A Place of Your Own Part Ten: Got Water

I have been involved in land sales and purchases for many years now, and the most persistent question from land buyers (me included) is, “Does the tract have water on it?” Good question. As a land investor, water has always been important to me because it always seemed important to the folks I was selling land to. But, why? Well, a few years ago I asked an older gentleman why this was such a big deal to him. “Son, I figure a creek would be hard to add after I buy some land, so I’d much prefer to have it from the start.”

Good answer.

In the same way location is important, so is water….and for the same reason. They are characteristics that are hard to change. Plus, water sources like creeks, rivers, and lakes add to the aesthetic beauty of a tract, enhance wildlife, and create enjoyment opportunities that enhance one’s personal enjoyment.

As you pursue your dream tract, you may want to consider how water resources play into your decision, but be aware that answering “yes” to the water question is just the start. You need to dig a little deeper, knowing that water comes in three basic varieties – flowing water, lakes and ponds, and wetlands.

Here are some things to consider.

Don’t get confused by, or caught up in, terminology. What is the difference between a river, a creek, a stream, and a branch? When does a pond become a lake? I assume that size plays into the answer to all of these questions. I’m sure that there is a technically correct definition for each, but I’ll admit that I don’t know and never really took the time to find out, because the definition of these words is less important to me than what the person saying them actually means. For example, Potato Creek in South Georgia can be a raging torrent several hundred feet across, while the Mississippi River in Minnesota is small enough to jump across. This fact was driven home to me a year or so ago when a friend purchased 100 acres with a nice “creek” flowing through the middle. I joined him to look it over, only to find that the creek was deep and wide, with steep banks, creating an impassable obstacle to over half of the property. The creek was pretty to look at, but rendered nearly 50 acres inaccessible. Did it have water? Yep. Was that a good thing? Well…..not so much.

Creeks are nice, but bigger is not always better.

I think a lot of folks want a small meandering creek because they are nice to look at, but they also want them in case they want a lake at some point in the future. I’ve heard a thousand times that a tract had a creek and a “beautiful lake site” on it. Here’s some advice – unless you hear that statement from an engineer who jut performed a lake design on the property, ignore it. The simple truth is that most folks will never build a lake or pond. It is expensive, time consuming, and in most states, difficult to get permitted. If you want a lake, buy a tract with a lake.

A bit of advice about creeks and lakes, though. Creeks with large watersheds (areas that drain into your creek) can go from a trickle to a flood in a flash. Pardon the pun. Creeks that flow steadily during periods of regular rain can go dry as a bone in periods of prolonged drought. Lakes can suffer the same situation. I have seen farm ponds and lakes go completely dry and fill right back up in the last two years.

Also be aware that lakes and ponds can come with problems, particularly older ones. Drains in older ponds and lakes are notorious for clogging, leaking, and other problems associated with neglect. Lakes and ponds (even the older ones) with the newer siphon systems are a better bet than a simple drain stand. Also be mindful of dam integrity issues caused by trees (particularly large ones) growing on the dam.

Take your time. Do your homework. Make sure you’re getting what you want. Water on a tract is great. Water problems on a tract aren’t. And just like a bad location, both are hard to change after you own it.

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