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Developing A Spring on Your Property (Water is….kinda important.)

~All images below are clickable - click them to see a larger higher quality image~

One of the things I’ve always had a concern with was our well.

We have a great well, (28GPM, GREAT clear water) but it’s 350 or so deep, and I pump the water uphill to a 3,000 gallon cistern, a total of over 500 feet, vertically. This takes power, lots of it, about 11 Amps at 240VAC, so I decided that developing a spring would be a good idea, at some point.

In North Idaho, we have a lot of fresh, beautiful, clean water, and generally no matter where you drill a well, you’re going to hit water, the only question is how deep you have to go. Shallow wells are 150 foot, deep ones are 600 feet. All of them are EXPENSIVE to drill, $16.00 a foot, minimum. ($1600 per 100 foot deep, OUCH!). And that doesn’t include a pump, wire, controls, installation…..

We also have springs here. Not everywhere, but many places. If you walk anywhere in North Idaho, in the woods especially, and see Fern or Cedar Trees, there’s generally water there, underground. Neither Cedars nor Ferns will grow without it.


We have a place here where there are a few ferns, in the woods, at the end of my driveway. A little spot where the ground seemed..wetter.

I took my (smaller) excavator out there, and made a hole maybe 7 or 8 feet deep. Left it alone for a little while, and sure enough, it filled with water!!! I watched it for about a year or so, and it never ran dry, always had some water in it, even in the driest months here, September & October. The deer started really digging this…

Now, being that I wanted to develop a spring, and I thought there might be more out there, I decided that a well witcher might be a good investment, to help me find more water, before I really started installing stuff…

I hired a witcher to come out & walk my property with me, looking for springs. (Caveat: If you hire a witcher, hire one that is INDEPENDENT, not one from a well drilling company). Think about this for a minute & you’ll get it.

After walking the property, we found about a dozen places where we thought there would be water. Willard, the Witcher I hired, told me to go get an Excavator, a large one, dig a hole 16 feet deep at each location, and let it sit for about a year. He said that it takes time for water to find it’s way to a hole, and I followed his advice. We found that the original location, the one I had already dug out a bit, to have the best spring of all. The holes we dug were close to straight down, maybe 2 bucket widths, and around 16 feet deep, each. Cost about $500.00 for the excavator, and $200.00 for the witcher.

Area of springs
Ferns above springs


After a year, 4 of the holes we dug held water. The best one was, like I said, the original one, and three others had water in them consistently. I decided to use the one closest to my house, as it was, again, the best producer. Willard had told me that there would be water in every hole location he pointed out, the real questions was “how deep”. In the ones where no water appeared, there was probably water, again, just deeper than my 16 foot hole.

I did quite a bit of studying on this, and spoke with Willard, (my Witcher, GREAT Guy, BTW). After agonizing over it aplenty, I decided to install (2) drywells, and have them overflow into a 1,000 gallon tank. This would catch (2) springs, and overflow both of them to the holding tank.

Here’s how I did it:

First, I needed the drywells, some manholes, covers, and a storage tank.

I wanted (2) of them, one 16 feet deep, and another one 11 feet deep, plus the tank. I bought all of my manholes & covers from Western Concrete Products in Spokane and I bought a new septic tank (1,000 gallons) from another company in Spokane.

Drywell & Manholes / Components

A tip on buying this stuff….

If you buy drywells, or concrete products that are cast, like manholes, etc, you have a choice to buy either Number 1’s, which are perfect, w/o blemish etc, or to buy Number 2’s, which will have cracks & defects. In this situation, I cared less if the manholes or drywells leaked, so I bought number 2’s. To give you an example of the difference in price, a number 1 drywell, 6 feet tall, will cost around $600 dollars. The same one, defective, sells for the price of concrete, maybe 60 dollars….altogether, the drywells & manholes I needed for my springs cost about $600.00 DELIVERED. The septic tank cost $525.00, total.

How to install a drywell & develop a spring:

There are really a few different parts to this; the drywells, the holding tank, and a pump house.

In order-

We started at the top, and used the excavator to dig a hole 18 feet deep. This was a BIG hole, maybe 12-14 feet across, since it was so deep.

After making the hole, I had a couple of truck & dump loads of river rock delivered. This is round rock, 1-4 inches in diameter. We laid (dumped) about 2 feet of river rock in the bottom of the hole, to set the drywells on. (BTW, these drywells are kinda…big. They are 4 feet across, and I think they weigh about 3,000 pounds for every 4 feet or so).

SO now, we have a DEEP hole, and 2 feet of river rock on the bottom….

We now set a 5 foot tall drywell on the bottom, and stacked another one on top of it. Then, we stacked a 3 foot tall regular manhole (no “drywell” holes in the side) that looked like this, on top of the drywells.

Then, to top it all off, we set a “Cone Section” on top, and this is what makes the manholes go down in size so that you can set a regular manhole COVER on top, to protect the hole, itself, from sticks, leaves, etc falling in.

If you looked at this when we installed it, it looked like a Titan Rocket! Basically, it’s pretty simple; (2) drywells, stacked, on top of that; a manhole barrel, 4 feet, then a “cone” & a manhole cover. Basically, a long, 4 foot round tube made of concrete, with a concrete manhole cover on top, 16 feet tall.

After the drywell was completed, we laid in river rock all the way around the OUTSIDE of the drywell, to within 3 or 4 feet of the surface. Altogether I used 4 truckloads of river rock. Cost around $650 or so for the rock, delivered, if I remember right.

Installing Drywell

So; here’s how it works:

Water is coming out of the clay/soil in the hole we dug, naturally. Initially, it hits the river rock, and has to penetrate it, finding it’s way deeper into the bottom of the drywell. As it penetrates the river rock, the rock cleans out sediment, etc, and eventually turns into a really nice filter, and also becomes a large storage area for a LOT of water. The drywell itself is nothing more than a large reservoir for water. A 4 foot diameter drywell holds 94 Gallons per foot of depth, so the upper drywell has about 11 feet of water in it, making 1100 gallons of water, NOT INCLUDING all of the water stored in the rock, which I estimate to be about 3 times as much water as is in the drywell itself. So, the upper drywell has around 4,000 gallons of water in it.

How a Drywell Works

That was the 16 footer…..

About 25-30 feet below this, I had another spring.

So, we installed another drywell, did the same thing as above, excepting that we installed the manhole 11 foot deep, total, instead of 16, like the one above it. We then ran a trench, underground, between the upper drywell & the lower one, and filled it with river rock, as a passage for water to come down from the upper drywell to the lower, when the upper got to having more than 11 feet of water depth (or so) in it.

Lower 11 Foot Drywell

So now, we have (2) drywells, a big one, above, overflowing into a smaller one, below. We pick up water from both springs.

Upper Drywell View 1
Upper Drywell View 2

Looking Down on Spring


At the bottom drywell, I drilled a hole (2 inch) and flanged it up into a 3 inch pipe, and ran this downhill about 40 feet, to my holding tank. This hole was made about 4 feet from the bottom, and the idea is that when that drywell gets to having anything over 4 feet or so of water in it, it overflows out of the pipe into my cistern below it.

Upper to Lower Drywell Trench

(Now, a word from our sponsors on “Holding Tanks”)

When you get a water tank, for underground use, you can either get one that is “For Potable Water” or one that is “For Septic”. The same size tank (1,000 gallons) has a cost differential of about $900.00. A “potable Water” tank costs $1500 or so; a “Septic Tank” costs $525.00. Both are new, poured from the same concrete. The only difference is the holes, and you can make your own with a core drill rented for $20.00 a day.

Me, I went with the Septic Tank…..drilled a couple of holes, for less than $600 Bucks I have a $1500.00 tank. But; hey, it’s your choice…..

Now, we have (2) drywells, both of them producing water through a pipe, going into a 1,000 gallon cistern/holding tank.

1,000 Gallon Cistern

OK, so we got water coming into this tank.

The 1,000 gallon tank filled to the top in about a week, which is perfectly fine.

Why? Seems slow, huh?

We are DEVELOPING a spring. You don’t “turn it on”, you have to let Mother Nature develop it FOR you. What happens is that over time, the fissures in the rock & ground around those drywells will figure out what the easiest way is for water to go DOWNHILL, and that has changed from where it WAS before to where these drywells are, now.

Over the next few years, the water in the earth will absolutely make new routes into the drywells, and production will increase. Over this summer, (a dry one), water never stopped coming out of those drywells…’s winter now, late December, and water still flows from the spring, albeit slower, it just drips. But a drip….24 hours a day… a LOT of water. My family uses between 200 & 250 gallons a day, all inclusive. ¼ gallon a minute equals 15 gallons per hour. 15 Gallons per hour X 24 hours in a day =360 gallons per day.

A pint a minute will generally take care of a family, if need be. That’s 180 gallons per day, and trust me, it’s a drip, not much more.

December 31st - Water Flowing

OK, so what happens when the tank gets full, you say?

It overflows out of a pipe, into the ditch below the tank. That’s how I know how much water it is producing. When you drive by the spring, you see a pipe coming out of the side of the mountain. It is either running or dripping, depending on time of year, etc.

Cistern & Plumbing

On the opposite end of the tank from where the water comes in from the springs, I installed another set of manholes; for a pump house. They are as deep as the bottom of the tank, and have (2) 1 inch pipes that I installed to hook a pump to, for solar water pumping from the cistern uphill to our 3,000 gallon tank, to give pressurization. I bought steps for the inside of the pump house that you pound into precast holes so you can climb down into it.

Cistern & Pumphouse Layout

I also am going to use one of the 1 inch pipes to go to a frost free spigot, so you can get water regardless if you have power to run the pump, or not.


Where this is at, at my home, what you see is a total of (4) manhole covers, coming out of the ground. The top one is the upper drywell, the next one down is the secondary, the third one is the cistern/holding tank, and the final one is the pump house.

The bottom line is that in North Idaho, you can develop a spring, spending well less than a couple of thousand dollars, and have water that is clear, fresh, and plentiful. It takes a little time, and effort, and is worth it, completely. There’s nothing like knowing that you have water, no matter what, and it’s not dependant on any well pump running. I figure I have around 7,000 gallons of water held in spring reservoirs, not including the 3,000 gallon tank above the house. We have had it tested, and it is pristine.

I am going to write another article about developing a spring using another method that I have seen, where you don’t dig a hole, you dig a trench, and it works great, as well. Just another simple alternative to a traditional well.

Also, I’ll be writing another one on solar water pumping, which is what we’re doing with the water from this spring, to our 3,000 gallon tank, providing pressurized gravity fed water to our house. Coming soon…


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