Self-Sufficient Living | Ultimate Guide | 2: Water | 2020

Undoubtedly the most important aspect of living a self-sufficient lifestyle – A consistent water-source. 

Without it, the average person will die in around three days. In order to remain healthy, we need roughly 3 litres per day, and that’s not taking into account any additional needs, brought on by heat-exposure or exercise for example. 


Interesting tidbit – The famous trader Dr. Michael Burry (Played by Christian Bale in ‘The Big Short’) who’s hedge fund made a profit of over $700million betting against the housing market prior to the 2008 economic crash – Has since moved his focus to investing in one key commodity – Water. 


This is a guy who went against the grain, profiting massively as a result, despite being labelled eccentric at best and a lunatic at worst for doing so at the time. Perhaps something to keep in mind when assessing our priorities as self-sufficient individuals going forward..

We often take this essential life ingredient for granted, especially in developed countries such as ours. A shame really. And a very dangerous assumption to make. If the taps were to suddenly stop running tomorrow, the world would become a very different place, very quickly. 

However! No need to dwell on the doom and gloom – There are ample solutions out there to save our hydration-bacon if we’re willing and able to exercise a little foresight.


Interested in becoming truly self-sufficient? Take a look at Part One of our Ultimate Guide to Self Sufficient Living : Food Production.


Self-Sufficient Water – Rainwater Collection

Self-sufficient rainwater harvesting


Likely the most affordable and straight-forward of the approaches listed here – Rainwater collection can in many parts of the world have you completely independent of the grid in no time, with very little expense necessary. 


The Law


Legalities can be an issue (amazingly), with many US states for example currently banning all forms of rainwater collection. Here in the UK however, rainwater collection is not only completely legal but is actively encouraged in some of the drier areas of the country. 

And so it should be. Governments deeming the collection of such a basic necessity of life – one which literally falls from the sky – as illegal, just strikes such a nerve for me. 

But anyway, I digress. Be sure to double-check your local laws before investing any time or effort into building such a system so as to avoid trouble further down the line.  


System Options


So, assuming it’s perfectly legal where you are (or it isn’t and you’ve decided to absolutely not do this but are interested in learning all about it anyway..), it’s time to assess the different approaches we have to choose from, and which would be most fitting for your particular situation. 


DIY


Thankfully, it’s very cheap and easy to cobble together your own system if you so choose. Something as simple as redirecting your existing gutters into storage tanks is basically all you need to have access to a stable, independent water-supply. 

We’re more than likely going to want to go a little further than this though of course, in order to get the water where we want it and make sure it’s suitable for our intended uses when it gets there. 

Firstly, you’ll want to set up a simple pump system to move this water indoors. You may want to create multiple access points for various different parts of your house, or one access point from which you then branch off within – The choice is completely yours. 


Filtration & Treatment


Most importantly, consider what levels of filtration you’ll need to get this water to a safe level for your intended usage. If you’re thinking of only using it for WC flushing, a simple particulate filter fitted at either the tank-intake or within the pump-system will be more than sufficient. This type of filter removes any particulates from the water to avoid your system from getting clogged after extended usage. 

If however you’re looking for a safe source of drinking water, it’s important you treat your water for microbial activity as well as particulates. Rooves, gutters and downpipes are obviously not going to be the cleanest places in the world. 

Birds hang out there, doing what they do (and doing a lot of it). Leaves clog up and house any number of insect / microbial populations – all of this is going to be washed off with your water to some extent, and you don’t want to be drinking it untreated unless you absolutely have to.

Thankfully, modern science once again comes to the rescue. There are a few choices available to use when it comes to wiping our water clean of any microbial activity, however we would suggest UV treatment as the most effective solution currently, with a carbon-filter system fitted in addition (better to be safe rather than sorry).

Installing these filters is pretty straightforward if you’re at all familiar with plumbing, however getting someone in to put this initial set up in place is certainly not a bad idea to those new to the world of water-lego. A little investment up front to make sure it’s all fitted properly will pay itself off very quickly when you’re living your new water-independent reality. 


DIY Summary


All it breaks down to really is the following: 

  • Collect the water using some sort of catchment system (A roof and gutter is fine)
  • Store it in a tank of some sort (There are many options here, from a simply barrell to specialised systems designed to keep your stored water from becoming stagnant)
  • Make doubly sure you’ve filtered it to the point of safety for whatever your intended uses (You can get some nasty bugs from iffy water – Check and double check this one!).
  • Pump it to where it needs to be (Pretty self-explanatory)

And there you have it, a simple, cheap, DIY water collection system. Of course this is a very simple overview of the fundamentals – Start looking into it and you’ll find yourself down the self-sufficiency the rabbit hole very quickly! 

But, at the heart of it, it’s a very simple system which pays itself off in no time at all, both in regards to monetary investment and the peace of mind gained from becoming self-sufficient in this most important of life-sustaining resources. 


Purchased


Alternatively, if you’re not inclined to cobble together your own system (and who can blame you – I love these kinds of things, but I’ve my Father to blame for that) then there are plenty of systems available to purchase which will take all the hassle of planning, cutting, measuring and drilling out of it for you.

Ready-made kits from companies such as GutterMate can be scaled to suit just about any household, offering plenty of flexibility in terms of size, cost and yield.

I’d advise shopping around for local suppliers , if you’re looking to have it professionally fit. The last thing you want is to be calling somebody half-way across the country with an issue two weeks after your system goes live.


Useful Reading


If you’re thinking of designing, and perhaps even building your own rainwater harvesting system – You should get to grips with the details beforehand. Here’s a collection of the best guides we could dig up on the subject, taking you through the entire process from design, to self-sufficiency. 


Self-Sufficient Water – Rivers & Streams

self-sufficient river water harvesting


Rivers and streams. It’s not difficult to see how having regular access to one could have you acquiring all the water you could ever need self-sufficiently in no time at all. 

Of course, you’d have to be lucky enough to have one nearby to even consider this option for your daily-usage, which is going to be a pretty unique circumstance to begin with. 

Assuming you do, then there’s a host of considerations to work your way through before jumping in the deep end with this one. 


The Law


As far as I can tell, in the Uk you are generally allowed to use water running through a portion of your property for both domestic & livestock purposes, so long as you do not interrupt the ‘Natural flow of the watercourse’. This common access is classed as ‘Riparian Rights’.

The quantity of water which you are allowed to extract without acquiring a permit varies from locality to locality, so be sure to calculate this beforehand and double check your local council rules. 

Having said this, in the Uk at least most of the common-sense intended uses are allowed without having to file for a permit, which was a refreshingly bureaucracy-free surprise for this writer at least. 

Whether this is the case in your particular part of the world is something you should be absolutely certain of before going ahead with any kind of watercourse-based harvesting system.

Wasting time and money to only land yourself in the bad books of both local authorities and neighbours sounds like a bad time to me. Well worth double-triple and quadruple checking the local laws on this one before diving in head first.


System Options


Building your own system seems to be the most common approach taken to the smaller setups suitable for household use.

All-in-one systems are available, however we’ve found it difficult to find anything smaller than professional size harvesting systems – with some pretty eye-watering price tags to boot. 

Luckily for anybody considering harvesting water from a nearby river or stream in pursuit of self-sufficient living, the setup is simple enough to get your head around. 

At the most basic of levels, all you’ll need is a suitable pump and storage setup and you’re set. Of course, you wouldn’t want to use this untreated river water for anything more than irrigation or livestock purposes as it could be carrying all kinds of nasties along with it. 

But hey, if that’s all you need the water for, then that’s about that really. Be considerate of the local ecosystem when placing your pump, and make sure a proper filter and guard is attached to the intake to avoid disrupting any wildlife. But other than that – Easy peasy. 

Of course if you want to use this water for anything more than the above and by extension, become completely self-sufficient, you’re going to need to thoroughly disinfect it first.


Treatment


When it comes to river water there are a whole host of issues you’ll need to tackle before even considering using it for domestic purposes, let alone as a source of drinking water. 

Seepage from septic tanks, sewage systems, animal urine & excrement, along with a whole host of other nasties are likely to find their way into most rivers at some point.

But unfortunately this is far from the end of your issues when relying self-sufficiently on river water. Chemical runoff from farms, roads and industrial sites are likely to find their way into watercourses, many of which can be very dangerous indeed, and depending on the area – Present in high levels. 

My advice would be to consider the geography surrounding your watercourse. Does it pass through any densely populated areas before finding its way to you? Does it run nearby to industrial sites, areas of intense farming activity or any main roads?  

If so, in truth, it may be best looking elsewhere in your search for water self-sufficiency. The toxins present may just pose too much of a risk to be worth contending with. 

Taking our farm as an example however – We have a small stream running through our land which comes directly from the mountain behind us. It passes over one small, barely travelled farm track, with basically no habitation to either side of it. 

We use this watercourse for livestock purposes and it serves us well in that regard, however we would have no issues in this case collecting, filtering and treating this water for domestic uses if given no other option. 

So, I suppose it’s very site-specific. Use your best judgement here. 

Now, assuming you’ve run through all of these safety concerns and decided to go ahead with installing your own system, you’re going to need a heavy-duty filtration and treatment system to get this water up to domestic levels of safety. 

The exact setup would be similar to that used with any rainwater-collection system. Particulate filters remove any large particles from the water, carbon-filters neutralise taste while removing a range of harmful chemicals, while a UV filter kills off any microbial activity. 

Best to be safe rather than sorry at this point and allow for a little overkill. Ongoing maintenance will also be needed for each of these filters, with regular cleaning and cartridge changes required to keep them working efficiently.


Self-Sufficient Water – Borehole

self-sufficient borehole water well harvesting


Last but not least, the humble borehole – An age old friend to the self-sufficient. 

With climate change threatening to upend weather patterns worldwide, droughts set to last longer and storms set to hit harder – It’s hard to argue in this day and age against the merits of a trusty borehole. 

Of course, such reliable access to ample amounts of clean water inevitably comes at a price. Both the legalities and the outright monetary cost can add up when it comes to borehole drilling on your property. 


The Law


Here in the Uk, a permit will be required if you intend to use more than 20m/3 per day. Below that, local council and affiliated environmental agencies will have the final say on what’s needed to get you setup. 

Either way, your first port of call should be to an association such as the British Geological Survey, who will carry out an initial site-analysis (for a fee of course) to determine whether your site is even viable in the first place. 

From there, various environmental checks may be required, depending on your particular site. These requirements will vary greatly depending on where in the world you find yourself, so be sure to get your ducks in a row before dropping too much money into the project. 


System Options


While I’m sure we’re all familiar with the sight of an old, hand-dug well still standing proud many years later – That’s generally not a great idea these days. 

Although quite costly, a machine-dug borehole and all of the expertise which come with this specialist field has a much higher chance of establishing a reliable water-source for you, with a far lower chance of you breaking your back in the process. 

Prices vary greatly depending on the unique characteristics of your site. As a rough guide however, you can expect to spend between £70-£120 per metre for the digging & installation phase of your borehole adventure. 

Maintenance and running costs going forward will also vary depending on local power-rates. If you’re looking to go completely off-grid you could consider tying this into an overarching power-generation system – such as a solar array – which if scaled properly, could reduce your electricity cost and associated reliance on the grid to near zero.

Overall, we’d advise avoiding the DIY route with this one. Pay the specialists to do what they do best and enjoy your reliable, self-sufficient drinking water for years to come. 


Treatment


As with all things boreholes – This is going to be site-specific. 

Depending on the elements present and the concentrations which they’re found in, different levels of treatment will be required to get your water up to domestic standards. 

For example, it’s not uncommon to find very low pH, acidic water. In its raw state this would not be suitable for domestic use, and so a pH balancer can be fitted to the treatment system to rectify.

Other common issues with borehole water include: Microbial activity, Arsenic, High levels of Iron & Manganese – Among many other possible issues. Not things you want to be mixing in with your orange squash. 

So, as we mentioned above, it’s best to go with a specialist contractor who has experience of tailoring treatment solutions to the needs of a specific site. 


Summary


Easily the most expensive, yet most reliable option included here to attain a truly self-sufficient water supply. 

We’re beginning to see the disastrous effects of climate change across the globe. Rivers are running dry, rainfalls being pushed later and later into the year, bringing extended droughts to already arid lands. 

With a borehole in your armory, you’ll likely have access to all the emergency water you could ever need, a potentially life-saving resource in the years to come. 

And of course it’s not all doom and gloom. You also get the benefit of drinking unchlorinated, fresh water directly from your property in the meantime, reducing your reliance on the grid and saving money in the process.

While it’s no doubt a significant investment to make, in my opinion having reliable access to water over the years to come will be a truly priceless resource. Not to mention a key facet towards achieving a more self-sufficient lifestyle.


Useful Reading


There’s not much out there for the hobbyist interested in borehole drilling in particular. We’d suggest the reading listed under the ‘Rainwater Collection’ as a better start for anyone interested in creating a self-sufficient water supply.

For a great insight into the technical aspects of this specialist field take a look at our selection below. Perfect if you’re looking to dive headfirst into the world of self-sufficient water supplies.


And there we have it – An overview of the best paths towards a self-sufficient water supply, with an option for any and all budgets.

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Have a great day and happy hydration!

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