Part 2: Groundwater sources and systems that you will come across when vetting rural land.
Vetting established rural properties with houses and dwellings means you will need 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.
To begin, I recommend water quality testing be a contingency in any purchase contract with an existing well, even if there are recent water quality test results. Be aware that water quality testing only shows results from the day you test it, and well water quality can change over the seasons. Healthlink BC has a directory of water testing companies and is a great source of information on well water.
Drilled Wells are the most common and preferred reliable source, with an in-line pump that can be anywhere from 30’ to 300’ deep, they require a power source and pressure tank to move the water. A properly installed water well can last 40 years or more. The listing agent should have available the ‘Drillers Well Log’ a document created on the day the well was drilled, that will tell you; who drilled the well, what depth they drilled to, the gallons per minute the well produces, and at what depth the pump is set at.
The critical components you want to know more about are the age of the submersible pump and the condition of the pressure tank. The average lifespan of a well pump is 12 – 15 years, based off of the frequency or how many times your pump is engaging during its duty cycle. The size of your pressure tank, along with your water consumption will have an effect on how often the in-ground pump cycles to fill the pressure tank. On average you need a minimum of 5 gallons per minute to run a household at peak water use, so water volume should be a red flag in your vetting process. There are a large number of domestic wells in BC that produce up to 50 gallons/per minute, and the higher the volume, the better your chances are that the well is in a deep aquifer and will never run dry.
When the property you are inspecting has a “shallow well” designation you could come across a system as crude as a large open pit dug by a backhoe that captures ground seep and run-off water to a hand-bored sand point with a hand pump or 12-volt solar pump for off-grid properties. Shallow wells are typically 25 feet below the surface of the ground or less and can experience taste and odor issues from mineral content like iron and manganese and the risk of contamination increases for bacteria with a shallow water source.
Do your best to evaluate the slope and elevations of adjacent properties if they are developed to determine if seep, rain, or melt runoff water could carry contaminants to that well’s source. Farms, ranches, pastures, and neighbouring sewers or septic tanks can seep into shallow wells and aquifers. Many shallow wells that tap a clean source can be quite adequate for domestic use, and in some cases, a shallow source can be drilled deeper accessing even more volume, or used in combination with a cistern.
A cistern water system as a primary source implies that water is hauled-in or collected onsite then contained and stored for use. Fresh water can last in a clean cistern for about 6 months time and require regular maintenance cleaning. This is a great option for seasonal or recreational properties, or residential land that has no groundwater source. Cisterns come prefabricated in fiberglass and concrete or they can be constructed on-site with concrete, bricks, and mortar. Underground storage tanks are the preferred method as sunlight breeds bacteria in water, but they can be found in basements or outbuildings. Cistern systems can be set up to collect filtered rain/runoff water from dwelling roofs and can augment water usage on any property.
Fresh water springs, which can present as a creek or pond can be a quality, low-maintenance option if developed properly into a pumpable or gravity-fed filtered water system. There are many videos online about spring development and how to properly tap it by installing a small filtration dam with a PVC water output pipe which can then be pumped to filtration tanks or gravity fed to cisterns. To get the history of who and how the spring was developed from the current owner. If the source was developed by a previous owner there may be no documentation and you have to rely on known history. A tapped spring or diverted spring-fed creek may decrease in water volume in dry months and it may also be prone to freezing in winter.
The prized artesian well flows from the ground in great volumes whether you want it to or not. This rare groundwater source can be both a blessing and a curse as you must have a way to effectively route the excess water you cannot use away into a drainage tributary or it will cause flooding and erosion. Development around this type of continuously flowing well must be carefully planned, I recommend researching artesian wells and consulting with a water system installer or driller who has experience with this rare well. An artesian well will increase the value of a property, and save you thousands on drilling and water pumping costs
The lifeblood of any property is its water supply. It’s worth your time, money, and long-term health to consult all the professionals you need along with water quality testing in order to make an informed decision.
Freddy & Linda Marks, 3A®Group RE/MAX Nyda Realty