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Michigan seeks to improve its data on drinking water wells

A man wearing a yellow hard hat and a woman in a red hard hat stand outdoors talking near a water well drill
Courtesy photo
The Triage Project
Triage Project employees Garrett Ringle (left) and Sophia White (right) at a well site in Ottawa County.

Knowing where to find the wells is critical for managing possible contamination.

The state is updating its database of well water sites with help from the Michigan Geological Survey. The team, which calls itself the Triage Project, has catalogued 800,000 wells across Michigan since 2019. It hopes to have at least 1.2 million in the database by 2025.

Michigan maintains records of almost every well site as far back as 1880. But a few years ago, the state discovered that as many as 40% of the wells were listed in the wrong location. Now it’s using aerial images and historical records to correct its files.

Evie Murgia is a project manager at the Geological Survey, based at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. She says that accurate information is critical when tracking contamination from PFAS or other chemicals. But it can also benefit anyone who relies on a well for drinking water.   

“You can look at your geology, you can look at the static water level, you can see how old your pump is,” she said. “So you can have all this information and say, 'Okay, I might need to replace my well in another five years.'”

The database will also include information about the geology and water levels of the sites. John Yellich, director of the Geological Survey, said that Michigan’s glacial history makes its groundwater situation more complex.

“I can drill a hole here right where we’re at and go across the street over there and the geology can be completely different,” said Yellich. “You may not have the same aquifer there or anything or at the same depth. That’s why we want to have as much data in the database as possible, to show where it’s consistent and where it changes.”

Yellich says monitoring the quantity and quality of groundwater is especially important as Michigan’s population continues to grow. The Triage Project received $2.9 million from the state to update the database.