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Well Waters in Kansas

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Chapter V—On Prospecting for Shallow Water

In order to prospect in a satisfactory manner for shallow water, that is, water which lies on top of rock masses such as river flood plains, glaciated areas, hillsides, valleys, and the Tertiary area of the West, one need not make a very expensive or difficult job of it provided the water does not lie at a depth greater than 40 or 50 feet. The most satisfactory method is to use an ordinary auger and simply bore down into the ground and find out whether water exists where it is wanted. For this purpose one can usually obtain a suitable augur from his plumber, who uses it for boring horizontal holes through short distances of earth in order to save digging.

If one can not obtain a suitable augur in this way one should go to a hardware store and buy an ordinary carpenter's two-inch auger. He should take this to a blacksmith shop and have a proper piece of iron welded on the shank of the auger, large enough so that when the new end is threaded it will fit into the coupling for a half-inch gas pipe. He then should go to his plumber and obtain a number of half-inch gas pipes threaded at each end with one coupler for each joint. These joints may be any length, varying from 5 to 10 feet. Some prospectors prefer to have the first joint 12 or 15 feet long in order to save time in making connections. He should then obtain a good pipe wrench suitable for handling the half-inch pipe. He is now prepared to begin work. Go to the place where it is hoped to find water and simply begin boring down into the ground by using the pipe wrench for a ratchet wrench. In starting the augur one should place it vertically and push it down into the soft soil as far as his weight will push it, and while holding the gas pipe in a vertical position with his left hand, he should use the tongs as a ratchet wrench with his right hand. When the auger has buried itself in the ground it should be pulled out, which can be done by using the wrench for a handhold. It will be strong enough for him to pull upon it all he can. Persons with experience in this mode of boring need no instructions, and it will surprise the beginner to learn how rapidly he can bore into the ground.

When the auger meets with plastic clay it will be hard to lift out of the hole, because it forms a more or less air-tight fitting for the hole and, consequently, the person is lifting against the pressure of the atmosphere as much as the pipe itself. At sea level the pressure of the atmosphere is practically 15 pounds per square inch. The area of a hole is approximately 3 square inches, so that one would have to lift about 50 pounds plus the weight of the augur and load, plus the friction. I have known special augers being made with an air chamber reaching down to the point so as to avoid such atmospheric pressure. Such an auger would be hard to obtain, however, and the prospector will have to content himself without it. If the lifting becomes too hard, two men, each with a gas pipe wrench, may work on the same auger. For this purpose they should stand opposite each other and each may hold the gas pipe while turning the pipe with the tongs as ratchet wrenches. With a little practice they can work in perfect unison and under ordinary circumstances the progress will be quite rapid. I have known two ordinary unskilled men to bore holes in this way at the rate of 20 feet per hour, although an average of 10 feet per hour should be satisfactory in ground that is principally clay. Of course, as the depth increases a larger proportion of time is occupied in withdrawing the auger and again in replacing it. For this reason some men prefer the joints of pipe to be much longer than other men prefer them. In general I would recommend about 10 feet per joint.

Suppose now you live along a river valley which you wish to prospect, or on a hillside where the debris or "slip" has accumulated to quite a depth, or in the glaciated area of northeast Kansas, or in the plains area of western Kansas. Unless you know something of the conditions, the best thing for you to do is to buy an auger and prospect your land. There is no excuse worth giving for any landowner not being thoroughly posted on the water conditions of his own land. This boring is so cheaply and easily done that one might prospect 160 acres thoroughly, making 20 or 30 prospect holes if necessary, and scarcely miss the time required. Should one be searching for a relatively large supply of water in this way he can make an estimate of the amount available by measuring the thickness of the water-bearing horizon.

Should the water exist in sand or gravel the augur will scarcely lift out the material after the water table has been reached. The prospector should then provide himself with a "sand bucket," which can be made at the tin shop by making a long slender tube small enough to pass up and down in the auger hole, with a ball valve fixed at the bottom and a short rod of wood or metal fastened on the under side of it and sticking below 2 or 3 inches. When the bucket is let down into the well this rod will open the valve and let the water and sand rush in and fill the bucket. Upon lifting the bucket out with an attached rope the weight of the water closes the valve so that it will carry to the top the mud and sand which entered it. At this stage also one should provide himself with some form of a drill. It may be a two-inch chisel bought from the hardware store, or an ordinary iron rod hammered out chisel shaped. This can be screwed into the same gas-pipe used with the augur and can be worked by hand without the gas pipe tongs. After the sand bucket has brought out all the sand and mud available this improvised drill should be let down in the well and churned up and down until a mass of loose material is produced which may be lifted out with the sand bucket. In this way the entire thickness of the water-bearing horizon may be passed through and measured, and also the character of the water-bearing material may be determined in a satisfactory manner.

Should the area to be prospected be where it is practically certain the depth of water is more than 40 or 50 feet it becomes more serious. Hand drilling is not so easy. A little ingenuity, however, in many cases will help greatly. For example, the mere labor of twisting the auger in the ground is no greater with depth than at the surface. An improvised derrick may be arranged by fastening together two or three scantling of sufficient length. In the apex of this derrick a sheave wheel may be placed, from which a rope is passed with one end fastened to the gas pipe drill shaft and the other end attached to a windlass so that windlass power may be used in lifting out and letting in the drill shaft. Also, the two-inch auger bit may be changed for a larger one if so desired and the hole made may be used for a permanent well. Many other variations may be brought in should the prospector desire, all of which are more or less dependent upon one's opportunity for obtaining supplies and one's anticipation of depth of water and one's desire or otherwise for retaining the hole for a permanent well. In the latter case, of course, the well must be cased properly after the water is found and cared for in a proper way to preserve it and render it useful. Should the depth of water be known to be more than 50 feet or 75 feet at the outside, quite likely it would be best to employ a man with a regular drilling outfit and let him drill the well by contract. A large part of the state may be prospected for water as above explained by the landowner and a hired man for a mere trifle of cost. It is recommended, even, that before purchasing a farm the prospective purchaser may just as well insist upon proper water conditions as upon richness of soil or choice of location.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web June 9, 2017; originally published 1913.
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