As a homesteader I know that a successful homestead needs sufficient water to supply that homestead’s water needs.
If the property you want to homestead on does not have sufficient water your homestead will not be the successful homestead of your dreams.
To know if there is sufficient water you need to answer these.
How water is used by each human, how much daily water is needed, water needed for a garden, water needed for fruit production, water usage on a typical homestead and a discussion of minimal water needed to even consider purchasing land for country property or a homestead.
It is only by knowing, ahead of time, what your water needs can be that you can intelligently and successfully look for country or homestead property.
How Much Water Is Needed Each Day?
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
Each person needs 55-80 gallons/day.
Each Milk Cow needs 35 gallons/day.
Each Horse needs 6-15 gallons/day.
Each Sheep needs 2 gallons/day.
25 Chickens need 1-3 gallons/day.
A 1000 square foot garden needs 70 gallons/day.
A 20′ x 50′ garden = 1000 square feet of garden space.
Water Used By Each Human
Taking a bath uses 30-40 gallons/day.
Taking a shower uses 20-30 gallons/day.
Washing 1 load of clothes uses 20-30 gallons/load.
Washing dishes uses 8-10 gallons/day.
Flushing toilets uses 4-8 gallons/day.
Meals and drinking uses 4-8 gallons/day.
Water For A Half Acre Garden (100′ by 220′ size)
This half acre garden needs 1″ of rain every 10 days.
This is the equivalent of about 11,350 gallons every 10 days.
This equals 1,135 gallons of water/day.
That’s a lot of water!
Water For Fruit Production
University of California Figures:
Dwarf Fruit Tree uses 6-9 gallons/day.
Semi-Dwarf Fruit Tree uses 12-18 gallons/day.
Full size Fruit Tree uses 38-56 gallons/day.
100 foot row of Raspberries 2 foot wide uses 25-35 gallons/day.
100 foot row of Strawberries 4 foot wide uses 50-75 gallons/day.
75 foot row of Grape Vines uses 12-20 gallons/day.
The Most Critical Element For A Homestead
It is easy to see why water is the most critical element to take into consideration when looking for Country or Homestead Property!
The figures above, give you ideas of how much water you will need.
And also how to markedly reduce the amount of water used.
These ideas to markedly reduce the mount of water used would include the following.
Taking showers instead of baths for people.
Drip irrigation instead of watering with sprinklers or a hose for gardens and berry patches.
When practical to do so, plant dwarf or semi-dwarf fruit trees instead of full size fruit trees.
As an example
Four dwarf apple trees produce about the same yield of fruit as one full size apple tree.
Yet only need 24 to 36 gallons of water per day.
Instead of the 38-56 gallons of water one full size fruit tree needs.
So by planting dwarf trees you not only save water, you increase the variety of apples that can be grown in the same amount of space.
Instead of one full size apple tree you can plant two or more apple varieties of dwarf trees in the same space one full sized tree needs.
Homestead Example of Water Usage Per Day
Four person family (taking showers instead of baths) would use about 75 gallons/person/day = 300 gallons.
One Milk Cow = 35 gallons.
One Horse = 15 gallons.
One Sheep = 2 gallons.
25 Chickens = 3 gallons.
50′ x 50′ vegetable garden = 175 gallons.
10 Dwarf Fruit Trees = 90 gallons.
100 foot row Raspberries, 2 foot wide = 35 gallons.
50 foot Strawberries, 4 foot wide = 37.5 gallons.
37.5 foot row of Grape Vines = 10 gallons.
Total Estimated Daily water usage = 702.5 gallons.
This is not an overly large homestead!
Looking At Water From A Practical Standpoint
At the water usage in the above example, with a 5 gallon/minute well it would take a pump operating for a little over 2 hours 20 minutes/day to pump that amount of water.
If the well only produced 1 gallon/minute flow, it would take a little over 11 hours 40 minutes to pump the needed amount of water out of the ground.
I’ve known people whose well only produced 1 gallon/minute flow.
And they had much less water usage than our example.
In an attempt to improve their water situation they would bury a 1000 gallon or larger plastic water container below the frost line.
It would be filled by the water pump when there was no other water usage taking place.
In spite of this attempt to improve their water situation, they were always replacing a well pump.
Or having to have it worked on because the pump was running at least half of each day.
In an effort to pump the amount of water needed for their daily uses.
I trust you can see the wisdom of having a proven source of water, of at least 5 gallons/minute (GPM) on the property before purchasing the land for a Country Homestead.
In addition to the need to have at least a 5 GPM well on a homestead, there is another very practical reason for having at least a 5 GPM well.
It takes a 5 gallon/minute proven source of water to be able to Finance Country Property through a Bank or Mortgage Company!
To find out more you can read my article, “Financing Land – Undeveloped Land, Conventional Loan, Water.”
If there is not a proven source of water, producing at least 5 GPM, on the land prior to purchasing the land, there are basically only two options left to buy the land.
You must either pay cash for the land or navigate the perilous waters of owner financing of the land.
It is equally important to understand that a 5 GPM well flow may not be sufficient.
Five GPM may not be enough to…
Water a garden before the heat of the day while adding water to the animals watering troughs and watering the trees in an orchard.
While also having to wash clothes, fix a meal plus wash dishes and take care of any other household water needs.
All at the same time.
Depending on the size of your homestead or farm you could need a 15 GPM well flow or more.
Methods That Can Improve A Homestead’s Water Situation
If you find a place that looks to be ideal for a homestead but the water produced by a well is less than 5 GPM, is there the potential for improving the water situation?
Yes there is.
If you are willing to spend the time, effort and in some cases the money needed.
Before purchasing any country or homestead property you must know what you would find from a complete and thorough walk over of the land.
As you do this walk over, be on the lookout for damp areas on hillsides that might be an indication of a spring.
Springs are one source of water that can be used to improve the water situation on a homestead.
“Improve Water Supply In Rural Areas – Using Natural Springs” is an article I wrote to find out more.
I have a close friend who has a homestead complete with two houses and a large greenhouse that is about 1200 square feet in size.
The entire water supply for this homestead is from springs!
In fact, the springs produce enough water, year round, that they had no trouble getting financing to build the second house.
Another potential source of water to improve a homestead is by collecting rain water.
Read an article I wrote about this titled, “How Can Insufficient Homestead Water Supply Be Improved?”
Here I have to add a caution.
As incredible as this may sound, collecting rainwater is actually illegal in some areas!
Creeks Or Streams
If there is a creek that runs across the property you are considering purchasing or borders that property, you may be able to take water from it to improve your homestead.
Before deciding that this is a solution, you need to know what the creek’s flow is in the driest part of the year.
In the American Mid-West and West, before deciding you can take water from a creek bordering or running across property you are considering purchasing, you need to know that you would have the right to do so.
This means you would need to have an attorney research what water rights you would have if you purchased that property.
I wrote about this in “Reservation Of Rights In A Deed (Timber, Mineral, Water Etc)” that you can read to learn more.
In many places in the American Mid-West and West your rights to take water from a stream, even a river, crossing or bordering the land you are considering purchasing, depend upon the rights of Prior Appropriators.
If a Prior Appropriator has rights before your rights you can not deprive him of water, even if it deprives you of water.
Another source of improving the homestead water situation could be using grey water.
This is water from sinks, showers, and even washing machines if no harsh detergents are used.
Grey water is not water from toilets or dish washing machines.
To discover how this is done you can read my article, “How Can Insufficient Homestead Water Supply Be Improved?”
Toilet water can contain bacteria that causes sickness in humans so it is not used.
Water from dish washing machines, when commercial dish washing detergents are used in them, contains harsh chemicals that would damage plants.
Grey water use may not be legal in some areas.
There are some garden plants that you do not use grey water on.
Can I plant a garden over the septic system’s drain field?
I have read articles advocating doing this as a way of improving a homestead with borderline or worse water problems.
As a former Health Care Provider I would never plant a garden over a septic system’s drain field.
There is too much of a chance for the produce containing dangerous strains of e coli.
I would keep from planting trees, especially fruit trees within 25′ of a septic system drain field.
The roots have the ability to clog and damage the drain field.
Would a pond help improve a homestead’s water problem?
A pond can help improve a homestead’s water problem if the pond is spring fed or creek fed.
If the pond is merely filled when it rains, in most areas of the American Mid-West and West there will be times when that pond is dry for a good portion of the year.
If the homestead property borders a lake, can I take water out of the lake?
The answer to this question depends upon the laws in that part of the country.
If the lake has a lot of recreational use such as boating and water skiing, there might be laws against taking water out of the lake.
You would need to consult a local attorney dealing in Real Estate or Water Rights Laws.