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Off Grid Water Analysis

Few homesteads can survive without ready access to water.

The average home uses hundreds of gallons of water per day, not counting water needed for crops or livestock. There are essentially two ways that people looking to build a homestead can find water. The first is from water located under the property, such as an underground spring. People may be able to access this water by drilling a well. The second is water that homesteaders can collect from precipitation, typically rain. Rain collection comes in a variety of methods, and is popular for use in watering gardens. Some buyers may wish to purchase a property that has a stream or river running through it. However, they should keep in mind that water rights to this kind of water source may be controlled by the city, county, or state.

Water Table

Underground, if people dig far enough, rock and soil are saturated with water. The more water on the property, the higher the level of underground water will rise. The point just above the water line is called the “water table.” Although it may seem like this saturation line would be linear and consistent across a region, it may not be. People may encounter natural springs on or just below their land that indicates the water table is high. The water table tends to increase in the late summer and fall. It will drop again in the spring and early summer, due to natural evaporation caused by increases in temperature.

Properties with a water table very close to the surface may be at risk for flooding. If the water table rises to the surface, the ground will not be able to drain effectively. Experts recommend digging a small well and determining the depth of the water with measuring tape. Potential buyers can also research past measurements of the water table in particular areas. Although a high water table is not completely incompatible with crops, people should consider how it could affect the species of crops they can plant.

Well Water Potential

The kind of well people need for their homes depends on the geology of the property. Drilling through soil may offer more opportunities and flexibility than drilling through solid bedrock. There are three kinds of wells:

Dug/Bored: The hole is dug or bored using an excavator or auger, and rarely extends beyond 30 feet
Driven: The well casing is pushed through the ground, and may range from 30-50 feet
Drilled: A well created by a special drilling machine, which could run as deep as 1,000 feet

The first two methods are older technology that rely on a deep soil layer. Recent methods, including drilled wells, allow people to access water far under the surface. For properties with concerns about water contamination, the drilled method may be the only safe choice.

Buyers who look at homes with existing wells should ask the seller a few questions. Wells can last a long time, but they can also dry up without warning. Buyers should ask for information about the well’s age and condition. They may also want to test the groundwater on the property for the presence and level of certain chemicals or contaminants, before they determine the kind of well they want to dig.

Rain Water Gathering / Recycling Greywater

People may also want to consider greywater collection for their homes, especially for regions with minimal annual rainfall. Greywater systems are not unlike rainwater harvesting. Greywater denotes the water that people send down the sink that would otherwise be wasted. Greywater may contain traces of waste, such as food, soap, or cleaning products. As such, homeowners should only use it for watering purposes that do not touch edible parts of plants they are growing for food or grazing purposes.
Water Flow

Water on the surface, whether it comes from a stream or a heavy rainstorm, will flow downhill. Home buyers need to be sure that the grade of the property will flow away from structures and areas where they intend to keep a garden or livestock. Low spots on the land will collect water. If they cannot drain away easily or evaporate quickly, they become standing water that can promote the spread of bacteria and insects. Properties that position the home at the bottom will be more likely to flood.

Sometimes, the property grade is not obvious. People can measure the rise in slope by using stakes and string to create a right triangle between the highest point and two lower points. Homeowners should choose a higher position on the property for the home and land cultivation. Otherwise, they may need to use excavation and landscaping to change the grade to suit their purposes and prevent flooding.

Microhydro Electricity Potential

Water can become a useful source of energy for the property, as well as a vital component of daily survival. Microhydro power uses running water from a reliable source to generate energy ranging from 5-100 kilowatts. You don't necessarily need waterfront property to accomplish this—a stream may be enough. This may be enough to provide adequate electricity for the entire homestead, assuming that the system runs well and has constant access to the water source.

A minor change in elevation causes the water to move from high to low. Flowing water runs to a canal, which is often connected to a pipe that sends the water to a turbine. Homeowners need to establish this canal or pipeline at the top of the property, for maximum effect. The turbine creates rotational energy. An alternator takes that energy and converts it to electricity to power a generator that can run the home. People rely on the system to regulate the flow of water, so that energy production can be consistent and relatively predictable.

Many people are able to collect energy from moving water on the property. However, finding land with naturally running water may not be an absolute necessity for microhydro electricity. Home buyers do not need to purchase property with a waterfall or stream with a strong current to use this method. They may be able to take advantage of artificial approaches, such as creating a dam to trigger a waterfall. As they investigate equipment options, people should confirm that the turbine will work with the generator they want to use.

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