“Water is Life!” is our motto here at SERCAP, and we serve our communities by helping bring clean water to those without it. For many communities, access to clean water begins and ends with a functional well. One of our main initiatives is private well assessment and loans to repair/replace individual household wells.
Wells are one of the oldest systems known to humankind, evidence of them dating all the way back to the Neolithic period: around 8500 BCE. That’s over 8000 years of history! We can’t cover all that ground here, but we can give a brief overview of the wells of yesterday.
To start, let’s go over what a “well” is. A well is a water extraction tool in which a hole is dug, drilled, or otherwise excavated until the groundwater is reached. Using either a pump or a bucket--pulled up either by hand or through a mechanical system--water is extracted from the source.
The need for a consistent and accessible water source started when our previously-nomadic ancestors began settlements. The first wells were dug in what archeologists consider to be farming regions, which makes sense! In order to grow crops, cook, and more generally survive in one place, you need a nearby water source that is better protected and less susceptible to contamination.
Well construction saw incredible advancements during ancient civilization. Based on archeological and textual evidence (opens new window), it’s believed that Ancient Chinese civilizations mechanized well-drilling systems in a way that is similar in principle to the drilling methods of today. And historians believe that the Indus Valley civilization had wells specifically for drinking water, which suggests a sophisticated sanitation or filtering system.
That information was lost over the course of history, like with many technological advancements, so well construction and filtering techniques took a few strides backwards up until the 19th century. Until 1808, most wells were hand-dug. For only 3% of the time we’ve had wells, we’ve been able to mechanically drill them! And in some rural areas, wells are to this day still hand-dug by those who need them.
The first drilled well (opens new window) was, interestingly enough, in Buffalo Lick, West Virginia, right next door to some of the states we service at SERCAP. A little over a decade late, Levi Disbrow (opens new window) moved north of the Potomac River to become the first professional water well driller in 1823.
Making sure the water taken from wells was clean has always been a significant concern. If this well is going to be your main water source for you, your family, your crops, and your farm animals, you want to make sure it’s safe. In 1859, Edwin L. Drake (opens new window) revolutionized well water extraction by becoming the first American to use a pipe to separate water from other materials to stop contamination. He was specifically working on drilling for oil, but this technique helped revolutionized both oil drilling and well-water safety.
Wells have been a part of human civilization since it’s beginning, because Water is Life! That’s why our mission to ensure clean water for everyone is so important. And we will continue to provide well water services to those in need until we finish what was started 8000 years ago: clean water for all civilizations!