Help available for decommissioning inactive water wells

Help available for decommissioning inactive water wells

June 13, 2006:

More producers than ever are asking about the best ways to plug inactive water wells, says a water specialist on the front lines of the agricultural industry.

The process is called decommissioning, and it’s the official term that means the job has been done to meet proper standards. A how-to article on the subject, "Plug unused water wells properly," and links to funding support are available at the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) Company Web site at

"Some people think of decommissioning a well as little more than plugging a hole," says Ken Williamson, a water specialist with Alberta Agriculture, Food and Rural Development (AAFRD), one of a broad range of specialists who act as the technical knowledge base for the EFP program.

"But there’s a lot more to it than that, and producers want to know how to properly decommission a well in order to prevent contamination of water bodies. That intent comes from a general increase in awareness of water management and a genuine desire to act responsibly, but one of the most dramatic reasons is that it costs a lot less and is a lot less hassle than fixing the problems inactive water wells can create."

The process of properly decommissioning a water well follows a basic procedure, says Williamson. The first step is deciding who will do it. "Decommissioning a well is something that needs to be done properly, and there are a number of technical considerations that may be best left to the experts. For those reasons, we generally recommend hiring a licensed water well driller."

Another important step is deciding on the best sealing material. Although grout, concrete and uncontaminated clay are all acceptable materials, Williamson says high-yield bentonite is considered by many to be the best option.

After disinfecting the well, the next step, if practical, is to remove the well casing. The well can then be filled with the sealing material.

The final steps include cutting off any remaining well casing half a metre below the ground surface, backfilling the hole and recording the details of the project. "Filing these records with the Alberta Environment Groundwater Information Centre in Edmonton is a courtesy to the next owner of the property," says Williamson.

Developing an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is the starting point for addressing groundwater protection and many other on-farm environmental concerns, says Williamson. An EFP is a free, voluntary self-assessment process that helps producers address the environmental risks and strengths on their farms.

Producers that properly complete EFPs are eligible for up to $30,000 per farm for a broad range of environmental farm improvements through the Canada-Alberta Farm Stewardship Program (CAFSP).

AEFP was established in 2002 as an industry-run, non-profit corporation that delivers EFP services to Alberta farmers. Through the Agricultural Policy Framework, the Government of Canada provides major funding to EFP program in Alberta, with the Government of Alberta providing additional in-kind support services to help the agricultural sector develop and implement EFPs.

Additional support has been provided by the Agriculture and Food Council, through the Agricultural Environmental Stewardship Initiative, the Alberta Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture Council and various ministries of the Government of Alberta. Contributions have also come from more than 100 local municipalities, businesses and agricultural organizations.

More information on the decommissioning of inactive water wells is available in a new article in the AEFP Journal, AEFP’s new Web magazine anchored at


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