Water Is Vital

People, gardens and livestock require water. Cities and towns generally have water departments and pipes taking water to houses and businesses. Some rural areas join together to form water districts to supply water to their members.

Most rural areas leave water supply up to the land owners. There are generally four sources in the Ozarks: drilled well; springs; rain; and surface sources such as dug wells, ponds and streams.

Ozark Water Facts

I love to garden. It’s a great way to take out frustration pulling those persistent weeds. It’s relaxing to dig in the dirt. Those little sprouts are exciting to see. Fresh, home grown food, especially food you grow yourself, prepared for dinner is so satisfying on several levels.

Floods or, more accurately, high water events are not uncommon in the Ozarks. They are usually short-lived but destructive. The bedrock of the Ozarks accounts for this.

water carved bluff rock

This bit of exposed bluff rock has some cavities in it but they don’t open into any caves we know of. There is no water coming out from this rock but it stays moist from the creek just below. The rock is pitted with cracks both horizontally and vertically.

Lesson 1: Missouri has Lots of Caves and Rocks

The Ozark Plateau is a Karst formation. This is a huge block of limestone riddled with holes formed by acidic rainwater seeping through the rock and dissolving some of it. Such an area, and there are other Karst areas around the world, are known for caves, sinking streams, sinkholes and springs.

A common belief is that water seeping through soil is cleaned of much of the debris in it. This is not true in a Karst area. Debris falls through or is dumped into sinkholes and sits for decades with water flowing by. A stream can carry debris with it as it flows down through a crevice and disappears. The debris may or may not arrive at the spring where the water reappears.

Parts of the Ozarks have a granite bedrock. Everywhere the rocks break into small pieces. The soil seems to grow a new crop of rocks every year. Rarely is the soil more than inches deep.

My garden soil has a lot of gravel in it. This is annoying when I try to rake a seed bed smooth. But big rains rarely make a mess of my garden as the water drains through quickly.

Other people I’ve talked to have more clay and their gardens can stay muddy for weeks. Still, the vegetables usually survive or even thrive with the moisture.

Drought is different. Drought creeps up as day follows day with no rain. The garden starts drying up. The plants shrivel. The weeds curl their leaves and droop. Only water can help them.

captured rain is a water source

Rain barrels under a drain spout or eave overhang fill quickly. Mosquitoes can be a problem. I have an aquarium fish net and sweep them up every day or so to keep the larva from hatching into adults. The larva dry out quickly when tossed on the ground.

Lesson 2: Supplying Water to the Homestead

Filling jugs in town is possible but a real nuisance. There is never enough. Buying bottled water is expensive. The best way is to have water on site.

Rain is one source of water. In the Ozarks rain is a feast or famine proposition. That is where rain barrels, ponds and streams help. Some old houses still have cisterns under them filled from rain funneled down from the roof.

I use rain barrels for watering my garden. There are two roofs overhanging the garden and I place the barrels there to catch the run off from March to November. Plastic barrels do not do well filled with ice.

During long dry spells, I supplement the rain barrels by refilling them with water pumped from a nearby creek. This method works fine during short dry spells. The creek disappears under its gravel bed in droughts. Ponds dry up. Even springs can stop flowing.

All of these are lumped under surface water. This means the water can pick up all kinds of things from debris to manure to chemicals from the surfaces it flows over. Garden plants and soil filter out much of this. Using these for drinking water without filtration is risky.

A neighbor uses a spring for house water. The spring has a fairly large flow but does fluctuate according to the rainfall or lack of it. The amount of mud and debris flowing out of the spring increases in wet weather. The water must be filtered carefully at all times as a spring is basically surface water and can have any number of pollutants in it.

Another is a dug well. This goes down into the water table. The water in the well is surface water and the level will rise in wet conditions and fall in dry conditions. Heavy manure or fertilizer applications will taint the water quickly.

I have a dug well and do use it for livestock water buckets. The water temperature stays about the same all year so the goats appreciate relatively warmer or cooler water depending on the season. The well is above my garden so compost doesn’t affect it. We have no close neighbors above the well so the water stays palatable to the goats.

This water may be used to cool off in the summer but is not used for drinking water. Lots of creatures call the well home even though the top is covered. I occasionally pump up amphipods, little white shrimp like creatures.

The other option is a drilled well. Having one put in is expensive but the well rarely goes dry even during a drought. The well requires a pump, pipes and pressure tank.

A well bucket can be used in a drilled well. The bucket is dropped down into the water to fill then pulled up using a crank. This is a lot of work for a small amount of water, about two gallons. I’ve done this before and did not enjoy it.

Drilled wells with good casings to keep surface water out of the well are the most reliable source. The amount of water flowing into the well determines how much water can be pumped out before there is no water to pump. The water level will gradually rise again but doing this is hard on the pump and can ruin it.

dug wells are surface water

The original dug well has a cement slab over it with a small opening. We covered this opening to keep chickens etc. from falling in and put in the hand pump. The pump must be easily removable to change the leathers or flexible ends on the pump pipe that control the water flow out while you are trying to pump the water up the pipe.

Lesson 3: Considering Water

How much water you need depends on how the water will be used. Gardens and livestock take lots of water. Washing machines, dishwashers and long showers take a lot of water.

The garden can be left to die in mid summer when rain is scarce. Clothes can go to the laundromat. Showers can be timed. Water is still an issue.

Water is definitely on your list before you go looking for property. Having more than one source is an advantage. Having no sources is a recipe for frustration.

The property here works well. There is a creek that flows all year. It supplies water for livestock out in pasture and my garden during dry times. There is a dug well with a hand pump to supply livestock water at the barn. There is a drilled well to supply the house. Rain barrels supply additional water for the garden and container plants.

We knew before we bought any property we would need water for all these things. When we looked at different properties, we checked out the water sources. If the property didn’t have water sources on it, we kept on looking. Yes, looking gets tiring and you are tempted to compromise. If you compromise on the water you need, you will regret it as long as you live there.

creeks are surface water

Creeks are nice on a property. They do bring problems with erosion – preventable with a riparian zone – and fencing as high water carries fences away.

With Great Trepidation

Deciding to try living in the country, maybe some homesteading is not an easy decision. It can be downright scary. Maybe it should be at least a little scary.

Picking out that piece of property needs to be a little scary as it is not only a big financial investment but where you will try to live this new life style. The wrong piece will doom you to unhappiness, struggle and failure. The right piece can make you wonder why you waited so long to move.

How do you know a good property from a wrong property? The next two weeks may help.