Don't Overlook Water
September 24, 2010
I have been involved in land sales and purchases for many years, and the most persistent question from land buyers is, "Does the tract have water on it?"
That's a good question. As an older gentleman told me years ago when he was considering a property, "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."
He was right. In the same way location is important, so is water . . . and for the same reason. They are some land characteristics that are hard to change, and water is one of them. Plus, water sources like creeks, rivers, and lakes add to the aesthetic beauty of a tract and help enhance its wildlife potential.
As you search for 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'm sure 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 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 it 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 decide to create 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. But unless you hear that statement from a landscape engineer who just examined 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, it can be difficult to get the necessary permits. If you want a lake, buy a tract with a lake.
Remember, too, that creeks with large watersheds (the areas that drain into your creek) can go from a trickle to a flood in a flash. Creeks that flow steadily during periods of regular rain can go dry as a bone in periods of prolonged drought. And I've seen farm ponds and lakes go completely dry and fill back up years later.
Be aware that lakes and ponds, particularly older ones, can come with problems. Drains in older ponds and lakes are notorious for clogging, leaking and other problems associated with neglect. Lakes and ponds 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.
So take your time, do your homework and make sure you're getting what you want. Water on a tract is great, but water problems aren't. And just like a bad location, both are hard to change after you own it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Don Webb is the author of "Maximizing The Land Ownership Experience" and president of Greenwood Land Company, which provides land acquisition and consulting services. Contact him at (706) 575-4178 or go online to www.greenwoodproject.com.