Typically, natural springs can be found in hilly or mountainous terrain. The common definition is a “place where natural outflow of groundwater occurs”. Water from natural springs is ground water, and not surface water and thus, is typically free of contaminates that would otherwise be associated with surface water or open water sources.
Generally, spring water is of good quality. Pathogenic contamination is not very likely if the source meets certain criteria. Criteria would include the thickness of the soil layer, the type of soil, and the pace of infiltration of the surface water, in other words, how fast would rain water filter down through the soil to replenish the spring. The soil formation should be substantial enough for natural soil filtration and biological action needed to remove “pathogenic organisms” before the water enters the aquifer feeding the spring.
Water that is blocked by solid or clay layers and is forced to the surface sometimes through rock fissures is usually called an artesian spring. The water in the case of an artesian spring is under pressure and can essentially “bubble up” or percolate from the fissure or even from the ground in some cases. This type of spring would provide the most reliable source of water. Artesian springs in some cases are still used today to supply towns and villages with water.
Another type of spring is called a gravity overflow spring, which is created from an outcrop of resistant soil, such as a solid or clay fault zone. This type formation prevents the downward flow of the groundwater and thus forces it up to the surface. This source is not as dependable as an artesian spring. However, if you were supplying a homestead this type of spring would likely be more than adequate, as long as the area receives sufficient rainfall.
Natural springs can also be found feeding small streams and even rivers. The advantage of finding a so-called feeder spring would be the fact that the water is groundwater and in most cases would not have to be purified if in fact it originates from underground. The concern would be contamination from animals and insects at the collection point. The river or stream that the spring feeds into would be considered surface water.
Utilizing the Source
Once you find a natural spring and you plan to use it for a continuous source, you will need to protect the source. In years past spring houses were built over the spring for protection from animals and insects, and a structure over the spring would also act as a chiller for storing fresh milk, eggs and other perishables to include certain produce. The high humidity content of the spring house would be ideal for certain vegetables and fruits.
Structures were usually built using native rock and inside the spring house, a cistern would be formed to allow the water to pool making it easier to collect the water. Water collected in a pool will evaporate and cool the surrounding air and having a structure to contain the cooled air is necessary.
Spring water will maintain a steady temperature of approximately 50ᵒ F (10ᵒ C) because the water is coming from deep underground and at a certain depth the ground maintains a constant temperature of around 50ᵒ F regardless of the season. The structure around the spring would also help to keep the spring from freezing over in the wintertime.
In later years people installed clay pipes and used gravity to feed the water to holding tanks closer to the home or to inside the home in some cases. Keep in mind many springs are located in hilly regions so gravity can be used to help move the water to holding tanks.
Today you can use electric pumps or use gravity to fill holding tanks and then use electric pumps to pump the water to user sources inside the home, barns or for irrigation.
Keep in mind once the water is allowed to collect in a cistern or open tanks it is considered surface water or open source water, and it must be protected from insects, rodents and other animals to prevent contamination, otherwise you would need to filter and purify the water before consuming.
If you plan to use the spring as an emergency backup then using collection tanks would be ideal and gravity would suffice in most cases. If you wanted to use it as your only source then you would need a pumping system to get the water to all user points inside the home. You may also need a filtration and purification system along with a water softening system as well.
A natural spring is one of several sources of water that could be used during emergencies or for year around use. You have to of course, find a spring and then as stated earlier, protect and set up a collection system that does not contaminate the water.
Natural springs can become contaminated because of toxins that leach into the soil. It is recommended that you test any spring water before use. Surface water intrusion into the spring can bring all manner of pathogens and other contaminates with it, so it is important that you carefully inspect the area. You do not want to find an abandoned junkyard 300 yards away from the spring where oils and other fluids could have contaminated the groundwater.