Wells on your property
Information and rules for residential well owners for the proper location, construction, maintenance and abandonment of a well.
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This article is for information purposes. It does not provide any legal advice.
The law and your well
If you have a well on your property, you are responsible for it.
You must follow specific rules for maintaining and, if necessary, abandoning a well to help protect the safety of your water and the groundwater resource.
If you are considering constructing a new well on your property, or you need to upgrade your well, there are rules that a person constructing the well must follow to help protect your water.
Types of activities
The law sets out minimum rules for:
- licensing individuals and companies who construct a well
- choosing a location for a new well (i.e., siting)
- constructing a well
- maintaining a well
- abandoning a well (plugging and sealing it)
- reporting well activities (e.g., completing and submitting well records)
Types of wells
The law covers all wells, including:
- private, residential and domestic wells
- agricultural, commercial, and industrial wells
- municipal, communal and public wells
- test holes and dewatering wells
You can find the most up-to-date version of the legislation and regulation about well licensing, construction, maintenance, abandonment, reporting and documentation at:
Hire a licensed well contractor
If you don’t have the expertise to build or maintain a well, you should hire an expert to do it for you to make sure you meet all applicable legal requirements.
There are many potential serious dangers when working on wells such as falling into a well, exposure to explosive gases and the risk of electrocution. Improper construction is also a well water contamination risk. For these reasons, when you are building, repairing, modifying or abandoning a well, you should hire a licensed well contractor.
Find a contractor
Well contractors must:
- be licensed
- use licensed well technicians who have the proper class of licence for the work to be done
Licensed contractors are required to use licensed well technicians who have the proper class of licence to conduct or supervise any work being done on your well. Ask to see the licences of your well contractor and well technician (e.g. driller, digger or pump installer) before they begin work on your well.
Well Owner Information Package
If you are having a well constructed or repaired – or when a pump is installed in an existing well – the person you hire to do the work is required to give you a well owner information package to assist with properly maintaining and abandoning your well.
The package summarizes important information about wells found on this page.
Wells Help Desk
The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks operates a public Wells Help Desk to help ensure that information is available to the public. The Wells Helps Desk also receives and forwards well complaints to the appropriate ministry office, answers general questions on wells, assists well owners to locate their well record and assists the well industry sector in obtaining licences, well record forms and well tags.
Wells Help Desk
Environmental Monitoring and Reporting Branch
Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
125 Resources Road
Toronto ON M9P 3V6
Siting a new well
When choosing a location for a new well, the person constructing the well must ensure it is:
- a minimum distance from any nearby sewage systems and other existing sources of contaminants
- at a higher elevation than the immediate surrounding area
- visual examination
A new well should be kept a minimum separation distance away from all property lines because you can’t control what happens on adjacent properties. The appropriate minimum setback distance will be dependent on the type of well (e.g. deep drilled or shallow dug) and geologic (e.g., soils and bedrock) conditions encountered. Remember this is a minimum – the safe distance for your well may be much greater.
A professional geoscientist or professional engineer should be hired to locate the well when the geology poses difficulties or contamination exist on the property (e.g., set in highly fractured bedrock with thin soil).
These rules for siting do not apply if the well is:
- a test hole as defined by the Wells Regulation
- a dewatering well as defined by the Wells Regulation
- another exempted well, such as a pond, as outlined in the Wells Regulation
Constructing a new well
When making a new well the person constructing the well must follow specific rules for:
- keeping field notes and, where applicable, a log of the overburden and bedrock, during the construction of a well
- ensuring a minimum depth of the well
- ensuring minimum casing and well screen
- sealing the casing into the ground
- placing control devices on flowing wells
When completing a new well, the person constructing the well must follow specific rules for:
- cleaning and developing the well after constructing the hole
- disinfecting the well
- covering or capping the well
- ensuring proper surface drainage to prevent ponding near the well
- properly installing clean equipment in the well
- testing the yield of the well
When reporting a new well, the person constructing the well must follow specific rules for:
- notifying the well owner of natural gas and mineralized water when encountered
- reporting natural gas to the ministry when encountered
- tagging the well
- completing and submitting a well record for the well
- providing the well purchaser with an information package on wells
If your well needs to be upgraded or repaired, the person constructing the well may have to meet some of these construction rules.
If a well overflows while under construction, the person constructing the well must ensure the flowing well is built so that a device can be installed in or on the well for:
- controlling the discharge of water
- stopping the discharge of water
- withstanding the freezing of water
Contracts between well purchasers and well contractors make the contractor responsible for any additional costs of complying with the requirements for controlling or abandoning a flowing well, unless a written contract specifically releases the contractor from these costs.
Maintaining and repairing a well
A poorly maintained or constructed well can result in a bacterial or chemical contamination of the well water, the groundwater or the natural environment.
As a well owner, you are required to protect your well water — and the groundwater — from contamination. This includes preventing surface water (e.g., rainfall runoff) or other foreign materials from entering the well.
The following tips will help you protect your well:
- Test the quality of your well water on a regular basis and look for changes in the water’s appearance (e.g., colour, taste, odour)
- Keep surface water and foreign materials (e.g., insects and mice) from entering the well by securing the well cap in place and checking your well regularly for signs of rust and wear, cracks, holes or gaps in the well’s structure
- If materials get in your well, safely remove them
- Keep ponded water, vehicles, pet waste, salt and fertilizer away from the well
- Make sure the ground around your well slopes away from your well
- Ensure the well is accessible for future repairs and maintain the minimum above ground height (typically 40 cm above the surface)
- Check for and identify abnormal sounds. They could indicate wear on the well’s pump, waterlines or electrical cables or other issues
- Check the pump’s efficiency. If the pump is continually running or losing pressure, it may be a sign of a crack or hole in the waterlines
- Ensure your septic tank system works and is pumped out regularly to prevent contamination of your well water
For information on testing the quality of your well water, visit:
- Public Health Ontario (search “water testing”) to request a drinking water sample collection kit for free bacterial testing
- List of licensed laboratories to find a laboratory for chemical testing (note: laboratories charge a fee for this service)
Inspecting your well can be dangerous work. If you are not familiar with wells, hire an experienced and licensed contractor.
When to abandon a well
As a well owner, you must plug and seal a well that is not being:
- used as a well
- maintained for future use as a well
A well purchaser must immediately abandon a new well if it is dry, unless you, as a residential land owner, agree in writing to maintain the well for future use as a well.
If construction is discontinued before your new well is completed, the person constructing the well must immediately abandon the new well.
Unless you have received written consent from the Wells Program Director, you must properly abandon (plug and seal) your well if it:
- produces mineralized water
- produces water that is not potable and you do not contact the local medical officer of health or you did not follow the advice of the local medical officer of health
- contains natural gas or other gas and you do not take steps to manage the gas to prevent a hazard
- permits any movement of natural gas, contaminants or other materials that may impair the groundwater and you do not take steps to correct the problem
- isn’t constructed or sited using the materials or methods required by the law and you have not taken steps to correct the problem or the steps you have taken failed.
Exemptions from the requirements to have received written consent from the Director to not abandon your well include:
- test holes and dewatering wells that produce water that is either mineralized or not potable
- wells used for agriculture but not for human drinking water.
How to abandon a well
To properly abandon an existing well, the well owner must ensure the person who does the work follows the 9 steps outlined in section 21.1 of the Wells Regulation.
An unused or improperly abandoned well that hasn’t been properly filled and sealed may:
- pose health and safety problems for animals and people, especially children
- contaminate the groundwater
- impact the water quality in your neighbour’s well
Because of the dangers that may be encountered, it is strongly recommended an individual land owner hire a licensed well contractor to plug and seal the well.
You must complete and send a well record to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. Have your licensed well contractor assist you in completing and submitting the well record form.
Learn more: complete and submit a well record