Finding the ideal retreat location is a bit like finding the ideal spouse. Almost impossible.
There are many different factors to consider in evaluating different retreat locations, including for most of us the key issue of affordability (although when it comes to Level 3 scenarios, it could be argued that a bad retreat location is only slightly better than no retreat location at all).
How to juggle the many different factors for a ‘perfect’ retreat (or, better to say, a ‘least imperfect’ one) involves trying to balance out the different issues, and accordingly different priorities to each issue. For example, it may be helpful to be close to a railroad track (our guess is that in a Level 3 scenario, trains will start long distance freight and passenger service long before regular road vehicles). But would you rather be close to a rail line or a river – both may offer transportation options, and a river has another possibly vital plus point too.
Which brings us to the content of this article. The essential importance of a water supply at your retreat location.
Many Different Uses of Water
Now you probably already know that you need water, right? You know, that thing about dehydration being fatal after three days with no water, and the rule of thumb about allowing a gallon of water a day for essential minimal uses. But that’s not the end of the story. It is barely the beginning of the story.
For a Level 3 scenario, you don’t just need a gallon of water a day – you might potentially need 1,000 gallons a day (to water crops and feed animals) or even more (to run a micro-hydro power station), as well as the modest quantity for yourself.
Let’s think about all the ways that water can help you :
Drinking water – Must be free of contamination, only needed in low quantities
Other Household water – For cooking/washing/flushing type purposes – of successively lower quality
Agricultural water – Some bio-contamination fine, but free of chemicals and poisons, needed in potentially large quantities
Power – Hydro-electric power requires freely flowing water running down a grade, watermills can work on lower flows and lesser drops; needs huge quantities of water
Food – Lakes, rivers and streams could be sources of fish, a more ambitious project is to consider aquaculture
Transportation – Some rivers and lakes are navigable, and water transport is energy-efficient (particularly sail powered)
Security – A water obstacle won’t necessarily make it impossible for attackers to reach you, but it will slow them down and make them more vulnerable while crossing it
Fire-fighting – If you should have a fire, you’ll need a plentiful supply of water to fight it
Money – Maybe you can sell water to others
Community – See our last point, below. Becoming the community water source helps the community coalesce.
So water is a vital resource, and easy access to large amounts of it – large amounts that don’t require major energy costs to retrieve – is a very important part of choosing your retreat location.
You need to think beyond the simple ‘can I get my gallon of water a day’ concept and consider issues that might require tens of thousands of gallons of water a day, such as the ‘bonus’ of being able to use a water source for hydro-electric power generation.
A further bonus is the potential for catching fish and providing food. With so many people talking about ‘I’ll go out and hunt deer’, we wonder just how scarce wild game may become; but if you have access to a reasonably private lake or river, maybe your fish supply will not be so threatened. Maybe.
Many Different Sources of Water
So where can you get water from? Many different places is the happy answer.
Rainwater – an unreliable seasonal source, better in some areas than others, possibly sufficient for basic household needs. Almost always of very high quality. Requires potentially extensive (and therefore expensive) storage capacity so as to keep it available for use in dry months.
Free-flowing springs – These are wonderful but rare. If you can come up with a spring/well where the water comes out of the ground ‘all by itself’ you are extremely blessed. Need to check the water quality, and confirm the reliability of the spring flow year-round, and from one year to the next to the next. Assuming reliable and adequate flow rates, no need for storage.
Wells – These can be prodigious sources of water, but require energy to lift the water up from the level it is found in the well. We discuss this in our article The Energy Cost of Pumping Water from a Well. More likely to be reasonably pure, but need occasional testing. Assuming reliable and adequate flow rates, no need for storage.
Rivers and streams – Possibly of varying reliability. May freeze over in the winter and dry up in the summer. Will probably require energy expenditure to transfer water from river/stream to retreat. Of uncertain purity, and need ongoing testing to keep on top of changes in the water quality. Assuming the water is available year round, no need for storage.
Restrictions on Water Use
The more arid the state, the greater the legislative focus on the ‘ownership’ of water. And also the ‘greener’ the state (ie the more eco-focused) again the greater the focus on leaving water flows undisturbed. The welfare of fish is considered more important than the welfare of the state’s citizens.
Restrictions may exist at a state-wide level or at a county level – possibly even at a city level. Bearing in mind our strong suggestion that everything you do be fully compliant with all current laws, you need to be aware of possible restrictions on your use of water that flows through or near to your property.
City Water Supply
We hopefully don’t need to tell you this, but if you are at a location which provides city water, you should not base your retreat planning on the assumption that the city water supply will continue uninterrupted WTSHTF.
While there is a temptation to using the very inexpensive city water prior to a Level 2/3 event, we recommend you use your own water supply right from when you set up your retreat. This will give you a chance to identify any problems and issues, and will give you the opportunity to resolve them while you still have all the wonderful resources of modern civilization at hand.
If you just sink a well then leave it, untouched, for years, while happily using the city water instead, you have no way of knowing if something has happened to the pump or maybe the water table has lowered and the well is no longer able to supply you with water. It is probably better to use your well and pump on a regular basis than to leave it unused and have parts dry out or rust up or whatever else.
Selling Water – Building a Community
You should get a feeling for how other people in your general area get their water. And think it through to ‘could they continue to get water from this source WTSHTF’. If everyone has wells, the question becomes ‘Do they have storage tanks, and do they have some way of powering their pump’.
If you live a long way from your nearest neighbor, and if there are some hundred feet of altitude separating you from your neighbors too (especially if you are lower) then maybe you would not be a convenient source of water, especially if there was a good river running by closer to them. But if water is in short supply, and if you have an abundant source of it, then maybe you can make money by selling water to your neighbors.
We’d suggest you not be greedy in such a case. You obviously need to cover your energy costs, and the time/hassle factor. Beyond that, though, being able to help your local community provides a common tie to unite you all – the need to protect your water source from outsiders. That’s an obvious benefit to you, as is anything that helps a community work together and to establish their self-sufficiency.
How should you be paid for the water you sell? That’s an entirely different topic, and it depends on the likelihood of the dollar staying as the currency of the country when life returns back to something close to normal. It also depends on what you most need and what the people buying the water from you have the most of.
If you are using diesel to drive a generator to power the water pump, maybe you say ‘500 gallons of water for one gallon of diesel’. That sounds very fair, but with your underlying ‘cost’ of diesel to pump the water being more like one gallon of diesel for 7,000 gallons of water, you’ve not only covered the cost of the water, but more than 7 of the 8 pints of diesel you received in exchange can be used for powering other things for other purposes, too.
If you become the community water supply, you could also become the community trading post for other things too – you could even allow (encourage) your neighbors to set up stalls selling and trading the foodstuffs and other items they have for sale in exchange for things they need. It makes you a community leader, and helps encourage the community to in turn protect and assist you.