Dry was good, wet not so much for Iowa drilling companies

Drilling companies still find some dry land

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Despite what seems like daily rain for the past three months, the effects of 2012’s drought linger on in Eastern Iowa, according to Rick Freese.

“Last year was probably one of the worst I’ve seen,” said Freese, who runs his own well-drilling business in Palo. “Last year there were a lot of dry wells.”

He means “worst” in a good way for business.

“We probably replaced 35 wells last year between Cedar Rapids and Coralville. I’ve been doing this for 45 years and I can’t recall that many (in a year). In ’89 it was dry, but we probably only did 10 (wells).”

Ken Greiner of Greiner Well Service and Drilling in Center Point recalled he answered about 15 percent more calls in 2012 regarding burned out well pumps because the wells ran dry.

That has changed this spring, of course, with all the rain that has fallen in Eastern Iowa, Freese said,

“I can’t say we are getting calls about dry wells anymore,” he said.

“It improved our business by about 40 percent last year. We did have to drill deeper in a lot of cases.

“Some wells of 245 feet went to 305 feet ... some to 380 feet. In some cases, 100 feet deeper than the original well.”

The process remains the same

“Not a great increase in business (in 2012). Maybe up 10 to 15 percent,” Greiner estimated.

Greiner, with 50 years in the business, said 2012’s dry conditions did not greatly affect how he drills water wells, however.

“When drilling a well, I shoot for 30 gallons a minute pumping capacity” while others often aim for a 5- to 10-gallon capacity per minute, he said.

Greiner explained that he drills deeper for more pumping capacity to ensure a good well.

“Most of the time you’re only going to pump 10 gallons a minute and you’ve got 30 gallons a minute capacity, so you’re safe,” he explained. “I don’t ever want to have to go back over a well that I drilled.”

On average, Greiner estimated that his wells run 250 to 300 feet.

Soggy ground

Freese uses modern rotary drill rigs and what he called a air-and-mud combo to fashion wells.

“It’s like a jackhammer, but it goes underground and rotates,” Freese explained.

Freese and Greiner work on farms, commercial and residential properties for wells drilling and/or maintenance, and installing and servicing septic tanks.

For cleaning wells, Greiner said he runs a pipe to the bottom of the well and uses a big air compressor to pump out the residue.

“Experience is the best training” for his kind of business, he added.

One of the bigger headaches this spring’s wet condition has caused, Greiner noted, is that it’s harder to get his drilling rigs and equipment in and out of job sites without getting them stuck in the soggy ground.

Despite all that water Mother Nature has poured upon us this year, Freese said soil moisture still has not been replenished to where it should be. Some areas are dry three feet down, especially for clay soils, which offer more resistance to water permeating the soil, Freese said.

In about 70 percent of Eastern Iowa the ground is still soaking water up, but the moisture hasn’t gotten back down to where it needs to be, Freese said.

“I was digging a septic tank (recently) and hit dry, hard clay. Water is not going to get through that,” Greiner said.

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