Photograph of an open spring providing water to an old property.Spring Protection: Boxes or Structures for Drinking Water Springs
How to construct or repair a spring box to protect the sanitation of sources of spring water

  • SPRING BOX BUILD, REPAIR - CONTENTS: how to build or repair a spring box to protect drinking water springs. Springhouse construction plans, springhouse repair suggestions, & construction details to protect the water supply from spring houses or spring boxes. Recommendations for sealants used to repair drinking water spring houses or cisterns.
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Spring water protection:

Spring box construction: how to build or repair a spring box or structure to protect spring water sources for drinking water. This article describes methods for building a spring box to protect spring water from animals, surface runoff, or other contaminants. We also describe choices of sealants to repair a leaky spring box.

Our page top photo illustrates a large protective structure that can also house pumps or other spring water source equipment.

This article series describes using springs for drinking water and explains issues with spring water sanitation. We provide advice about what to do when things go wrong with a drinking water spring, and we discuss the differences between a spring and a seep, spring and a dug well, and a spring and other types of water sources. .

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Drinking Water Spring Protection: Spring Box Construction & Repair

Spring box constructed at Los Picones, Santa Rosa de Lima, Guanajuato, Mexico (C) Daniel Friedman

A spring house or "springhouse" is a small building constructed to collect and protect springwater. Spring houses, constructed both to collect spring water as a water supply source and to provide refrigeration using cold springwater, have been in use since prehistoric times and are found worldwide.

Shown at left, a spring box constructed at Los Picones, located in high mountains near Santa Rosa de Lima, Guanajuato, Mexico. As you'll see in an additional photo of this spring house (below), it's difficult to keep spring water protective structures intact when they are located in remote, seldom-visited spots.

[Click to enlarge any image].

The first springhouse observed by the author [DF] in 1948 was at our summer home along the Rappahannock River in Virginia in the U.S. That spring-house, built of concrete blocks around a natural cold water spring, collected surface water to a depth of several feet. A roof protected the spring and an entry door gave ready access both to toss in watermelons kept cool in the spring house, and to install and later repair a small pump that sent spring water to our farmhouse.

While we have inspected spring houses of great variety in construction, location, and use, the most successful spring house designs include at least the features described in this article: methods to collect spring water, methods to protect springwater from contaminants, and often, methods to deliver spring water to its point of use.

Reader Question: Proper Water Spring Box Design: how do I fix up a leaky spring box - walls are cracked & leaking

Photograph of an open spring providing water to an old property.I would like to see if you have any ideas for my spring. I purchased this property last year. While I was deployed to Afghanistan my wife dug out a portion of the spring; approximately 4 feet deep.

She then filled it up with rock. Then she put a 2 inch pipe with numerous holes drilled into it. Ran a pvc pipe to the house with a shut off valve. The spring box is constructed of 4 inch concrete walls. I'm not sure the depth of the walls.

The [surrounding spring] walls area in disrepair. One wall had already cracked which may be caused by the pressure from the ground. Another wall has a leak which has filled an area in front of the spring box full of water creating a little pond. Two weeks ago I dug down about 18 inches to find the leak. I thought I found it and used some hydraulic cement to patch it up. It is still leaking in the same area.

My initial thoughts were to put another concrete wall up just inside the other one. Go down about 4 feet and tie into the other wall with some rebar. Do you have any suggestions that may be more effective? I have a few short videos if that would help. - A.S. 6/15/2013

Reply: A Properly-Built Spring Box is Important for Protecting the Potability of Springwater

Beginning at SPRINGS as WATER SUPPLY we explain the risks of relying on spring water for a sanitary potable water source - unprotected springs are an unreliable source in many parts of the world.

For springs whose water emanates from a sufficiently deep source, contaminants generally enter the water supply from the surface or from groundwater close to the surface.

Even if the original spring water is sanitary and of good quality it needs to be protected from surface-generated bacterial and chemical contaminants and runoff.

As our photograph of the Los Picones spring box (left) illustrates, because drinking water springs and their enclosing spring houses are often located in a remote spot and are often un-attended, the spring water source may become exposed to surface contaminants simply because no one has been keeping an eye on the water source.

Benefits of a good spring water surrounding box

  • Can protect the spring water from entry of surface contaminants such as contaminated runoff, organic debris, even animals
  • In some cases can improve the spring water flow rate or yield
  • Can house a larger reservoir of water accumulated from the spring and meeting surges in water usage
  • Can house a pump and water pick up point for systems delivering springwater to its point of use by mechanical means rather than simply by gravity flow.

Specifications for a proper spring water box or containment structure

A useful reference for proper water-spring box or protective covering design is found at Will Hart's "Protective Structures For Springs: Spring Box Design, Construction and Maintenance", Will Hart M.S. Candidate School of Forest Resources & Environmental Science Master’s International Program Michigan Technological University. [6]

[Click to enlarge any image]

Spring house (C) Daniel Friedman Schematic drawing for a water springhouse - adapted from Bennett 1986 (C)

Our springhouse construction plan at above right is excerpted and adapted from original plans for a "Farm Spring House" drawn by Pam Bennett in 1986, at and posted by Mississippi State University's Agricultural & Forestry Experimental Station & the MSU Extension Service. Those plans include helpful details showing how water enters the springhouse and how the builders used clay, gravel, sand, and stone to provide initial water filtration. An excerpt from that drawing is shown at above right.

Some water spring box features recommended by Mr. Hart include:

  • Spring box water entry provision: our spring was fed by water that bubbled up from below through sandy soil. That spring box consisted of four walls and a roof with an openable door. Its bottom was open to the sandy soil.

    Mr. Hart points out that some springs receive their water flowing horizontally down a hillside: such spring water enters the spring box through a below-ground wall that has suitable perforations and screening; however except where spring water flow rates are enormous, I question whether such sources will be sanitary.
  • Spring box walls: surrounding walls of the spring box do not leak surface contaminants into the spring
Spring box with no cover (C) Daniel Friedman
  • Spring box cover: the spring box needs an operable cover that is closed against animals, rain, leakage, and is secure against entry by a child. On our spring box it was possible to remove an entire roof to permit a person to enter and clean or maintain the spring.

Photo at left: close-up of a spring box with no cover. This drinking water source is not only filled with leaves, it is not protected from surface runoff nor some other possible sources of water contamination.

  • Spring box overflow: an overflow pipe exits at a suitable height through one of the spring box walls and directs water away from the spring box at a location where spillage won't cause erosion around the spring box walls; some spring builders use this water to feed an open container of water for livestock or wildlife.
  • Spring box surface runoff protection: in addition to water-tight walls we need to protect the entire structure from soil erosion around the spring box by redirecting surface runoff away from the structure. Hart suggests an intercept "diversion ditch" or swale roughly 8 meters up-slope from the spring itself.
  • Spring protection from animals: Hart also recommends an animal fence to keep livestock and wild animals from visiting and contaminating the spring. [Hart points out that soil compaction around a spring can also reduce its yield - something I question since sanitary springwater should not be coming from groundwaters close to the ground surface anyway. ]
  • Spring protection from vegetation? Hart discusses the suggestion of removing some of surrounding vegetation, also an effort to increase spring yield, to which I raise the same question as above: springwater source depth. Our spring was surrounded by mint that loved growing in the cool damp soil and shaded area of the spring box. But we agree that trees or other aggressive-root plants should be kept away from the spring box to avoid possible root damage to the structure.

Photograph of an open spring providing water to an old property.Watch out: proper spring water protection is done at the "eye" or "ojo" of the spring - where spring water reaches the earth's surface. I've inspected springs whose source was hundreds of feet uphill from a "spring box" built to collect its water; water arriving at such a spring box by running over the ground surface will almost never be reliably sanitary.

Photo at left: a spring box has lost its roof and surrounding walls are collapsing; this water source is exposed to surface runoff, cannot be assured to be sanitary, and may also be a trip or fall hazard to anyone walking in the area. This water source was in active use at the time of our inspection.

Here are some comments keyed to text in the leaky spring box question above:

My wife dug out a portion of the spring; approximately 4 feet deep.

Digging out a spring can improve the water quality by giving space for debris settlement; it can, depending on design, also give a larger water drawdown reservoir if the spring water is to be delivered by pump; but in general it won't increase the absolute water yield quantity from the spring itself.  Digging out a spring, to the extent that it removes leaves and debris, is also important for water quality.

Watch out: as noted just above, unless sanitary spring water is reaching the ground surface and unless the springwater is protected from other contaminants it will not be possible to assure that springwater is always sanitary and thus safe to drink. In such situations you'll want either a water sanitizing treatment system or at the very least, regular water testing for potability.

She then filled it up with rock.

OPINION: I'd have preferred a larger water reservoir that could be cleaned; the rocks mean debris settles through the rock and can't be cleaned without taking out the rock. IF the rock was put into a spring to try to keep it "open" a better approach would be a surrounding concrete wall.

Then she put a 2 inch pipe with numerous holes drilled into it. Ran a pvc pipe to the house with a shut off valve.

OPINION: makes perfect sense, though still we'd want a water reservoir to improve drawdown rate in times of demand, and see my caveat above about spring water potability.

The spring box is constructed of 4 inch concrete walls. I'm not sure the depth of the walls. The walls area in disrepair. One wall had already cracked which may be caused by the pressure from the ground. Another wall has a leak which has filled an area in front of the spring box full of water creating a little pond.

Watch out: a spring box that leaks water "out" may catch your attention because of the reduction in water supply, but a still greater risk is that surface contaminants can leak into the springwater. For both reasons I agree that you need a spring box whose walls and top cover do not leak into the spring.

Surrounding a spring with water-tight walls is a good way to reduce surface runoff into the spring. There are both cement and epoxy repairs that can work to fix a leaky concrete spring surrounding wall, though you'll want to choose a sealant that does not itself contaminate your drinking water - one rated for potable water containers.

Unprotected spring drinking water source (C) Daniel FriedmanIf the spring walls are cracking from frost heaves then they'd need to be removed and re-built with footings below the frost line. Some springs in freezing climates deliver water year -round at a temperature and rate sufficient to prevent freeze-ups, others not.

Photo at left: unprotected drinking water source from a spring, Jalpan, Queretaro, Mexico - Daniel Friedman

Cracks from frost heaving are typically vertical or diagonal or (if the surrounding wall is masonry block) stair-stepped; Cracks from horizontal frost push against the spring box walls tend to be horizontal. If your wall damage was from horizontal push you might reduce that problem by burying solid foam insulation against the outside of the spring walls + improving surface drainage around the spring box.

Two weeks ago I dug down about 18 inches to find the leak. I thought I found it and used some hydraulic cement to patch it up. It is still leaking in the same area. My initial thoughts were to put another concrete wall up just inside the other one. Go down about 4 feet and tie into the other wall with some rebar. Do you have any suggestions that may be more effective? I have a few short videos if that would help.

Sounds as if your patch is leaking, or there is another leak, or the water supply itself has dropped. Just putting up another wall outside the existing one sounds a bit "Rube Goldberg" or "makeshift" to me. I'd want first to get an accurate diagnosis of the problem.

OPINION: while lots of us grew up drinking springwater (I did, in Dunnsville VA), because springwater is no longer reliably sanitary in many areas, and more, if your water quantity and flow rate may be inadequate, I'd keep the investment in the spring to a minimum of time and money. Ultimately you may need a more costly sanitary well drilled to provide a reliable potable water supply.

Spring Box Repair Recommendations

Reader Question: what to use to patch a leaky springwater container

I have a hand dug and stone and cement spring at my camp which isn't holding water very well. I want to patch the inside with something that can stay wet and won't be toxic, any ideas? - D.H. 4/3/2013

Reply: approaches to sealing a spring or other container intended to contain potable water

Aquarium sealers non-toxic choices (C) InspectApedia
  1. Hydraulic cement, high in portland content, is compatible and as it's essentially the same as what you've already got - concrete - about the same in toxicity. But if the cracks and leaks are because the concrete structure you built to contain springwater is tipping, bending, breaking, leaks will probably recur until you fix the underlying support.
  2. Silicone sealants: an alternative that is surely not toxic would be to try a silicone or similar sealant sold for use in constructing an aquarium. If we have a product that doesn't kill the fish that's a good sign. As you will see from our clip of advertisements for aquarium sealers in our photo above these are generally silicone sealant products sold by Ag, DAP, DOW, Marineland, Perfecto, and other manufacturers. [Click any image to see an enlarged detailed version.]
  3. Swimming pool patch compounds: an alternative for which you'd need to read the MSDS but that might work well would be swimming pool patching compounds. Some of these products have the advantage of working when applied under water.
  4. Other caulks & sealants: Really? I am hesitant to recommend some of the excellent caulks and sealants without checking the caulk's chemistry. But in general, the most toxic chemical in some caulks would be mineral spirits (possibly a source of benzene, a carcinogen, for example).

Acrylic / latex caulks, do not contain mineral spirits but our research indicates that it would usually be more accurate to call these products "low toxicity caulks and sealants" rather than "non-toxic". Nothing, not even water, is completely "non-toxic".

For example, DAP's Acrylic Latex Caulk is such a product, and is availble in versions that include or exclude silicone. Silicone, itself rather inert when cured, is key in making a caulk waterproof.

Watch out: surface preparation is also key to a successful caulk or seal job. Be sure that the areas around the cracks or sealants you are using are clean and if the sealant requires, also dry and at a suitable temperature.

Spring House Water Supply Troubleshooting

Reader Question: 8/5/2014 Need expert advice asap said:

The springhouse pictured at the top of this page and the spring box (third picture down) are mine. The green springhouse was just been destroyed by a falling oak tree. A couple of years ago the water stopped coming from the spring to my residence and I haven't figured out where the problem is. Now that I have a new problem with the collapse of the building, I'm trying to figure out how the whole system works. I need expert advise and wonder if you can recommend someone. - Emily


Indeed if your springhouse is in New York's Hudson Valley and visible from a public road then indeed this one may be yours. Sorry to read about the tree, but no surprise.

Basically a spring house is typically built surrounding a point at which springwater bubbles to the surface of the ground. The house intends to protect the water source from unsanitary surface runoff, leaves, animals, or other contaminant sources.

Often the spring house will be built large enough to accumulate a reservoir of springwater that rises within the springhouse walls and then feeds a supply line or pump that delivers water to point of use.

When replacing or building a new springhouse the central problem is to take enough trouble to guard against water contaminants. That may mean excavating sufficiently deep for the house foundation walls that surface runoff and subsurface runoff don 't enter the spring house and its water supply. Those requirements are site determined.

Given the modern increase in surface water contaminants it's difficult to assure that spring water remains potable - we recommend periodic testing, at least annually, preferably more often.

Reader follow-up:

Thanks Dan for the quick reply. It's mine for sure. The big springhouse has a cement tank with cement floor and lid and two openings in the lid. No pumps - just gravity to carry it to the point of use. There are satellite spring boxes (one of which is photographed in your article) which may all eventually go to the main springhouse. The question is how are they interconnected. Also how does one isolate a leak? Do you know of anyone in the Hudson Valley who could come here and help me figure it all out?



If you're willing, email me photos of the tree-fall and other details to and I can comment with more details and suggestions.

About mapping the overall piping, a walk-about on the site to find all of the satellite spring boxes you name should allow a simple sketch showing the different boxes and their relative elevations to the main one. I imagine that all of the satellites are individually piped back to the main reservoir - which suggests a water quantity concern.

Besides finding the start and end points of each pipe, there are pipe tracing tools that work IF it's really necessary to follow the route of each line - e.g. looking for a leak or blockage.

I don't have a specific referral - I'd call local plumbers to see who has worked with this water system type. Basically there are two components: gravity-piping for water transport, and simple construction of a spring house (for which we can offer more suggestions).

We also should comment more on water testing and sanitation.


Research on Water Spring Source Construction & Protection

  • Also see spring box construction articles & sources listed at the end of this article at REFERENCES
  • Airoldi, L., and F. Cinelli. "Sources and biochemical composition of suspended particulate material in a submarine cave with sulphur water springs." Marine Biology 128, no. 3 (1997): 537-545.
  • Albanis, T. A., D. G. Hela, T. M. Sakellarides, and I. K. Konstantinou. "Monitoring of pesticide residues and their metabolites in surface and underground waters of Imathia (N. Greece) by means of solid-phase extraction disks and gas chromatography." Journal of Chromatography A 823, no. 1 (1998): 59-71.
  • Awni, T. Batayneh. "Heavy metals in water springs of the Yarmouk Basin, North Jordan and their potentiality in health risk assessment." International Journal of Physical Sciences 5, no. 7 (2010): 997-1003.
  • Bennett, Pam, "Farm Spring House" 1986, Mississippi State University's Agricultural & Forestry Experimental Station & the MSU Extension Service., retrieved 8/6/14, original source:
  • Bischofberger, Thomas, S. K. Cha, R. Schmitt, Bärbel König, and W. Schmift-Lorenz. "The bacterial flora of non-carbonated, natural mineral water from the springs to reservoir and glass and plastic bottles." International journal of food microbiology 11, no. 1 (1990): 51-71.
  • Burns, Douglas A., Peter S. Murdoch, Gregory B. Lawrence, and Robert L. Michel. "Effect of groundwater springs on NO3− concentrations during summer in Catskill Mountain streams." Water Resources Research 34, no. 8 (1998): 1987-1996.
  • Cruz, J. Virgílio, and Zilda França. "Hydrogeochemistry of thermal and mineral water springs of the Azores archipelago (Portugal)." Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 151, no. 4 (2006): 382-398.
  • Chapelle, Frank. The hidden sea: Ground water, springs, and wells. Geoscience Press, 1997.
  • Du Commun, Joseph. "On the cause of fresh water springs, fountains, etc." American Journal of Science 14 (1828): 174-176.
  • Edberg, Stephen C., Henri Leclerc, and John Robertson. "Natural Protection of Spring and Well Drinking Water Against Surface Microbial Contamination. II. Indicators and Monitoring. Parameters for Parasites." Critical reviews in microbiology 23, no. 2 (1997): 179-206.
  • Garrels, ROBERT M., and FRED T. Mackenzie. "Origin of the chemical compositions of some springs and lakes." Equilibrium concepts in natural water systems 67 (1967): 222-242.
  • Geldreich, Edwin E. Microbial quality of water supply in distribution systems. CRC Press, 1996.
  • Geological Survey (États-Unis), William A. Fischer, Dan A. Davis, and Theresa M. Sousa. Fresh-water springs of Hawaii from infrared images. US Geological Survey, 1966.
  • Glazier, D. S. "The fauna of North American temperate cold springs: patterns and hypotheses." Freshwater Biology 26, no. 3 (1991): 527-542.
  • Glazier, Douglas S., and James L. Gooch. "Macroinvertebrate assemblages in Pennsylvania (USA) springs." Hydrobiologia 150, no. 1 (1987): 33-43.
  • Hart, Will, "Protective Structures For Springs: Spring Box Design, Construction and Maintenance", Will Hart M.S. Candidate School of Forest Resources & Environmental Science Master’s International Program Michigan Technological University. [6]
  • Karanis, Panagiotis, Christina Kourenti, and Huw Smith. "Waterborne transmission of protozoan parasites: a worldwide review of outbreaks and lessons learnt." Journal of water and health 5, no. 1 (2007): 1-38. [Citation includes "Nov 1981 Colorado, USA 85 Treatment deficiencies (back up of unfiltered beaver pond water into a spring house)"]
  • Katz, B. G. "Sources of nitrate contamination and age of water in large karstic springs of Florida." Environmental Geology 46, no. 6-7 (2004): 689-706.
  • Katz, B. G. "Influence of mineral weathering reactions on the chemical composition of soil water, springs, and ground water, Catoctin Mountains, Maryland." Hydrological processes 3, no. 2 (1989): 185-202.
  • Leitao, J. H., T. Alvim, and I. Sá‐Correia. "Ribotyping of Pseudomonas aeruginosa isolates from patients and water springs and genome fingerprinting of variants concerning mucoidy." FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology 13, no. 4 (1996): 287-292.
  • Meinzer, Oscar E. "Outline of ground-water hydrology." US Geology Survey Water Supply 8 (1923).
  • Negi, G. C. S., and Varun Joshi. "Drinking water issues and development of spring sanctuaries in a mountain watershed in the Indian Himalaya." Mountain Research and Development 22, no. 1 (2002): 29-31.
  • Postel, Sandra L., and Barton H. Thompson. "Watershed protection: Capturing the benefits of nature's water supply services." In Natural Resources Forum, vol. 29, no. 2, pp. 98-108. Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2005.
  • Robertson, John B., and Stephen C. Edberg. "Natural protection of spring and well drinking water against surface microbial contamination. I. Hydrogeological parameters." Critical reviews in microbiology 23, no. 2 (1997): 143-178.
  • Shahbazi-Gahrouei, Daryoush, and Mohsen Saeb. "Dose assessment and radioactivity of the mineral water resources of Dimeh springs in the Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province, Iran." (2008).
  • Whitford, L. A. "The communities of algae in the springs and spring streams of Florida." Ecology (1956): 433-442.


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