Why Water Matters in Real Estate

I was recently asked how important water is when deciding whether to buy a rural property. My answer? It’s about as important as water is to your body–yep, it’s that important.

If you’re considering building a home on a property that has no water district, three primary options are open to you: drill a well, develop a spring, or acquire riparian rights from a nearby river. Typically folks drill a well, either because there are no springs or rivers, or because they can’t get enough water from them.

The process of drilling a well and getting water to your home reminds me of the children’s books by Laura Numeroff, starting with If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. One thing inevitably leads to another. Drilling a well can be a time consuming and expensive endeavor, but sometimes it’s the only way to go.

To begin, you’ll need a knowledgeable professional to find water. A good well-drilling company can perform two important tasks: help you find water (if there is any) and make sure you have county and state permission in the form of permits and/or licenses for each step in the process: boring, monitoring, groundwater sampling, quality and quantity   etc.

Let’s say you have success on your first try; rather than a dusty hole, you get water. Eureka! Now, you’ll need the infrastructure to support it. You’ll need to finish the well itself, pack the site with gravel, and install a pipe from the well to your home (with a possible detour to a holding tank and or pressure tank, depending on water volume).

That holding tank will need to be purchased or built. Typically it isn’t the most beautiful structure on your property, but it is helpful in the event that your well isn’t keeping up with a surge in demand. And, unless the holding tank is directly uphill from your home, you’ll need a pressure tank to provide water pressure.

That gets water from the ground to your home, but it doesn’t address the quality of the water. So, you’ll also want a filtration system to make the water safe (potable) and/or to make it taste better. The well shouldn’t be too close to the leach field of your septic system for obvious reasons, so be sure to plan ahead. The State Water Resources Control Board has a nice guide for private domestic well owners that talks about how to construct a well and assure the safety of the water at www.waterboards.ca.gov/gama/docs/wellowner_guide.pdf .

If you’re thinking of purchasing a rural property with an existing well, you’ll definitely want to order a water quality and quantity inspection during escrow. You’ll learn whether the water is potable, if the well is sustainable (what the yield orwater production is).

If you live on a property with a well and the water suddenly stops, don’t panic and assume the well is dry. Well, okay, panic because you can’t help it, but while you’re panicking, go to the well and check all the equipment. I once trucked water in for a month and a half before realizing I had a clogged pump.

If your equipment is fine, there’s a remote possibility that someone is stealing from you. When wells are not visible from the property’s home, it is not unheard of for marijuana growers to illegally tap into water pipes to irrigate their crops. This is rare, but it does happen.

If the well really is dry, you’ve got short-term and long-term options. If you run dry in August after the worst drought in recent memory, you can bring water in via a water truck and hope the coming winter replenishes the groundwater. If you run dry each August, you’ll need a new well at some point, so start planning. If you are dry in June, you’ll need a new well immediately. It probably goes without saying that, if no new water can be found, the property value sinks instantly and profoundly.

If you have questions about water rights and responsibilities attached to your property, there are lawyers who do nothing all day but deal with these issues. It is a complicated subject and probably worth getting an expert if you need one.

Next time I’ll write about how to hire a contractor. If there’s something you would like me to write about or if you have questions about real estate or property management, feel free to contact me at rselzer@selzerrealty.com or visit our website at www.realtyworldselzer.com. If you’d like to read previous articles, visit my blog at www.richardselzer.com. Dick Selzer is a real estate broker who has been in the business for more than 35 years.

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