A Tale of Three Wells

Living here above the shores of Lake Superior is truly wonderful. I get to look at the lake every day and live like the natural hermit I am (most of the time anyway), yet the wonderful town of Grand Marais is only a few minutes away by car (or 20 minutes by bike, or an hour walking if it comes to that), providing a convenient place to shop for necessities and get an occasional jolt from contact with other humans. Not to mention being close to a couple of nice golf courses, without which the place would be simply uninhabitable.

However, there is one interesting challenge associated with living outside of an actual city. Out here, one can’t just connect up to a city water system — one has to have a well to obtain water. Hermit though I may be, I can not live without running water.

Way back when we were planning to build our cabin, my father had a plan. We would build a long cable down to the shore, supported by pulleys, to which we could attach buckets. We would go down to the lake every day and fill said buckets with water, then crank them up to the cabin and store said water in a cistern. We would have an outhouse for our daily “excretionary” needs. I promptly vetoed that plan. He was a real hermit. I am only a fake hermit.

But, I digress.

At any rate, we had the local well driller out to drill a well for us. He used a divining rod to locate a likely spot, then set about drilling. Lo and behold, after only a few hours, he struck into a great source of water only 45 feet below the surface, in a sort of gravelly soil. That well has served us faithfully and faultlessly for thirty years now, with good, clean water.

Not long after our well was drilled, our neighbor, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, engaged the same driller for a well on her property. This time not bothering with a divining rod, he selected a site only about 25 yards away from our well and began drilling. Down and down went the drill, for several days, through gravel and rock and mud and more rock, until finally finding a dribble of water at about 320 feet. Over the next several years, the neighbor tried and tried to get more water to flow, finally resorting to hydraulic fracking. She did get more water, but it was often muddy, so she had to install a complex filtering system.

The neighbor sold her place a couple of years ago to some wonderful folks who shall also remain nameless, except to mention that they are my wife’s sister and her husband. Being on friendly terms, we were happy to accommodate them when they showed up with plastic jugs in hand, asking to collect a supply of our water for drinking and cooking. That has continued to happen whenever they come to stay at their cabin.

They finally grew tired of borrowing water and decided to have a new well put in. Out came the local driller again, now accompanied by his grown sons who are continuing the business into a second generation. Out came the diving rod again, presumably to make up for the previous error of their ways, and a third well locationwas selected, this time only about 15 yards from our successful site.


Hoping to find a good water source near the 45 foot level, they were disappointed when only a dribble of silty stuff appeared. So, they needed to go deeper. And deeper. And deeper. A couple of insufficient or silt-filled water spurts were encountered along the way, until finally they hit a gusher at 440 feet. As of yet, this new well has not been connected up to the cabin, but it certainly appears to be steady and clean. The neighboring property should soon, at long last, have a suitable water supply.

I find this all quite fascinating. In an area that could easily be covered by a large tent, three wells were drilled by the same company. One has great water at 45 feet, one has crummy water at 320 feet, and the most recent required 440 feet to get good water. This surely speaks to the complexity of the geology in our region, as well as the futility of the divining rod.

ADDENDUM: In an interesting twist, it turned out that drilling the new well caused the crummy old well to start flowing very clean water at a very high rate. So, the neighbors didn’t even need to hook up to the new well — it’s mere existence solved their water problem. Apparently the new well passed through or created an underground channel communicating with the old one. So the new well was capped and now stands as a silent reminder that drilling for water along the North Shore of Lake Superior is a mysterious art.

4 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Wells

  1. And who know what will happen when the proposed other cabin gets built near these two and another new well is drilled!!!


  2. I too have had three wells drilled on my property in the past 25 years. All different depths, all different water flows. You just never know. At least I never got salt water like I’ve heard some people run into!


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