Spring Water Collection System

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Introduction: Spring Water Collection System

Water is the most valuable commodity in the world. No water, no life. Clean, fresh water is even more precious and a spring is an excellent source. If you have a spring on your property, or ground which is persistently wet, this instructable will help you collect that spring water for your house, farm or garden.

Step 1: What Type of Spring Do You Have?

In general, there are two types of springs from which you can collect water. Usually we think of springs on the side of a hill where water emerges from a fissure in the rock. This type of spring is the easiest as water can be collected at its source by building a small collection basin or a spring box. There is another type of spring which occurs at lower elevations called a seep. Seeps are simply where water filters up through the ground from the aquifer and forms a small pool or a soggy, wet area. Developing a seep spring is significantly more work since you must dig to find the water source.

This instructable is about how to collect spring water from a seep.

Step 2: Equipment & Materials

Here's a list of the basic equipment and materials you'll need.

Old clothes, work gloves and rubber boots

Shovels, including a hand trowel

Pick mattock (2nd pic)

Buckets and pails

#57 gravel

Plastic sheeting - 6ml

2' x 4' piece of 1/4" thick plastic for the headwall

1" PVC pipe and fittings

1" Uniseal gaskets & 1 3/4" hole saw

4 ft long level

Plastic barrel or box

Mess screen & hose clamps

Water testing kits

Advil

Step 3: Digging Out the Seep

One of the problems you'll encounter in digging a wet seep is that it is wet, very wet. The ground is saturated with water and you may not be able to use excavation equipment. Hand digging in the mud is the resultant task if the ground is too soft. It can be a bit like shoveling dry sand; throw one scoop out and two slide in. Determination and persistence are required, however, the reward is discovering new springs in your seep and watching the water flow increase.

Your experience will vary depending on your soil type and how much water is present. If your soil has more clay in it then you will have fewer problems as your soil is more stable. The area I was working in had water running on top of the ground and the top layer of soil was 18" thick silt. Lots of mud and muck.

As a newby I expected to dig a 3 ft diameter hole and hope I found enough water for my needs. The truth is that water within the soil (silt) began pushing behind the side walls of my dig causing them to cave in. "New" water would then flow into the hole and the size of my dig grew until I reached stable soil. This is maybe the worse case scenario although a lot of water is produced in the end. You may also encounter objects such as buried tree trunks and roots which obviously need to be removed. Dig and clean out your seep until you reach a stable clay bottom.

Step 4: Dig a Discharge Trench

As you dig your hole it will fill with water and you will need to create a discharge trench lower than your dig. Not only does this drain the collected water it also carries a good deal of mud & silt with it. As your dig deepens continue to deepen the discharge trench as well. I found moving watery mud down the trench to be easier than scooping it out of the hole. While this requires continual cleaning of the trench you are standing on solid ground which is a bonus.

To save time, dig your trench along the line where you plan to place your discharge pipes. In this way you do not have to dig a 2nd trench for the pipe. This didn't work well at my site as the water was running in a different direction than I planned to run my piping and I dug 2 trenches in the end.

Step 5: Encouraging Water Flow

Water moving through soil will continue to move downwards until it finds an impermeable layer and then runs on top of that layer. In a seep this is the clay layer where you will find trickles of water entering your dig. Removing the soggy soil around the water veins will typically encourage greater flow. Do not be too aggressive as it is theoretically possible to disturb the flow and lose it. In the second picture you can see the multiple small springs entering my dig and the holes I enlarged to increase water flow. Note some veins are opening in the walls while other are coming up through the clay bottom.

Step 6: Install a Headwall and Collection Piping

Now that the digging is over it's time to fill in the hole you just dug. Makes sense, right? Before adding too much gravel, however, you'll want to install the headwall and water collection piping. I learned this technique from Engineer775 on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpDl4WPpgvvOeZFp... He has many videos on developing water sources including hillside & seep springs. You can even purchase a collection system by visiting his website. https://www.practicalpreppers.com

For the headwall you will need a hefty piece of plastic around 18-24" tall and 36-60" wide depending on your site. I recycled a piece of scrap plastic from a previous project, installed it and then packed clay on the bottom and sides, inside and out. Although it worked, the clay at my site was poor and I later replaced it with red clay I purchased.

Add 2 outflow pipes using 1" Uniseal gaskets. The 1" uniseal gasket requires a 1 3/4" diameter hole which is easily made with a hole saw. Soapy water can be used to push the PVC pipe through the gasket. Tapering the end of the pipe makes it easier to insert as shown in pic 3. The bottom pipe is the discharge outlet and the upper pipe is an overflow pipe.

Uniseal gaskets can be purchased here. https://smile.amazon.com/UNISEAL-Flexible-Tank-Ada...

Behind the headwall and laying within the gravel is a dual water collection pipe (goalpost shaped) with arms roughly 30" long. Multiple 1/4" holes are drilled through both sides of the 1" PVC pipe 3/4" apart on center. This double pipe connects and passes through the bottom hole. Above the collection pipes is a single overflow pipe in case the lower pipe is unable to handle all the water. The overflow pipe has holes drilled in it in the same fashion as the other pipes. As you add gravel beneath and over both pipes keep them as level as you can.

Step 7: Adding Gravel and Plastic

Due to the silty soil I added 36" wide plastic on the walls of my dig in an attempt to reduce silt entering my spring. This is not typically done but I thought it would be beneficial in my situation. Before installing the gravel, wash it to remove as much stone dust as possible. Keeping dirt and stone dust out of the spring is important.

Now get to shoveling! The gravel works to allow water to flow through it and acts as a filter to remove sediment. In the end I installed 2 1/2 tons of #57 gravel in my spring. Hopefully yours is less. Remember to keep your collection & overflow pipes as level as possible and place sufficient gravel under them for good support. Lastly cover the entire spring with 6ml plastic to prevent ground water and dirt from contaminating the spring.

Step 8: Enjoy Your Progress!

This is a very rewarding moment. With all that digging and gravel scooping done you get to see the results of your labor. Cold clean water! To find out how much water your spring is producing simply time how long it takes to fill a 5 gallon bucket. This spring is producing 4 gallons a minute which is more than I can possibly use.

1440 minutes in a day x 4 gallons/min = 5,760 gallons a day.

That's over 46,000 16 oz bottles of water a day. All that work was definitely worth it.

Step 9: Cover the Spring

Inspired by your fresh water source it's time to grab your shovel again and cover up the spring. Avoid displacing the plastic cover as you backfill. If your site is flat you will want to mound dirt up on top of the spring to promote run off. Water standing on top of your spring could enter the spring and contaminate it. My site has enough slope and is deep enough that I didn't create a mound initially. When I landscape the area more I plan to use excess dirt to enhance the slope and create a mound over the spring.

Step 10: Test Your Water

Spring water is usually fresh and pure, but not always. It is a very good idea to have your water tested for minerals, pH, hardness, and contaminants. It is also important to have the water cultured for bacteria, especially coliforms such as E. coli. Testing + culture cost me $68. In Georgia we are able to pick up testing kits at our county extension office. Your state may be similar. There are also commercial labs which are certified by the EPA to do water testing. https://www.epa.gov/dwlabcert/contact-information-...

Here is an excellent handout on water testing if you'd like to learn more. http://aesl.ces.uga.edu/publications/watercirc/Te...

Step 11: Add an Access Pipe

Following Engineer775's guidelines you should add a pipe for access to your spring. Via a tee fitting in the overflow line this pipe will allow you shock the spring with bleach if it is ever contaminated. After backfilling is complete the top of the access pipe will be the only thing left uncovered and visible. Leave this standing pipe a little long so you can trim it later to the proper height. To be honest, I don't think I can shock such a large seep spring through a single access hole. It does mark the location of the headwall however, and that may prove beneficial if a leak occurs.

Step 12: Add a Spring Box

A spring box serves as a sediment basin where any impurities can settle out in the bottom. The box also allows access to water near the spring which may be important if you have the outflow pipe buried. At a minimum it provides an inspection port to evaluate the water being produced. Your spring box can be any accessible food-grade plastic container that's more than a few gallons in size. The blue barrel I used is 20 gallons and I used it only because I had it on hand. It also required more digging to bury which seems to be something I enjoy!

As you bury your pipe remember to slope it downhill so water will run away from the spring. Water must be able to flow freely without pressure towards the spring box so it does not backup behind the spring headwall. 1/8" per foot drop is sufficient, however, I increased that to 1/4" per foot as I figured that would get me somewhere between an 1/8" & a 1/4" per foot. Laying a 4 foot long level on your pipe, the end of the level closest to the spring box should be 1/2"-1" above the pipe. 1" divided by 4 ft = 1/4" per foot (1/2" = 1/8" per foot). Fill the trench under the pipe with gravel first to keep it at the proper slope.

Use 3 Uniseal gaskets and a 1 3/4" hole saw to install an inlet pipe, a discharge pipe and an overflow pipe in the spring box. The inlet pipe must enter the box above both the discharge pipe and the overflow pipe to prevent back pressure. Water will exit through the lowest pipe, the discharge pipe, and if that pipe were to become obstructed the overflow pipe would take over. Even when all the water is flowing out of the overflow pipe, the inlet pipe is still bringing water into the box unencumbered. This arrangement again keeps back pressure off of the spring.

Step 13: Finish Laying the Overflow Pipes

Lay the overflow pipes using the same slope as before (1/8-1/4" per foot). Again place gravel under it for support. Add mesh or screen to the end of both overflow pipes (spring & spring box) to prevent critters and debris from entering. I found stainless steel mesh used for laundry sinks at Home Depot ($2.50) and it worked nicely with a hose clamp.

White plumbing PVC is not UV resistant and will become brittle overtime if left exposed to sunlight. Electrical conduit is PVC for running wires and is UV resistant. I used grey electrical conduit at the ends of the overflow pipes as I will not be drinking from them. Hopefully the grey electrical conduit will last longer in the sun.

Painting white PVC with latex paint is supposed to protect it from UV light and I plan to paint the exposed discharge pipe. If anyone knows of a better way, please comment.

Step 14: Fill in Your Trenches & Landscape

More shoveling! Time to fill the trenches and do some landscaping. I used the red clay I purchased to cover the pipe with a stable soil. Further down from the headwall the ground is still very wet and the clay will hopefully protect the pipes a little. Next I will be seeding grass and covering the area with straw.

Step 15: Finishing Touches

During my digging I made a rock pile and decided to put those rocks to good use. I stacked rocks around the discharge and overflow pipes making sure not to put weight on top of them. My general technique was to use big stones on the perimeter and fill the center with small filler rocks. I also tried to alternate the direction of the stones to tie the stack together. At a minimum it's a nice place to sit and listen to the water.

Step 16: All Done.

This video shows the completed spring water collection system. Other than planting grass I don't plan on doing anymore work on it this fall. In the spring I may add a walk and a couple steps down to the bottom. I am also considering adding a hand pump to the spring box for filling larger containers.

Thank you for taking time to read about this project. I hope you found it helpful & informative. I look forward to your comments and questions.

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    32 Comments

    0
    gardener21
    gardener21

    3 months ago

    This was an amazing guide. Thank you! We live on a small spring-fed lake, and I'm trying to find resources for how to harness that water, maybe build a springhouse for winter food storage, etc. I'm having a hard time finding resources, is that because it's not advisable or because most people are doing this type of project, as opposed to having a large water source available? Any guidance you could provide would be very much appreciated.

    0
    kentdvm
    kentdvm

    Reply 3 months ago

    Hey! I had the same struggles finding information and I wonder if it’s because it’s just not common practice anymore. YouTube was the best place I found honestly because of people moving off grid and needing to develop springs, etc. Engineer775 is a YouTube channel with a lot of content on rural water/springs and how to go about it. Good luck!

    0
    jtassoni62
    jtassoni62

    4 months ago

    Very nice informative posting. I have numerous seeps on my property. One had been developed decades ago and is in a brick like chimney cistern about 24” square. I never knew it was there till I cut back the blackberries that were hiding it.
    My initial concern is the stone backfill will plug the seep. Looking down into my brick like cistern (?) I have noticed a lot of mud filling the bottom and the seep discharge has moved around over the five years of my observation.
    I bought some blue polyethylene plastic 55 gallon drums to make my head wall from. Cutting off the ends and then in half should give me about 2 - 72” headwalls. As cheap as these drums are I may end using them on the sidewalls instead of plastic. I’m thinking of using form stakes or rebar to hold the sidewalls in place.
    btw, my goal is to fill a small pond for irrigation not for potable water except maybe for the goats.

    0
    kentdvm
    kentdvm

    Reply 4 months ago

    The bottom of my seep is clay and the plastic keeps silt from seeping in from the sides and top. If you can get it sealed this way there should ideally be nothing but water and rocks in the seep bed. After running for 4 years, I can still see the floor of my spring box and I’ve never cleaned it. If you cut the end off a barrel and set it on a clay floor that would work to keep out silt. Using sections of barrels is going to leave gaps where silt can get into the stone and that would be an issue. You could also get some little critters in there who also enjoy spring water. For a pond that’s all fine, but silt is going to shorten the functioning life of the seep.

    0
    jtassoni62
    jtassoni62

    Reply 4 months ago

    Thanks for the reply. I intended to have an overlap about 6” if I need to join the poly barrel sides together using either stainless rivets or screws with a common construction grade polyethylene caulk. I’m aware that most glues don’t adhere well if at all to polyethylene.

    I hate to rely on hope after all the work that will go into this project, that the poly glue will hold long enough to get the backfill pressure to keep the overlapping joints from separating.

    Sorry for all the questions. But i assume the overflow pipe is level or below the seep level? Kudos to you on answering questions so long after this posting. Not many people do.👍

    if all goes well I hope to post some pictures of my progress if that’s allright with you.

    0
    kentdvm
    kentdvm

    Reply 4 months ago

    I don’t know of any glue that would work either, but the caulking might work. Once the rock is in place and the dirts on the outside, it would act as a dam even if not as strong as glue. The weight of the water pushing out would help too to compress the pieces. Could always line it with plastic.

    Yes the overflow is downhill from the seep. Every once in a while I block the outflow to the spring box so the seep fills up and water exits the overflow. Good to flush the pipes and test it. Please post pics👍🏼

    0
    jtassoni62
    jtassoni62

    Question 4 months ago

    I assume that the top of the headwall be a few inches above the height of the seep? If my headwall is 17” high, should the bottom be about 15” below the seep so no water pressure develops on top of the seep?
    To seal the bottom of the headwall both inside and out I read that mixing kitty litter (making sure it is sodium bentonite with no scent) at a 3 part dirt and 1 part bentonite will make a good seal. Do you have any input on that?

    thanks so much on a great article to help guide my project and for others doing the same.

    0
    kentdvm
    kentdvm

    Answer 4 months ago

    That’s the way I did mine. Head wall is probably an inch or so taller than gravel fill and a few inches down into clay. I don’t know about using kitty litter but is clay based so may work. I bought good ol red clay and it worked well

    0
    bradnecole
    bradnecole

    Question 1 year ago

    Hello, love this We are currently working on a seep and finding information has been a challenge everyone one posts side hill springs which is comparatively different. So glad to find your instructible! My question is do you have to dig to the " bottom" it could be a long ways and if the water is coming out and pooling above the seep at a certain water level could we put the dam at that level since it does not seem to interfer, like back the spring seep up? We really don't have elevation in this spot to work alot with...

    0
    kentdvm
    kentdvm

    Answer 1 year ago

    Agree there's not a lot of easily accessible info on seeps. A lot of work but definitely worth it. I not an expert, but my understanding is that you want to get to a clay or rock bottom to keep sediment out once you put plastic on the sides. Clay on the bottom, plastic on sides and top. My concern is that over time you'll need to keep cleaning it out to remove sediment as it migrates into your stone from the sides. When saturated the soil on the sides gets suspended in the water and moves into spring. Almost like the sides start to dissolve and then moves to fill the gravel bed. A second concern is that bacteria and other microbes could come with the sediment as top soil is much richer in microorganisms than clay. Moving into the saturated soil and then into your seep would be a fairly easy way for your water to be contaminated with potentially pathogenic bacteria, run-off, etc. I think for a safe long-term spring you need to get a stable bottom.

    0
    rhyamamoto
    rhyamamoto

    Reply 5 months ago

    I am in a similar situation. I have located my seep but it appears to be bubbling up in several spot in my 3' digging area. I have hit clay with holes in it from which the water bubbles. There appears to be a sand layer in pockets. I am afraid to dig deeper only to have the opening clog with the silt. To recap, the water is coming from the bottom not the sides of my opening. I would love suggestions.

    0
    kentdvm
    kentdvm

    Reply 5 months ago

    I stopped at the clay bottom. I don’t think there’s any benefit to going deeper. If you need more water, I would clear more silt laterally down to clay. A clay bottom and plastic on the sides to keep out silt is the goal.

    0
    Laurarules
    Laurarules

    1 year ago

    Thanks for posting the well testing fact sheet- this is random but I work with rural water utilities and I am always collecting useful guides as resources. That was one of the better guides I’ve seen :)

    0
    SaziL
    SaziL

    3 years ago

    Been drinking spring water all my life never thought about testing it..

    0
    kentdvm
    kentdvm

    Reply 3 years ago

    It's a good idea just in case, but it's also hard to argue with success over time. I'm thinking about adding UV light treatment as a precaution against future contamination. Loving my spring water!

    0
    kriemer
    kriemer

    4 years ago

    Great 'ible, but a couple of thoughts.

    1. The first step in all this should be testing the water for contaminants, e-coli, etc. An awful lot of work was shown ahead of this ve4ry simple step.

    2. It seems to be that eventually (which may be a week, month, year or never the gravel "silt" filter will become blinded. With no way to backwash you are left with an awful lot of gravel to move and wash. Any thoughts?

    Again, great 'ible.

    0
    kentdvm
    kentdvm

    Reply 4 years ago

    Thank you! I agree, if you can test the water initially then you can potentially save a lot of time and energy. I was in so much muck initially that I didn't think I could get a representative sample. Once it was dug out I wanted the water for farm and garden if not drinkable so I continued. Fortunately water tests are good.

    I really shouldn't have called it a silt filter as I'm hopeful the plastic will prevent silt entering. It really functions as more of a sediment basin for water entering. With plastic on top & sides and clay on the bottom I expect it to last a long time but time will tell.

    0
    Lord yLordy
    Lord yLordy

    4 years ago

    5000 gallons a day! I'd be building a shed to bottle all that water and be selling Spring Water or selling it to a water company.