Washington Land

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

All's Well That Ends With a Well


One frequent request I get in my emails is people looking for land with a spring, creek or pond on it, for water to drink. I am shocked by the ignorance many from the city have about how people in the country live—there are actually people out there who do not even know what a well is! This may come as a surprise to some who have lived in the city their whole lives but most people in rural areas do not drink out of creeks just like most do not use outhouses.


Generally you don’t want to be drinking surface water due to parasites such as beaver fever. If you don’t take my word for it, you should ask the planning department in the county you are looking in if they will give you a building permit using surface water as your water source--most won’t. Now if you are looking at using surface water for irrigation or livestock, this is a reasonable use but please don’t tell me you want to drink out of a creek or lake.

Most people in rural areas use drilled wells for water. Underground water is much more sanitary than surface water.

Many people are worried that they will not hit water. Although it is possible to drill a well and not hit water, it is usually a matter of not going deep enough. Many people expect a shallow well and then hire a contractor whose equipment has a shallow depth limit (as people with equipment that can go deeper are usually more expensive and much busier). Western Washington is a costal temperate rainforest climate from the sea level to 3000’ feet. Ask people who live in the area if they are worried about not having enough water, most people have the opposite problem with their property, there is too much water!

Some people even go to the trouble of having a well contractor or engineer prepare an estimate of the depth of the well, but this is no guarantee that they will hit water. The only way to really know is to actually drill the well. You can look at well logs in the surrounding area; in fact this is how they prepare the estimate. The data is available from the department of ecology online. You can look at wells in the neighborhood to see what depth the neighbors got water at. Again, no guarantees, as I have seen several wells at the same elevation hit water at differences of hundreds of feet that were all less than 1000 feet from each other. Using well logs and topography you can guess what the water is like under the ground but there may be unapparent underground geologic factors. Also, if the property you are looking at is at a different elevation than the nearby wells, they are not very comparable.

One of the risks with developing land is getting that source of water. You may have an estimate in hand, with plenty of comparable nearby wells at the same elevation and then go in and not hit water. I know of at least one case where somebody bought property on top of a mountain and didn’t hit water. You would think it would be obvious that if you are buying land that is solid rock there is not going to be much water there—the observation that water soaks into dirt and runs off rock didn’t occur to the guy until after he bought the property and tried to drill the well.

In every area, there seems to be some water witch doctor that claims to be able to divine water by witching with a stick. However, no one has scientifically been able to prove this works. Most of the time you find water in the place they select, but then again most of the time you find water in the spot you drill.

Really, drilling a well is one of my last concerns on most property. I have never had anyone who bought property from me fail to hit water, but I have heard of it happening. Usually the finding out if the soil has too much water in it that would prevent an on-site sewage would be my first concern.

This article is based on my experiences with land in Western Washington. There are areas of Eastern Washington and other states where I would worry much more about water, you know like deserts.

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