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“Water, Water Every Where, Nor Any Drop to Drink”

That was the lament of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, but it is also sometimes the lament of owners of waterfront and water view property.

Saltwater Infiltration

Recently I was contacted by a coastal property owner concerned about the potential impact of brackish ground water on his residential drinking water well. Not long ago, I represented a waterfront property owner concerned about the adequacy of his drinking water well for his year-round use, and those concerns were justified.

There seems to be, however, a presumption when purchasing a coastal property served by well-water that the only issue is testing the quality of the well-water to comply with Rhode Island Department of Health regulations, which require such testing on purchase of a property.

While this is certainly necessary, and the quality is important, it does not give an accurate picture of the adequacy of the water supply.

For example, is the well in proximity to the shoreline and potentially subject to infiltration from brackish ground water?  Excessive pumping of water wells in the vicinity could lead to intrusion of brackish water into the potable water well. To the extent wells in the vicinity are known to be suffering from the intrusion of brackish water, other wells in the area could follow suit.  In that case, it may be prudent to consult a hydrogeologist.

Sufficient Capacity

Additionally, there is the question of whether the well capacity is adequate.  For example, is the intensity of the use going to increase, as by going from a seasonal use to a year-round use, or to a more intense seasonal use.  Capacity tests can be conducted to determine if the well will serve the projected demand.  If necessary, additional storage capacity, such as a water storage tank could be added. (The well itself also provides storage capacity, based on its diameter and depth.)

To the extent potable water supply comes from a source serving more than the one household, such as a homeowner’s association providing service to a number of homeowners, due diligence would include determination of the capacity of the water supply to meet the needs of all homeowners serviced.  Depending on the number of households served, it may be necessary to determine whether the system is no longer considered private, which could impact regulation of the system.  A purchaser will also want to understand those homeowner association documents as well, to determine rights and obligations of the property being purchased.


And if the water supply is impacted by brackish water, as discussed above, desalinization systems are available, although that may also involve dealing with regulators, including the Department of Environmental Management as to disposal of the waste water. If the brackish water well is abandoned in favor of a new potable water well, the brackish well may be used for other purposes, such as irrigation, depending on its composition, etc.


And in the event the well is a rock well, it is advisable to test the water for radon, to ensure it meets Rhode Island Department of Health action levels, particularly in an area where radon is prevalent.


Finally, if the well is located offsite, the purchaser will want to ensure that there is an appropriate easement for the continued use, maintenance and repair of the well for the benefit of the property being purchased.

With these precautions, a coastal property owner should enjoy not only his water views but also quite a bit more than a drop of water to drink.




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