Officials remind well users to save water They're not bound by drought restrictions, but conservation efforts matter

Bob Faulkner might be the only person not complaining about the drought.

Faulkner, owner of Faulkner's Well Drilling in Smyrna, has seen a spike in business from rural residents whose wells have dried up. He's also getting calls from city water customers who want new wells for irrigation so they don't have to follow ever-tightening water restrictions.

"I've got a pretty good backlog of people with new houses who want wells for irrigation because they're tired of watching their lawns burn up," Faulkner said Friday. "I've got machines out in Fort Mill, York, everywhere from Blacksburg to Gaffney."

While the drought's impact on lake levels and public water supplies has sparked new rules from utility authorities limiting lawn watering to once a week or not at all in some places, residents using private wells have been allowed to operate freely. But local officials are reminding well users to be cautious because the lack of rain can affect them, too.

During the 2002 drought, Faulkner drilled dozens of irrigation wells for farmers who needed the water for livestock after ponds and creeks dried up. But this year, Faulkner said he's been contacted by multiple property owners who want to drill irrigation wells in their subdivisions so they can water more frequently than county rules allow for public water.

Jim Hess, well program manager for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said residents in York County have applied for 29 new irrigation wells this year. Statewide, permits for 5,516 wells have been issued so far this year; almost half of those are for irrigation.

"Sooner or later, people figure it out," Hess said. "With the flexibility and lack of regulation, people realize they can drill a well and keep their yards green."

In addition to irrigation wells, Faulkner said he has a handful of customers whose wells -- relied upon for drinking, bathing and cooking -- have dried up as the water table drops. In some cases, he can adjust the pump to find more water. In others, he has to drill a new well.

The idea of regulating how much water individuals can draw from their wells on a daily basis was mentioned at a recent drought advisory meeting in Rock Hill. But DHEC, the agency that permits wells, said that's not likely.

"No way," Hess said. "We've only heard of a limited number of wells going dry."

The well water concern was mentioned at the last York County Council meeting when Councilman Tom Smith of Lake Wylie suggested people on wells employ conservation.

"People need to be aware that just because you live on a well doesn't mean you're not pulling water from the aquifer, especially if you live near the lake," Smith told The Herald on Friday. "As far as regulating wells, we'll leave that up to DHEC. ... I just want people on wells to be as conscious about the water shortage as everyone else."

Smith, a developer in the Clover and Lake Wylie areas, said several of his developments use well water for irrigation but follow the county's water restrictions to help conserve.

Hess said about 18 percent of the state's residents operate wells, and he doesn't believe legally limiting use would be practical or productive. Instead, he said well users should be aware they can play a part in water conservation. The excess use of wells could lead to a slight impact on the already taxed water table, he said. Following the same conservation measures as city water customers is a good way to conserve and prevent wells from running dry, he said.

"I don't know if people on wells necessarily need to be concerned (about running out of water)," Hess said. "But they should at least be aware of what's happening around them."