“He said for us just to mark where we wanted the well,” Bob relayed.
Having already researched every article I could find on the internet on the Texas Gulf Coast Aquifer system, I felt confident.
“Here,” I said, directing a spot close to our eastern boundary but respectful to the two wells that lay within 20 feet of each other outside our property line.
“If they go deeper than 400 feet, we pay extra.” Bob said the day we watched the start.
The rig in place, powered by the big truck’s diesel engine mechanizing the 6 inch bit, the drilling lasted two days and went to 380 feet. Each time the crew brought the bit up, it deposited whatever it had just been through and all around the well site were mounds of clay and silt that had accumulated. There was some sand.
I was anxious about the well. I wanted this well.
All summer long my plants had suffered. The old well, 60 years old and cased in iron, supplied the house with water so filled with iron particles it smelled like blood. It eked out enough water to flush the toilet.
I dreamed of water gushing from a hose.
I saw them put the casing into the hole and I wondered if I could lock my water supply from Flameit Rusty next door. FR was wont to help himself around our place anytime we weren’t around. I didn’t want him watering his place at my well’s expense.
I knew there were problems the next day.
The crew boss came up to me. “Maybe if we go with a smaller pump, it won’t go dry in two minutes.”
I’m pretty sure my mouth hung open.
“I need to water my plants,” I said, the statement hanging in the air like it was ushered from the mouth of a crazy woman fixated on something that didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
“Some wells just don’t get much,” he answered. He sorta edged away from me.
I might be short and getting shorter everyday, but bulldogs are too.
“I HAVE to water my plants,” I said, moving closer and looking up at him.
I lectured him born from Google searches.
“Ma’am, I don’t really know much about that geology stuff. I just punch holes in the ground.” He sidled away and got in his truck.
The next day saw a frenzy of activity. A huge compressor, pulled there on a trailer, stabilized by hydraulic feet, shook the ground next to the 380 foot hole as it blew highly compressed air down-hole.
As I watched I thought about what was beneath my feet and how it got there.
About 245 million years ago, north America and the continents of Africa and Europe were very close together but on the move. (The plates that make up our planet’s outershell aren’t rigid. Kind of like a baby’s head. Kinda.) North America moved away from Europe and Africa and the great Rocky Mountains lifted out of what was wide plains. The mountains pushed up and sediment flowed down. On the Texas side it made great wedges of clay, over and over, layering the young Gulf Of Mexico northern coast. Things kept happening to the newly formed Gulf Coast. Marine salt and limestone shelves from oceans that came and went were buried. Ever so often everything got folded. Salt domes and Goliad sand deposits trapped gas and oil and some trapped water. Three aquifers, one on top of the other, their origin around Austin, emptied into the Gulf, fed by rain and rivers, each one deeper than the previous.
A week went by. The next thing I knew the drill rig was back out again and about 10 feet south of the first well.
“They are drilling another hole,” Bob said as he and I looked at the rig, silent for the weekend.
I was trying to picture how sand beds 400 feet down might look and why of all places on the farm we picked the one place that didn’t seem to have any water and why 10 feet south of a bad hole is a good idea.
“You know it’s about 40 dollars every time they drill a foot, right?” Silent Bob says.
The next day it was clear. They had abandoned the second hole. SB had a message on his phone for us to pick another spot to drill. Their second attempt was too close to the first one and the drilling had caused the wells to collapse in on each other.
About now, water running out in two minutes was looking like an option that sheer greed has caused me to dismiss.
The problem was it didn’t make any sense. I asked SB again.
“The head guy said it didn’t matter. He said there was water everywhere. We just need to pick another spot.”
“Maybe we should try the waterwitch thing.” This coming from middle son who doesn’t read fiction.
“No really. Let’s try it.” And grabbing a weed that had a forked branch in it, middle son started zigzagging around the pasture, me in tow, smart phone open to search.
“It says we need a willow branch!” I choke out through laughter and efforts of trying to avoid the incontinence of child bearing.
About 60 feet from the caved in disasters the weed end dips and points directly to a nondescript spot on the ground.
“Oh my gosh.” (Not sure which one of said that, probably John since I usually take to cussing when my emotions are elevated.)
We circle around and the weed end goes up and then back down at the same spot. I hold the weed in my hands, loose like. Same thing, same place.
We pound the stake into the ground.
The next day the rig is back out, the marked spot is evident from clay coming up, and I count the lengths of pipe. They have enough to go down 460 feet. I don’t even know how to think about that.
About 6 hours later, the crew boss comes up to me and I notice there is only 1 section of 20 foot pipe left. Smiling broadly, he holds out his hand.
There in his palm is sand that came off of a beach 200 or so million years ago. Its wet in a way that only sand can be that been holding water for as long as its been buried.
“That’s what we’re looking for. And I owe you an apology,” he states. “That first well over there, I stopped short. I never drilled to the sand. On this one, we had to go 420 feet. But this one’s a good one. You can irrigate the seeds in those cow patties out there, if you’ve the mind to do so.”
“Wells that start getting this deep, if we were farther north, we’d have to worry about hitting natural gas,” he says, thinking about holes he’s poked into the ground. Visions of odorless, natural gas seeping out of the ground and covering the pasture like a smothering blanket until someone lights a cigarette are what I’m thinking.
“One of your neighbors is down 600 feet and his isn’t as good as this one,” he finishes.
I watched as water poured from the open end of the pipe at more than 25 gallons a minute.
I knew what we had done. We had tapped the leaky artesian, Angeline Aquifer.
I can’t explain water witching. Probably no need to try really. Life is full of good mysteries that are more worth the while. Like what it means to know you’ve made a mistake an own up to it. Or the preciousness of running, pure water and what it takes to get it and what it took for Earth to give it. Or sons and husbands who stand by you when things are confusing.
I’m thinking about precious things today, the good and worthwhile mysteries of life, solved and unsolved.
They make us wise.