Before we had plumbing or refrigerated shelves stocked with plastic bottles, we had wells to provide safe drinking water to millions of people at home and around the globe. Though despite our thousands of years of practice, drilling water wells remains a difficult, albeit necessary, task. Unsafe conditions and obsolete equipment can have disastrous results, and without the knowledge of where to drill, these struggles can be in vain.

Digging a reliable well was once a job for an entire village. Just reaching shallow aquifers took days of labour that could be deterred by rock or other unforeseen obstacles. Trade specialization and the advancement of technology lessened the hardships of drilling water wells over generations. Just as our villages evolved into towns and cities, our hand shovels evolved into mechanical drills. The first machine to make drilling water wells faster and easier was the cable tool. Still used in more sophisticated forms, the cable tool digs into the earth by repeatedly raising and dropping the drill bit which turns slightly with each movement. As loose dirt collects in the hole, the cable tool must be stopped so the hole can be emptied. It is a slow process, but still faster and safer than any handheld shovel. Drilling water wells in our society underwent another leap forward with the introduction of the rotary drill. Rather than making small, choppy motions, the rotary drill allows for a powerful and continuous push into the earth. Furthermore, the design of a rotary drill pushes loose dirt upward, eliminating the need for frequent cessations of drilling.

These technological advancements have made drilling water wells safer and more efficient. Much like the rotary drill itself, the relationship between societal and technological progress is cyclical. However, they are also like the rotary drill in their reliance on direction—a misguided effort is fruitless and even potentially damaging. Like a yacht perched on a sand dune in the Gobi Desert, our most advanced and powerful drills are useless if we cannot find water.

Groundwater surveying is the compass that allows us to point our equipment in the right direction. Without it we are drilling in the dark, wishing that water will find its way to us. Though relatively new in the context of our long history of drilling water wells, groundwater surveying has also undergone its own technological advancements. The current height of this technology is seismoelectric surveying, which reads electrical impulses generated by seismic activity to determine the composition and layout of a survey site. We are no longer limited to the guesswork that for so long was inherent to the process of well construction. Like the rotary drill, it saves everyone involved time and money, and reduces the risks involved.

The practice of drilling water wells is sure to remain a fundamental task in the development of infrastructure, just as it has always been. The more we do it, the more our understanding and technology advances. If you are drilling, make sure you have all the information available if you want the best result. For accurate and efficient groundwater surveying, contact American Water Surveyors at, 1-877-734-7661 or