Country Water Systems: What You Need to Know Before Buying Property

Learn how to determine the cleanliness and purity of a rural watering hole, including locating water sources, evaluating underground water, setting up water supply systems, and sample water systems.

| July/August 1989

  • 118-092-01-im1
    Visible water sources on your property may not tell the whole story.
    PHOTO: LARRY LEFEVER/GRANT HEILMAN
  • 118-092-01-fig1
    The dug well is the oldest type of well. Usually 3 to 4 feet in diameter, it is dug with a pick and shovel.
    DON OSBY
  • Drilled Well (compressed)
    Drilled wells are the most common type of well in use today.
    DON OSBY
  • 118-092-01-fig3
    A driven well is usually cheaper to construct than a drilled well, but the ground must be soft and the attainable depth is limited.
    DON OSBY
  • Elderberry Shrub (compressed)
    In arid regions, elderberry shrubs usually mean that good water is available within 10 to 20 feet of the surface. 
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • Rabbitbrush (compressed)
    Rabbitbrush is another indicator of water near the surface level. 
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • Mesquite (compressed)
    Mesquite suggests good water within 10 to 50 feet of the surface.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • Black Greasewood (compressed)
    Black greasewood indicates mineralized water within 10 to 40 feet of the surface.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • Water Management
    Choosing a water-delivery system is often determined by the lay of the land. In some cases, more than one system will be required to provide enough water.
    DON OSBY

  • 118-092-01-im1
  • 118-092-01-fig1
  • Drilled Well (compressed)
  • 118-092-01-fig3
  • Elderberry Shrub (compressed)
  • Rabbitbrush (compressed)
  • Mesquite (compressed)
  • Black Greasewood (compressed)
  • Water Management

Most people buy land in the spring and early summer when creeks are full, springwater is bursting from the hills and the meadows are green. In late August and September, the early buyer is often shocked to find that all of his water has dried up. If you have lived primarily in urban areas where water has always been just a turn of the tap away, you don't realize the work and expense involved in setting up and maintaining country water systems to bring water where you want it. Just to get running water into your house might involve installing a generator, pump, pipeline, holding tank and well. You might see land with a beautiful creek and not realize that it is too far away from the nicest building site to be of any value.

If there is no water visible on the land, you will be told that everyone in the area uses wells and that if you dig deep enough you will find water. The facts are that not all land has underground water, finding any is often difficult and drilling a well is expensive. A big creek or a good well on a neighboring property does not mean there is water on your land. Do not be fooled by such misconceptions.

Locating Water Sources

Water sources are either on the surface or underground. Surface waters include rivers, streams, creeks, ponds, springs and cisterns.

Water is trapped underground in two types of areas: in aquifers, loose water-bearing materials such as gravel, sand and clay; or in consolidated water-bearing rocks, notably limestone, basalt and sandstone. In many cases, surface water sources are excellent for irrigation, livestock, fire fighting, ponds and other uses, but cannot be utilized for drinking. Therefore, a well is often a necessity regardless of the presence of surface water.



Rivers, streams and creeks. Rivers, streams and creeks differ primarily in size and length. Rivers are large watercourses, which are often navigable and public. You may find that you have to share your river with motorboats, water-skiers and swimmers.

Streams and creeks are much smaller than rivers and often do not flow continuously throughout the dry season, especially in the arid West. The only way you can tell if your stream or creek will flow year-round is to see it flowing during the driest part of the summer, usually August or September. Don't accept the word of a real-estate agent that a creek never goes dry. If a creek is your only year-round source of water, your activities will be limited by the amount of water in it during its lowest period.






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