Mower County residents whose property includes an old well are strongly encouraged to apply for cost-share assistance to help them seal the hole that poses a danger to people, animals and drinking-water resources.

            A strong reminder of the dangers posed by unused wells happened a month ago in Redwood County, Minn., northwest of Mankato. A dog was rescued after falling 30 feet into an abandoned well on his family’s new property, possibly saving his owners’ 5-year-old son from the same fate or worse, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

            Trapped in the 20-inch-wide hole, the springer spaniel barked until his owner eventually found him in the well. The Redwood County Sheriff’s Office responded and, after not much optimism at first, got the young dog to bite a rope they used to pull him up.

            Having moved into their home just 10 days earlier, the dog’s family was not aware of the uncovered, old well as it was not disclosed during the property purchase, which is required by law of the seller, state health officials said. Unused wells should be sealed for physical safety; health and environment; and legal responsibilities.

Since 2019, Mower Soil & Water Conservation District and Austin Utilities – the city of Austin’s municipal water provider – have worked together to offer cost-share assistance for sealing old wells. The program covers 50 percent of the cost to seal a well, with the cost-share capped at $1,000 per project.

In 2022, Mower SWCD provided cost-share for sealing 19 wells in Mower County; Austin Utilities helped seal four wells. Groundwater is the source of drinking water for most people in Mower County.

            Anyone in Mower County interested in cost-share aid for sealing a well should contact Mower SWCD’s Tim Ruzek, water plan coordinator, to learn about the application process. While the program’s initial years focused on priority areas in the county for groundwater protection, those no longer are used due to a larger amount of cost-share funding becoming available, Ruzek said.

            “Mower SWCD continues to have funding to provide a significant level of cost-share for sealing old wells but, if the need isn’t there, these funds likely will be moved to other natural-resource priorities,” Ruzek said. “If you have an unused well, look at getting it sealed as soon as possible for the safety risks but also because the cost-share isn’t a guarantee for coming years.”

An unused well can act like a drain that allows surface water runoff, contaminated water or improperly disposed waste a direct path into drinking water sources. When this happens, everyone’s drinking water quality is threatened.

According to the state, the best way to prevent any human, animal or environmental harm from an unused well is for all owners of property with wells to know a few rules and steps for ensuring wells are safe:

  • Minnesota statute and rule require that unused, unsealed wells must be sealed by a licensed well contractor.
  • Property owners SHOULD NOT try to fill an unused well themselves – it MUST be done by a licensed well contractor.
  • A well owner always is given the option to place an unused well back in service but often this isn’t feasible because the well’s condition has deteriorated beyond repair.
  • Minnesota law requires the seller of property to provide information to the buyer and the state (MDH) about the location and status of all wells on the property.
  • Status is divided into three categories: In-use, Not-in-use and Sealed by a licensed well contractor.
  • Questions about unused wells can be directed to MDH Well Management staff or a local well contractor. The Well Management main phone number is: 651-201-4600 or 800-383-9808
  • More information on sealing unused wells and well disclosures can be found online at the Minnesota Department of Health’s website: www.health.state.mn.us

            Mower County landowners interested in cost-share assistance to seal an old well should contact Mower SWCD’s Tim Ruzek at 507-460-4577 or by email at: [email protected]

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