This is Part 7 in Corcceigh Green’s Survival 101 series. If you missed Part 6, CLICK HERE
As summer has made its appearance it is now time to shift gears and focus on how to find water in the wilderness and make it it potable. Water is the second most important consideration for the survivor after shelter and fire. A survivor can lose two to three pints of water per day by merely sitting on a log. If you consider the work you must put into clearing a camp site, building a shelter and gathering firewood you will probably be replacing five to six quarts of water per day. If you are inactive, you will need seven and a half gallons of water to sustain yourself for a one week period. You can more than double this amount as you search for food and water sources in the summer.
Camp sites and shelters should be selected for their proximity to water sources. Finding those water sources are not always easy, but knowing what indicators to look for will greatly increase your chances of finding water from a distance.
The terrain itself is one indicator where water may be present. Wide, flat areas on the desert floor that are a bit sandier than the surrounding
terrain may support lusher, greener vegetation. This area will have salt cedar trees growing upon it in clumps. This is called a riparian. When the vegetation growing on the riparian is green and laying down in the same direction, water had just been running in the riparian. It is possible to dig between a few inches and a few feet to find water under these conditions. Always dig where reeds, or especially, wild desert squash is seen growing. These plants have shallow roots and need a source of water to live.
In desert and arid regions such riparians are few and far between. Wide flat areas in the Northwest temperate zones and rain forests hold more chances of finding water. Vegetation and wildlife plays a part in finding water here. Follow game trails through forested areas checking plant life when coming to meadows and clearings. Where tree species change from coniferous to deciduous species the likelihood of finding water increases. Look for Cottonwoods and Alders. When you find these species growing in a crooked row you have just found a stream or river. Reeds and Cattails growing in lush, green flat areas are certain indicators of water. The odds of finding water in a rain forest or temperate zone is very good. While moving through forests in such areas stop and listen often as running trickles of springs and streams are plentiful and you are likely to hear water running underneath the roots of trees and shrubs
While in the wide open of grasslands, deserts and arid sage lands you can often scan the terrain for many miles ahead. Look for trees and taller vegetation growing in crooked rows. Pay close attention to any such vegetation that is lusher and greener than surrounding vegetation. Cottonwoods and Sycamores are especially noticeable species that always grow close to water and tower above the surrounding vegetation.
Areas east of the Mississippi River are mainly urban, farmland or deciduous forests. Situated between the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, the Gulf Coast, and the Atlantic Ocean, water is abundant. With such an abundance of bodies of water and west to east weather patterns, the Eastern U.S. is very humid and rain is abundant. When finding water sources in the East, use techniques similar to finding water in the Northwest. Travel game trails, stop frequently and listen for trickles. Look for gaps in the forest that follow crooked rows. These could be streams or rivers not immediately seen at ground level.
In desert environments it is often beneficial to move toward higher ground in search of water. This accomplishes two things. One, it allows one to overlook terrain for signs of water at distances. Two, moving upward and toward mountains or higher ground in the desert will bring one closer to where most of the rainfall occurs in the desert.
The terrain will begin to narrow with rises on either side. Inspect the bottoms of these areas as they are runoff areas for water. Some may be actual stream beds. You may find a trickle of water or some mud here. Chances are, the stream bed will be dry in the summer months. Follow the stream bed to a bend shaded by a Palo Verde or Mesquite. Look for mud in these bends. If you find mud, there is water just below the surface. Dig down several inches at a time and wait to see if water begins to fill in. You may have to dig down a few feet for this. If water isn’t filling into the hole, there just isn’t enough water present to squeeze from the sand. You’ll have to move up the stream bed.
While moving up the stream bed, climb onto a rise to the side of the stream bed and look over the surrounding terrain. This will give you the opportunity to look for signs of water from a distance. The first signs you might see are trees. Water sources such as surface streams can be spotted from a distance by observing the types of trees growing along crooked rows in lowland gulches or between rises. Some trees are very specific indicators of water and only grow close to such sources. One such tree is the sycamore. The cottonwood is another. These trees grow to a great height which is quite startling in the desert when compared to other plants of the area. This causes them to stand out even at a distance and they are always an indicator of water.
You will also notice that the terrain in the stream bed is changing. The stream bed is becoming more narrow. The land is rising more steeply off the banks to form rocky hills. The stream bed itself will become more and more rocky. Your chances of finding water is improving. Signs of water to look for in the stream bed are insects like moths, butterflies and midges. Purple colored butterflies are an indicator of surface water within a few yards. Follow these butterflies and you will find a water source very close by. Birds like doves need a reliable water source as they need to drink at least twice a day. Look for medium sized bird tracks on the ground and dusting areas. A number of tracks leading from a dusting patch in a single direction will probably lead to surface water.
Check for mud and insects around the edges of rocks. Being careful of venomous snakes, roll away some likely rocks where water may have collected. Rocks in the shade of a bend are more likely to hide a very small sip of water. A nice shaded bend may also be likely to hold more water beneath its surface. If the first few rocks you pull out of the hole yield some moist sand or mud your chances are getting better.
In the Mountain Northwest gulches are often choked with shrubs and vegetation. It is often hard to see the terrain for the trees. Topsoil often covers bedrock several feet thick. Where bare sand and rock or gravel is found you have a stream bed. Even though the inland Northwest has its share of rain, it is still a dry place in the summer and some creeks and streams are seasonal. The bottoms of gulches where the roots of trees bridge gaps in the soil are areas where the soils has been swept away by rising rain waters or snow melt-off. Check these gaps and holes. Often a stream will run during the summer unobserved under soil and roots. Be especially observant of gulches where Alder is growing.
In the East, water is more observable as streams and springs push away decaying leaves and soil. Vegetation can still block your sight from finding these water sources. Again, like the Northwest area, check the bottoms of depressions in ridges. Due to humidity and more frequent rains, water will be more abundant here.
Back in the desert you may need to continue uphill in your quest for water. Where the stream bed becomes tangled with vegetation is a possible source of water. If the vegetation is composed of reeds or vines like squash and are green, water is just below the surface. Plants like Jojoba, Mesquite and Palo Verde means the water table is many feet below the surface and you probably won’t reach it. If the reeds or vines are dried and dead, the water is seasonal and gone until the next rainfall. Cacti are succulents and store water from monsoon rains, so are not an indicator of water.
As the stream bed narrows the terrain will become steeper. If the terrain becomes steeper and rockier on either side of the stream bed while the slope of the stream bed is more gentle and bed rock or calichi becomes prominent within the stream bed, your chances of finding water are vastly improving. If the stream bed remains sandy or rocky and becomes sharply steep it is time to search for another stream bed. Your stream bed may exhibit holes within the calichi. This is a sign that running water has removed rocks from the calichi. You may find surface water within these holes. Your chances of finding running water in this stream by following it a little further up is very good.
As you follow the stream bed you will notice that it is narrowing even further and perhaps making some sharp bends. Before making one of these bends or perhaps at a point where another small creek bed converges with your creek bed, you will notice a small trickle of water soaking into the ground. Like as not, this sighting will be preceded by purple butterflies and midges. Following this trickle up the creek bed will yield a spring and perhaps a running brook. You have just found enough water to keep you alive. You will need to set up a camp sight close by, but definitely not in the stream bed whether the bed is dry or not.
Finding water is not quite this easy, unfortunately. In the desert there are hundreds of dry miles and very few sources of running water. Rivers that I had been used to seeing in the past like the Gila, Cave Creek and Salt rivers have stopped running altogether. Water is very precious and becoming more so. You should always bring some along with you when traveling in arid regions. This will give you a small cushion of time to find a water source.
In the Northwest, finding water will be easier than finding water in the desert. When you find water from a river or stream, follow the source to
headwaters or spring. The water is more pure at the spring and you may find a remote water source for survival purposes. Keep an eye out for signs of game, other wildlife and fish including crayfish and freshwater clams and muscles. Most of the west is arid and food plants and animals are more easily located around water sources.
Your task for this week is to go to a place which you are not used to frequenting. You must look for signs of water, taking note of what you find, then you must successfully find water. Next week we will begin learning to make water drinkable with what we are carrying in our survival kits. Don’t be afraid to comment for more directions or questions if you need to.