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Locating and Evaluating Potable Water Sources on Rural Property

Part 1 of a two-part article series on groundwater sources and water systems that you will come across when vetting rural land.

A clean, year-round, potable water source will always be the most important land attribute you need to sustain life. Understanding the different types of rural property water sources and how you can and cannot access, divert and use them will save you time in vetting rural properties and raw land for both residential and commercial use.

Water licensing became mandatory in BC in March of 2022. Under the Water Sustainability Act (WSA), any individual, business, or organization that plans to use surface or groundwater for non-domestic purposes including irrigation, industrial, commercial, or municipal uses must obtain a water license. The water license will specify the exact terms and conditions for water use, diversion, and storage for that land title.

Water for domestic purposes is exempt from licensing in most instances. Household water use includes; drinking, cooking, bathing, and watering pets and poultry, and fire prevention. But, if you are planning to register for farm status for agriculture purposes even as a hobby farm, or run a commercial business you may need to register the well or water source on your property. If the seller has been using the well on the property for purposes other than domestic use, there should be recent WSA registration documentation. Contact the Provincial Government or regional water management branch with your unanswered questions as guidelines and licensing regulations for the type of well or water source you are planning to use may be changing in the near future or need to be renewed.

12 major watershed basins in BC support 19,549 sq. kilometers of freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers, and creeks. Annual rainfall and snowmelt replenish fresh surface water and most importantly, underground aquifers which exist where saturated rock or sediment allows surface water to penetrate through it. The GWELLS database data reports over 1,100 underground aquifers extending over more than 30,000 sq. kilometers have been mapped and registered in BC. 

Despite the abundance, there are areas of the province that are known to be very hard to locate groundwater. Sources can be hard to locate with geological formations affecting water flow direction deep within the earth. In the Cariboo Region known neighbourhoods exist in Clinton and Buffalo Creek/Forest Grove areas. When viewing properties, stop in and talk to adjacent neighbours who can tell you how deep their well is, how many times they had to drill, and inquire about smell, taste, and quality.

Drillers get paid, if they hit water or not. They work with you, but ultimately it is the property owner who makes the decision where to put the X on the ground and takes full financial responsibility. The BC Government hosts an online Groundwater Wells and Aquifers database with an interactive map used by drillers to locate groundwater derived from provincially collected data. Regardless, if the database shows groundwater under your property, it doesn’t mean you can drill anywhere you want and be successful.

Be very careful when purchasing an undeveloped lot in an established rural subdivision as you cannot drill for water within 100′ distance of your neighbours septic tank & field which limits drilling & dwelling locations. For example, the Deka Lake Subdivision in the Interlakes area was subdivided into an assortment of 0.5 – 1 acre adjacent lots that are being rapidly developed into full-time residences. You must know the septic layout of the neighbouring properties on all sides of yours to determine where you are legally allowed to drill with the BC code setbacks.

In reverse, you can only install a septic system within a legal setback distance from your’s and your neighbours existing well, further limiting your options. This is especially important if you are vetting a recreational lot that you plan to develop in the future. Even if there are empty lots around yours now, within a few years your new neighbours may install services that could make the long-term goals for your property impossible.

Before you make any decisions, seek a reputable well driller who will consult and provide a detailed drilling estimate, along with a well pump package estimate. At the same time request a quotation from a septic system installer who will consult onsite to determine where you can legally place both services before purchasing any property without a water source.

Drilling a well is an expensive option with no guarantees of success, to increase your odds you can hire a professional ‘dowser’ to locate sub-surface water. Certain people possess this unexplained but proven trait that allows them to find water with dowsing rods or bent willow. A well-known BC lady named Colleen Roberts, uses her very accurate process to make wells out of at least 95% of the sites she has been hired to dowse on.

to be continued…
Watch your inbox for PART 2 discussing in detail vetting existing water sources and well types.

Vetting established rural properties with houses and dwellings means you will have to inspect an existing water source and water system. The most common types you will come across include; drilled wells, shallow wells, sand-point wells, or a cistern well system. In rarer instances, a property may have a freshwater spring or a highly prized artesian well. 

Freddy & Linda Marks, 3A®Group RE/MAX Nyda Realty

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