Capping Open Unused Wells

capping wellClosing open, unused irrigation wells ("open holes") and deteriorated wells ("cave-ins") protects the Ogallala Aquifer from pollution and prevents tragic loss of human and/or animal life.  High Plains Water District rules prohibit open, uncovered wells and deteriorating wells to exist within the district's boundaries.  When located, High Plains Water District staff work with landowners/operators to make sure these dangerous wells are properly closed/covered. 

Uncapped well openings provide a direct conduit for contaminants to enter the ground water stored in the Ogallala Formation. Rainfall runoff can carry pollutants into open wells, especially if the casing and pump base have been removed. Open holes also provide tempting disposal sites for paints, motor oil, and other unwanted substances. Once ground water in an aquifer is contaminated, it becomes extremely difficult and very expensive to return it to a state suitable for human and/or livestock use.

During the 1980s, there were three separate incidents involving a child falling into an open, abandoned well in the West Texas area. Luckily, all three were rescued unharmed.

Investigation of open holes usually results from telephone calls from the public, permit validations, and field observations in the process of conducting other Water District business.

High Plains Water District rules require the owner of a well to either close or cap said well according to HPWD policy and procedures. Allowing an open well or cave-in to exist is also a violation of state law.

District field technicians carry two sizes of well plugs in their pickups. If an open, abandoned water well is located, the field technician will close the well, note its location, and contact the landowner/operator. The landowner/operator has the option to pay $75 for the well plug installed by the water district OR remove the plug and cap the well themselves.  In both instances, district field personnel will return to the site to make sure the well is properly closed.

From time to time, the district's General Manager may select a specific county for a "drive out." District personnel drive along each road and turnrow to visually inspect each well site as shown on a topographic map of that county. These wells are examined to see if a pump has been installed, if the pump has been removed, if the pump is removed and the well is open, or if it has been properly capped. Also, wells are examined for cave-ins that could allow runoff water to enter the well.

Additional information about this program is available by contacting Water Well Permit and Field Support Group Supervisor Juan Pena at (806) 762-0181 or by e-mail at

Click here to read or download TDLR's Landowners' Guide To Plugging Abandoned Water Wells