Impact of Groundwater Levels on Property Development

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Groundwater is a natural resource that is primarily derived from precipitation such as rain, snow, sleet, and hail.
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Groundwater is a crucial source of water, constituting 98% of the Earth’s usable water. It should not be confused with surface water visible in oceans, lakes, and rivers. The water penetrates the ground, filling the spaces between rocks, soil, gravel, and sand, until it reaches a fully saturated level known as the water table.

Groundwater is generally clean and free of pollution, but it can become contaminated by gasoline, oil, road salts, and chemicals. Leaking storage tanks, corroding or cracking, are among the most common sources of groundwater pollution. Experts estimate that the United States has over 10 million buried storage tanks and over 20,000 hazardous waste sites that are abandoned and uncontrolled.

Landfills, septic systems, fertilizers, pesticides, and road salts are other sources of groundwater contamination. Drinking contaminated water or coming into contact with it can result in serious bacterial diseases, nervous system disorders, cancer, and kidney or liver failure. Wildlife and fish are also adversely affected by contaminated groundwater.

Cleaning up contaminated groundwater is difficult and expensive, costing millions of dollars, as it is deep underground. If you own land and are considering developing your property, it is advisable to test the water quality before beginning any construction. Local health agencies can assist in obtaining a water analysis.

In addition to groundwater quality, groundwater quantity is also a consideration when developing your property. Low and high groundwater levels present their own unique challenges. Read on to learn more about how groundwater levels can impact your development plans and what you can do to mitigate these effects.

How Groundwater Levels Affect Property Development

Groundwater levels determine the type of well to construct on your property if you plan to build a well.

As our society grows and changes, shifts in population and land use can lead to water depletion or flooding. Groundwater levels can also be influenced by the amount of precipitation received.

If you plan to construct a well on your property, groundwater levels will determine the type of well you will build. Wells pump water from an aquifer, an area that stores a lot of groundwater. If groundwater levels are low, you will have to dig a deeper well, which will be more expensive. More energy will be required to drive your well pump since the water must be lifted higher to reach the surface, resulting in additional costs.

When it comes to the quality of your water, deep wells can have a negative impact. Drawing water from deep below the surface can result in the pumping of salt water, which can contaminate groundwater and cause land subsidence. On the other hand, shallow wells can also create issues, as the more acidic water can corrode plumbing and lead to leaks. Even though the Safe Drinking Water Act has banned the extensive use of lead in pipes, it can still be found in small amounts, and those with shallow wells should have their water tested to ensure safety. Using alternative products, such as plastic piping, can also help prevent the dissolving effects of corrosive water. Proper drainage is also important, as groundwater can accumulate and cause dampness or leaks. To monitor groundwater levels, regional agencies can measure levels at well locations, or individuals can measure their own wells using various techniques such as metal tape sounding or pressure transducer sounding. Monitoring over time can provide valuable information and insight for both protecting the quantity of groundwater and for efficient extraction.

Groundwater is a crucial aspect to consider when planning land development because it is essential to life. To ensure a successful development project and the health and comfort of all involved, it is necessary to determine both the quality and quantity of groundwater on the property before beginning the development process.

Additional Information

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  • Al’s Home Improvement Center. “Waterproofing Basements.” (February 3, 2011)
  • Fulton, Allan; Dudley, Toccoy; Staton, Kelly. “Groundwater Level Monitoring: What Is It? How Is It Done? Why Do It?” University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. (February 2, 2011)
  • Groundwater Foundation. “Sources of Contamination.” (February 3, 2011)
  • Groundwater Foundation. “What is Groundwater?” (February 3, 2011)
  • Groundwater Foundation. “Groundwater Basics.” (February 3, 2011)
  • Jaben, Jan. “Environmental audits and expertise have become industry necessities.” National Real Estate Investor. August 1991. (February 2, 2011)
  • Kernen, Brandon. “Federal and State Agencies Investigate Changing Groundwater Levels in New Hampshire Wells.” New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. January 10, 2011 (February 3, 2011)
  • Oregon Water Resources Department. “How to Measure the Water Level in a Well.” June 2009 (February 17, 2011)
  • U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Geological Survey. “Groundwater depletion.” December 14, 2010 (February 3, 2011)
  • U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Geological Survey. “How urbanization affects the hydrologic system.” December 14, 2010 (February 3, 2011)
  • Woodward, Janice; Ross, Blake; Parrott, Kathleen. “Lead in Household Water.” National AG Safety Database. April 2002. (February 2, 2011)


1. What is groundwater level?

Groundwater level refers to the depth at which groundwater is found below the surface of the earth. It can vary depending on factors such as precipitation, temperature, and soil type.

2. Why is groundwater level important for development plans?

Groundwater level can impact development plans by affecting the feasibility of building structures, determining the type of foundation needed, and influencing the design of drainage systems.

3. How does a high groundwater level impact development plans?

A high groundwater level can make it difficult to build structures without proper drainage systems, as water can seep into the foundation and cause damage. It may also limit the types of crops that can be grown in agricultural areas.

4. What are the risks associated with a low groundwater level?

A low groundwater level can lead to water scarcity, which can impact agricultural production and the availability of drinking water. It can also cause soil subsidence, which can damage infrastructure and buildings.

5. How can groundwater level be measured?

Groundwater level can be measured using instruments such as piezometers, which measure the pressure of groundwater, or wells, which allow for direct measurement of groundwater depth.

6. Can groundwater level be managed?

Groundwater level can be managed through measures such as artificial recharge, which involves adding water to the groundwater system, or groundwater extraction, which involves removing water from the system.

7. What are the environmental impacts of groundwater extraction?

Groundwater extraction can lead to environmental impacts such as land subsidence, saltwater intrusion, and changes in ecosystems. It can also impact the availability of water for other uses.

8. How can development plans be adapted to account for groundwater level?

Development plans can be adapted to account for groundwater level by incorporating measures such as proper drainage systems, using appropriate foundations, and selecting crops that are well-suited to the local hydrological conditions.

9. Can groundwater level impact property values?

Groundwater level can impact property values, as areas with high groundwater levels may be at greater risk of flooding or water damage, while areas with low groundwater levels may be at risk of water scarcity.

10. What are the economic impacts of groundwater level on development?

Groundwater level can impact the cost of development by requiring additional measures such as drainage systems or special foundations. It can also impact the viability of agricultural production and the availability of drinking water.

11. How can groundwater level be monitored over time?

Groundwater level can be monitored over time using instruments such as piezometers or wells, and data can be analyzed to identify trends and changes in the groundwater system.

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