a six inch well or larger, with a submersible pump in it, install a pump jack right beside it, no, I have never done that, and the easy way would be to call your local well driller or pump man, but dual pipe well heads are available, and the two systems shouldn’t interfere with each other, the two possible problems would be with the submersible pump itself, or the power wire to the pump, but then, I imagine I would set the submersible pump and then the sucker rod and pipe above it,
Anyway, if you’re wanting alternatives, they are out there, sounding complicated, but actually quite simple, especially if you prepare in advance, the simplest power alternative is still the generator, I know I said it again, but I also have six solar panels at 175 watts each, and a wind generator at 400 watts, with all the controllers, battery bank six by 120 Amp Hour 6 volt and a 2,400 watt inverter, which would not be adequate to run my 1hp 220 volt submersible, but a 1/4 horsepower motor on a pump jack would work, too bad I didn’t keep any of that old stuff, but anyway, short of the generator, or fuel for it, would have to go with the pump jack, or for shallow water, a positive displacement pump. Would be willing to continue this discussion, if you’d like. – Mickey

I am a recent “convert” to the survival mentality. Thank you for this blog. All I can say is that it is excellent. On to my point: I too am grappling with this conundrum of how to pump water out of my deep well for my house water, although mine is more shallow (200ft). I currently have a 220 VAC 1/2 HP Gould deep well pump with a 33 gallon pressure tank to round out my water system. I’ve been researching the deep well pump made by Grundfos. The model is called the SQFLEX. According to the manufacturer, it can run on either AC or DC and will pump from depths of 650ft. Whole systems can be bought here . I’m not sure if these are the real deal or not, but they have definitely piqued my interest. I spoke with one of the reps and she indicated that these pumps are used for residential use with a pressure tank (mine is 30gal). The pressure tank is also a problem. I would rather have an elevated storage tank like you recommend. The only problem with that is, for “flat-landers” such as myself, those who live in the midwest without hills. Then what do you do? Do you build a tower for all your neighbors to see (forget about OPSEC) or do you use a water storage tank and place it amongst your house rafters/trusses (which definitely won’t hold up because they are of 2×4 construction and once you cut a large “idiot hole” [for post-construction passage of a large tank] you lose the structural integrity). So there I am. Not sure what to do. I would like to hear some thoughts. “Patriots” was an excellent and fast read. Sincerely, – JJ

JWR Replies: My only brief comment on installing a water tank in an attic is: watch out! When you calculate the weight of just 55 gallons, at 8.33 pounds per gallon, that is 458.15 pounds, not counting the weight of the tank itself! Definitely consult an engineer before installing any tank of substantial capacity.