Drought and Your Well

water tap in dry soil

Vermont typically has enough rainfall, but some years can be dry and can lead to drought. Drought can cause groundwater levels to lower. If you get your water from a private water source, like a well or spring, drought may affect your water supply. Your well might not be able to keep up with the amount of water you use, and in some cases, it can run dry. There are some things you can do to manage your water supply during drought.

Well Failure: How do I know if my well is running dry?

A well fails when it cannot provide enough water for your needs. Well failure may be caused by a shortage of water due to drought or other problems associated with the well casing, valves, waterlines, pumps or pressure tanks.

Wells that are more susceptible to failing during drought include:

  • Dug wells
  • Shallow bedrock wells
  • Wells located near topographic high points
  • Wells constructed in areas where bedrock is close to the ground surface

Learn more about different types of wells

You are most likely not able to know or determine the water level of your well. However, your well may be failing or starting to run dry if you are experiencing one or more of these signs: 

  • A drop in water pressure from your well water system
  • Air bubbles in your water
  • Cloudy or “dirty” water
  • No water

If you are experiencing any of these signs, try to address them immediately. Remember that it might not be possible to do work in the winter, or it could be more expensive.

It is important to work with a licensed pump installer or well driller to find out the cause of the problem and to find a solution. Find a licensed well driller

Protect Your Health: How can I make sure my water is safe during a drought?

If your well is failing or it has run dry, you may be desperate to find a source of water for yourself and your family. Here are some things to consider to make sure the temporary water supply is safe to drink:

  • Do not share water between homes by interconnecting two homes’ plumbing systems. Backflow pressure may cause bacteria to travel from one home into the other home.
  • Do not use water from a hose for drinking or cooking, since it may have bacteria or other contaminants in it. Hose water may be used for bathing, washing clothes, cleaning, and flushing toilets.
  • Disinfect your well after completing any work on the water system. Test your water for bacteria after shockchlorination. Learn how to shock chlorinate your well
  • Test your water if you notice changes in your water, like cloudiness, color or smell. Droughts can affect water quality in many ways. Learn more about testing your well water
Conserve Water: How can I use less water during a drought?

Here are some simple steps to help you use less water during a drought, which will help keep your well from failing or running dry:  

  • Take shorter showers
  • Match the water level to the size of the load of laundry
  • Run the dishwasher with full loads only
  • Turn the water off when brushing teeth, washing hands, and doing dishes
  • Check for and fix any leaks
  • Install low-flow faucet aerators, showerheads and toilets and install water-efficient washing machines and dishwashers
    Look for the WaterSense label
  • Cut back on—or cut out—outdoor water use such as watering your lawn, watering your landscaping, or washing your car

Did you know that you can use a bucket of water to flush a toilet? Dump about one gallon of water into the toilet bowl all at once, and the toilet will flush. Collect water in a bucket while you are waiting for the shower to warm up or fill up a bucket to rinse your dishes in and use that water to flush your toilet.

Check out more water conservation tips

Well Improvements: How can I get more water?

In Vermont, most private wells are either a dug well or a drilled well. Dug wells are usually more susceptible to drought than drilled wells. Since dug wells are shallow, they are usually the first wells to dry up during drought. It may take a while for drilled wells to dry up during a drought, but it may also take them a longer time to recover after a drought. Learn more about different types of wells

If your well is failing from a lack of water, these options may help:

  • Lower the pump or pump intake 
  • Increase the tank size to provide additional water storage
  • Deepen the existing well
  • Construct a new well (check the private well database on Vermont Natural Resources Atlas to see the depths and yields of other wells in the area to determine if there is good chance of a new well supplying enough water)
  • Hydro-fracture the existing bedrock well to increase yield

It is important to work with a licensed pump installer or well driller to find out the cause of the problem and to find a solution. Find a licensed well driller

Make sure to keep records of any work that is done on your well or water system. If you do not know where your well is, check the private well database on Vermont Natural Resources Atlas. Be sure to mark your well’s exact location with a location marker that can be found during all seasons. Learn about how to find information on your well

Temporary Solutions: Is there anything I can do while I work toward a permanent solution to my water situation?

Here are some things you can do in the short-term if your well is failing or running dry:

  • Buy water from a bulk water hauler and fill up a water tank. Do an internet search for "bulk water haulers Vermont"
  • Fill food-safe containers with water from a known safe source, like the town library, town hall, fire department, school, church or town office
  • Buy bottled water
  • Shower at a gym, school or workplace

Do not fill wells with water delivered by a water hauler. You usually cannot pump out the same amount of water that was poured into the well. This could also damage your well and contaminate the groundwater supply for your home and nearby homes.

You do not need running water to flush a toilet. You can use a bucket of water to flush it. Dump about one gallon of water into the toilet bowl all at once, and the toilet will flush. See the "conserve water" section for more tips.

Report Water Shortages: Can I report a water shortage or see areas of the state experiencing water shortages?

The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has an online tool, called the Drinking Water Drought Reporter. You can report a water shortage using this tool or see areas of the state where water shortages have been reported.

The tool also allows the Agency of Natural Resources to compile drought data and identify areas vulnerable to drought. It provides a valuable early warning tool for you and your neighbors to know if you should start to conserve water.

Go to the Drinking Water Drought Reporter

Financial Assistance: Is there funding available to help me pay for improvements to my water system or a new well?

Here are a few financial assistance options for low-income households:

Vermont Wastewater and Potable Water Revolving Loan Fund
This program, also known as the On-site Loan Program, is available to certain Vermont residents for the repair or replacement of failed water supply and on-site wastewater systems. The On-site Loan Program is funded and administered by the Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Conservation with loan underwriting and servicing provided by the Opportunities Credit Union in Winooski. Your drinking water supply has to be a failed system and you must be living in the residence on a year-round basis to be eligible. The family income cannot exceed 200% of the state median household income. For more information about eligibility and how to apply, call the On-site Loan Program at 802-461-6051.

The NeighborWorks Alliance of Vermont
The NeighborWorks Alliance is made up of five local organizations offering full affordable housing services for income-eligible individuals. You may qualify for help from this program if you need money to install a water treatment system, drill a well, or repair or replace your septic system. For more information on eligibility, contact the local NeighborWorks HomeOwnership Center in your region.

Single Family Housing Repair Loans and Grants
This program offers loans and grants to existing homeowners for well construction, repair and sealing. It's administered by the Rural Development office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program is for low-income families who live in a rural area or a community with a population of 25,000 or less. The family income cannot exceed 50% of the median county income. Individuals who are 62 years of age or older may qualify for a grant or a combination of a loan and grant. Younger applicants are eligible only for loans.

Burlington, South Burlington, Essex Junction, Winooski and parts of Colchester are ineligible for the program. Even if your property is in an eligible area, your eligibility is still subject to income limits. For more information or to find out if your property is in an eligible area, call the USDA Rural Development Office at 802-828-6022.