Finding Water: How to Dig a Seep
(As featured in the April 2008 issue of Practically Seeking)
When working to obtain water in a wilderness setting one must always question the purity of the source, particularly with any surface water.
One way you can greatly improve your chances of not ingesting any parasites is to dig a seep.
A seep can be constructed almost anywhere the ground is wet, damp or muddy on a consistent basis. By allowing the water to filter through the earth you greatly reduce your chance of contracting a case of the "nasties", and provided there are not excessive minerals in the soil, the water may be some of the best you've ever tasted!
Digging out a seep will often bring new life to an area and is an easy project to complete in half a day.
video of our recent
seep digging project
in the Catskills
Tips & Tricks for Finding a Water Source:
- Different plants have different relationships to water. By knowing which plants and trees like or need to be near a water source you will know in what areas to begin looking for a good seep location. Willows, for example, grow adjacent to water.
- Water encourages insects, insects attract birds. Careful watching of bird habits and flight patterns can point you in water's direction.
Step-by-step Instructions for Digging a Seep:
- Locate an area of damp ground. In the photos and video we are on a "bench" near the TOP of a mountain. Low lying areas are often more productive, as water flows downhill, but don't neglect those higher elevations!
- Adjacent to your damp area, dig a hole about the size of a basketball, which will hold several gallons of water. You can also dig a seep next to a lake, stream or pond by digging back from the edge. Sandier soil will require the hole to be farther back (5–10 feet) than clay soil (3–5 feet).
- If at all possible line the hole with stones, as this will be very helpful in preventing sediment from being stirred up in the water. Line the bottom as well as the sides, matching the rocks as closely as possible in "puzzle" fashion in order to keep the majority of particles out of your seep water.
- Allow the hole to fill about ¼ to 1/3 full.
- Scoop out the dirty, muddy water in order to remove as much flotsam and sediment as possible. Allow any remaining sediment to settle out completely until the water is clear. You may wish to repeat this process several times, stirring up the sediment before beginning to scoop, as each time the water is removed less sediment will remain. This process can take several hours or can be done over several days.
- Once the water is settled clear in the rock-lined hole, skim any remaining organic material off the top.
- Good judgment and prudence are always required when dealing with water sources. As a safety precaution, treatment by filtering or boiling is recommended before consumption. The water extracted from the seep, after it has settled, will contain far fewer particles that may potentially clog your filters.
- A seep will be found very quickly by the local wildlife, and may bring new birds and animals to the area. When you return to your new water source, it is always best to scoop out the majority of the water and allow the hole to refill before taking your drink. (Added bonus: the area around your new water source may become a great tracking spot!)