Water Solutions For Off-Grid Raw Land Living In The Inland Northwest
Lately, as we look at land listings and internalize more and more that, "Woah! We're actually going to do this! We're going to buy raw land in an untamed wilderness with no utilities on it and build our homestead from absolute scratch...!" obviously this leaves some problems to solve.
After building road access onto the property, the next thing that comes to mind is water - the stuff of life!
It's a big deal. And an even bigger deal than I'm accustomed to dealing with having homesteaded twice before in the wet and humid climates of Kentucky & North Carolina. Now, it's the Inland Northwest! There's wolves, cougars, bears, and perhaps most deadly of all: very very dry summers.
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WHERE IS THE INLAND NORTHWEST?
The Inland Northwest is a more specific region within the Pacific Northwest.
The Pacific Northwest brings thoughts to mind of lush, green, wet rainforests, intense jagged snow-capped mountains, and pristine coastline. But once you cross over the Cascade Mountains, going east, you enter a different climate altogether, and if you've never driven over the Cascades and experienced that dramatic change in landscape, it's hard to understand just by reading about it.
You're literally driving through the mountains with waterfalls everywhere, turquoise rivers and lakes, and almost mammalian looking moss-covered Douglas Firs. Yes, it's mesmerizing. The Pacific Northwest is a truly beautiful place. (But! It's expensive to homestead, and it's full of people - residents and tourists alike. And the winter months are so gray and dreary, my body actually started yearning for sunlight in a way I had never felt before when I was living there).
Back to what I was saying, though. So you're driving through this idyllic terrain, heading east. As you finally crest the highest point of the North Cascades and start to descend, things are going to begin looking - and feeling! - different. The air is drier, there is less lushness, forest floors covered in pine needles, evidence of past wildfires, fewer people, more of a sub-alpine feel. Even the political climate changes.
Here is a map highlighting the specific areas of the Pacific Northwest that qualify, more specifically, as the Inland Northwest:
Eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana make up the Inland Northwest.
My personal opinion is that this is some of the best land possible for those truly seeking to live remotely while not sacrificing surrounding natural beauty. The Inland Northwest, though not the lush Pacific Northwest, is such a beautiful and wild part of the country.
The summers are very dry, though. Last July, August, and the first half of September, it only rained once or twice (and only for a few minutes) in eastern Washington. Wildfires were roaring all around and smoke filled the air most of the summer. While I appreciate the uniqueness of each season, summer is my least favorite season in the Inland Northwest.
Spring, Fall, and Winter are glorious beyond measure, though!
These months without rain must be given thought if you plan to live sustainably off-grid with no access to municipalities, responsible for your own water needs and any animals you want to have on your property (cows, pigs, goats, chickens, dogs, etc.).
Another consideration is that a lot of the Inland Northwest terrain is made up of highlands. The area we live in is referred to as the Columbia Highlands, within the Okanogan Highlands. These are literally: high lands. And this heightened elevation means that groundwater is further away than what those of you living closer to sea level or in wet regions have grown accustomed to.
All this said, we might find a piece of property that we love that's also within our budget that has water on it! But, I don't expect to.
So, after some research and thought, we've devised our own water solution. Here's the route we'll probably take.
OFF-GRID WATER SOLUTION IN A DRIER CLIMATE
Step 1: We'll haul water in the very beginning
Once we purchase raw land, there are a few projects we'll need to knock out first before we start on long-term water storage. Access, for example.
As we go to the property to work on these projects, we'll haul water with us.
When we were living in Arizona, we'd make weekly journeys to this beautiful pine forest where a clean spring flowed to fill up our water jugs. We used Reliance Aqua-Tainers and have grown to collect many over the years because they've proven themselves to be so sturdy and reliable. The water jugs I've gotten from health food stores over the years have been prone to developing leaks over time as I carry them to and fro and they inevitably bump up against things. So we'll buy a few more of these Aqua-Tainers and fill them to take out to the property to drink and to cook and clean with. They're even designed to be stackable and save space. If you're into prepping, survivalism, or off-grid living, I can't recommend these enough.
Step 2: Buy a Berkey water filter & set up a rainwater catchment system
Most rainwater catchment systems rely on roofs to direct rainwater into the rainwater barrel.
Since these water solutions are likely going to be built before the home, we'll likely build small shelters around the property in ideal locations. Very simple structures with poles and slanted metal roofs that can be used to put firewood under, the aforementioned Aqua-Tainer jugs and so on.
I'm talking really simple roof structure, similar to this:
Then we'll purchase rain barrels and probably set up about three barrels at each structure. I won't go into the details of how to build a rain water catchment system because those articles are all over the internet already, but I will share our exact design and set up when the time comes (hopefully this year!).
Finding high-quality barrels is important since this is water to be ingested. Many people buy secondhand food-grade barrels trusting that nothing toxic or otherwise questionable has ever been in them. But we'll probably invest in these 55-gallon rain barrels from Emergency Essentials, knowing that they're new and have excellent reviews.
We'll put this water through the king of off-grid water filtration: Berkey filters! These are nice stainless steel in-home water filters and we'll use this on the property as we build. You can put water collected from the landscape through a Berkey water system and make it safe and drinkable. These setups are an absolute necessity for off-gridders.
The rain barrel systems aren't a long-term solution for us, though, due to the dry summers and the very cold and long winters. We can catch rainwater from roughly May - October, we can use that rainwater as it's caught, but ideally we need to be routing it someplace more sustainable and long-term reliable. Enter Step 3.
Step 3: Install a below ground cistern tank
This is an essential step for having a reliable source of water on our property. You can install above ground or below ground cisterns on your property; below ground is ideal for our long freezing Inland Northwest winters.
You can fill these cisterns with water hauled in, rainwater, or water from a well. We'll route the rainwater that we catch above ground during the warmer wetter season into this below ground cistern to be stored and used as needed, like the water system in any home.
How we're going to pump the water from the cistern up to the ground or into the home to be used will take more brainstorming as the time approaches. But, to avoid using energy to pump water, we're already thinking about how to position the cistern at a higher elevation than where our home will be and where our animals will be kept. This way, we can just use gravity to move water from the cistern to the faucets.
Step 4: Dig a pond, then dig another pond
A wonderful way to keep animals and livestock hydrated is to dig a few ponds around the property. This will be another part of our water security. Ponds don't require any piping or use of energy and the animals can even take a dip during the hot dry summers to enhance their quality of life.
You can put down a pond liner or look into using pigs to seal a pond.
Maybe in the future we'll dig a well like most people in our area use.
After having been on the land a while, we'll be able to accurately assess if it's necessary and how much quality it would add to our lives; this will determine if the expense is worth it.
But here's our plan to begin with and - I think - some great solutions for folks who are purchasing raw land and starting from scratch with no utilities, especially in a drier climate like the Inland Northwest.
If you have more ideas or tips, please post them in the comments! We should find out how well this plan works in the months to come ~ so stay posted ;)