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How can I sell my artesian well water so that I don't to give it up?
February 26, 2014 4:36 PM   Subscribe

I own a Lake Superior property that has an artesian well. I'd like to sell the incredibly pure water from it. How could I do this in a way that wouldn't create environmental damage? I need to generate some profit from my property in order to afford to own it. I have fallen on hard times and can't even afford the taxes anymore. The water flows from the aquifer into a cistern continuously. In the warmer months, I have a pump that brings the water into a 100 yr old farmhouse on the property.
posted by Kazimirovna to Law & Government (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Which side are you on? Ontario or Minnesota? This will have a pretty big impact on answers here. In Ontario at least there certain laws about well water, which would include limits on how much you can sell without a permit, and ensuring your well meets necessary environmental standards etc.
posted by modernnomad at 4:41 PM on February 26

First you'll need to check with whichever government body is responsible for regulating water quality in your state or province. It's possible-to-likely that it's only legal for you to take X gallons of water from the well per year and, for example, wells that are permitted to be used for residential consumption are not allowed to be used for, say, irrigating agriculture.

As they say, whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.
posted by stet at 4:45 PM on February 26 [3 favorites]

According to this you need a water use permit from the state department of natural resources if you are withdrawing more than 10,000 gallons of water per day or 1 million gallons per year. Purely residential wells are exempt from this.

I assume that if you're selling the water for drinking to someone either they or you would have to certify that the water met safe drinking water standards.
posted by atrazine at 2:31 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

Assuming you're on the U.S. side, I would start with the county health department.
posted by yclipse at 4:16 AM on February 27

In what form would you sell it? In bulk for your neighbors' drinking and irrigation and washing purposes? Don't they have wells? Or can you undercut the municipal supply price?

The only way water commands a price commensurate with your needs is in very large quantities, or sold as expensive bottled drinking water. You would need capital to do the either, not to mention permits, health inspection of your bottling line, distribution, and accounting -- you'd be setting up a business where you were competing with Nestle and Dannon.

You live in Minnesota. There is no shortage of bulk water for any general use purpose.

I think this is a bad idea and born of desperation.
posted by spitbull at 5:17 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

You're definitely going to have to contact your county health department about this. They will most likely need to test the well before they can approve it for public consumption and/or sales. As the owner, you can drink from it without needing approval, but, in order to sell it to the public, you will need testing to be done.

Are there many craft brewers in your area? Pure (and certified clean) artesian well water might be something they'd be interested in using.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

Craft brewers presumably secure steady water supplies before they set up a brewery.

In Minneapolis, treated drinking water from the municipal supply (which is quite good) is $3.42 per unit, with a unit being 100 cubic feet or about 750 gallons. Even assuming it might be higher outside of the city, let's call it 5 bucks/750 gallons. Or $5 for about 6000 pounds of water by weight (a gallon of water is about 8 pounds). That's why a little bottle of Poland Spring costs a buck for a few cents worth of water. (Tastewise, and healthwise, most people can't tell the difference between bottled spring water from Maine or Fiji and treated tap water from the Columbus Ohio municipal utility, proven many, many times in taste tests.)

Transporting 6000 pounds of anything by vehicle for enough less than $5 that you still leave room for your fixed costs (well maintenance, pumping, storage, testing, purification, taxes, oh and a big old water pumper truck, etc.) means, by my rough and ready calculations, that you'd have to deliver in about a 15-20 mile radius, and even then you'd be making pennies on the dollar. Transporting by pipe, which is more cost effective, will require you to build a drinking-water safe piping system to your clients. Unless you're selling water to your immediate neighbors, who presumably have well access to the same nice artesian watershed as you, there's simply no way to make money doing this. You are competing with much larger companies that have much greater capital investment in creating the networks of distribution and economies of scale required to make a profit on something abundant where you live (and high quality where you live too, although the quality differences are really not very relevant to the price unless you can somehow "brand" your source as unique).

It's a crazy idea. It won't work.
posted by spitbull at 5:50 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]

My rough calculations above (in which you might profit by a few cents on a dollar if you can secure reliable local delivery contracts and sell bulk quantities of water delivered by truck -- hey, this is how home water service is done in the Arctic, so I know a bit about it) also depend on you doing all the labor yourself, including driving the truck and delivering the water, a job that would cost you at least $15/hr to have someone else do (probably have to have a CDL for a big pumper truck, so it well might be higher). If you add any labor costs at all (and I also didn't calculate the amortization of capital equipment like pumps, trucks, and monitoring gear) you are already deep into the red.
posted by spitbull at 5:55 AM on February 27

And sorry to pepper the thread, but the $3.42 per unit price in Minneapolis *includes* piped delivery, treatment, testing, storage, and marketing/financing costs. You have to undercut whatever the local municipal supply's price is on a point to point basis with a guarantee of safety.

When you buy a bottle of $1 Poland Spring, well over 90 cents of that covers bottling, transportation, marketing, testing, and profit. The water is the least expensive input.

The OP lives in a state known for a century or more as "the land of lakes." Minnesota receives heavy snowfall and rain. The underlying value of the raw commodity is simply too low to exploit for a lone entrepreneur with a single well, without adding value of some sort (Kazimorovna's special magic healing spring water, perhaps?). The values that matter in selling water are cleanliness, safety, flavor, source specificity, and reliability of supply. But those problems are solved for the vast majority of purposes any business or residence might need to acquire water in bulk in Minnesota, whether for irrigation or drinking or craft beer production. The word "artesian" doesn't add that much value unless you haver a hell of a marketing agent. Businesses that rely on bulk water inputs secure those before they set up shop, so unless you're in a drought you would have to compete on price for a primary input to such things as agriculture or beer production.

I'm hammering the point that making a profit off selling your home well water is mathematically nearly impossible, even if it's legal or legalizable. Otherwise, others around you who have wells would be in business selling the surplus and competing with you. If other people around you aren't doing it, it's very likely there's no way to make it work either legally or economically or both.

Any lawyer is also going to tell you that you would need very significant liability insurance given that you haven't built a modern water purification and testing plant and you want to sell this stuff to people to consume.
posted by spitbull at 6:27 AM on February 27

Craft brewers presumably secure steady water supplies before they set up a brewery.

I was thinking more of the home/semi-pro guys.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:33 AM on February 27

In which case, however, their needs are not going to be large enough in volume to warrant developing the business. Let's say you sell one unit delivered by pumper for more than twice the price of Minneapolis' very good municipal water supply (meaning someone could buy water in Minneapolis and truck it themselves for about the same price within a radius of a few dozen miles at least, assuming their local water was roughly twice as expensive as in the city as well).

One unit delivery of 750 gallons of water makes 8000 12 oz. bottles of beer. I don't know any amateur craft brewers who make beer on that scale. And that's one delivery on which you might make a couple of bucks on a ten dollar sale (more than doubling the Minneapolis municipal supply price). You'd need dozens and dozens of craft brewers buying regularly from you even at that scale to make as much as you'd make working in McDonald's one day a week.

With the amounts of beer most amateur brewers ever make, in my experience, they can afford to buy bottled single-source spring water for a buck or two a gallon at the Circle K and still produce their own beer for less than it costs in a store. What's a craft brewer going to do with 750 gallons of water, even if it only costs him $5 and it means he can put "local artesian well sourced" on his bottles? How many times is he (I have never met a female amateur craft brewer) going to need that delivery per year?

Water in Minnesota is a cheap commodity input even for very high quality water.
posted by spitbull at 6:41 AM on February 27

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