Water is one of the elementary staples of life, and the existence of a dependable supply of drinking water is probably the single most important factor in determining whether a homesite will be livable or not.
Water can be obtained in several ways. The easiest way in a remote homestead is an above ground source: creek, stream, river or pond. Other ways are wells, cisterns, and porting water.
With a naturally occurring water source all the homesteader needs to do is make for sure that it is a year round source (or make plans for dry times), collect the water and purify it. Drinking water should not be considered safe until tested by your county health or sanitation department. These agencies will send an inspector to your property to collect a water sample, then mail you a report on its purity. In particular, be suspicious of water taken from a surface source, even if it comes from a sparkling brook and is clear and odor free.
The next easiest low tech way is a cistern. A cistern is just a large storage tank made of any water tight material that can be used to hold a large quantity of water. In some areas the most practical way to get water is to install a gutter system on the roof of your buildings and channel the water to a cistern. You would be amazed at how much water you can collect from one small rainfall! Then the water can be piped to the house through a filtration system to supply the family's water needs.
If those don't work for your long term needs you can then look into creating a well. There are several types of wells and ways to dig them. Digging for water is a centuries-old practice with significant sanitary benefits. Due to natural filtration, well water is relatively pure, whereas water in ponds and streams is highly susceptible to bacterial pollution from human and animal waste. But digging wells manually is hard, sweaty work and at depths greater than 10 to 20 feet can be extremely dangerous as well.
Bored well can be put in with inexpensive hand tools. First a 1-ft.-deep hole is driven with a pick or crowbar, then the borer introduced. As the borer penetrates, segments are added to its rod to accommodate increased depth. Periodically, the borer must be lifted to empty the hole of loosened cuttings. Boring is impractical for wells deeper than 50 ft. Moreover, if a large stone or a rock formation is met, the operator has to abandon the hole and start again elsewhere. After water is encountered, the well pipe and water intake are installed.
A driven well is made by hammering a pipe directly into the ground. The pipe is screened since once in the water it will become your water intake. Driven wells an be made with basic equipment and go to depths up to 150 ft. To see if you have hit water lower a weighted string down the pipe then raise it to see if it is wet. Once water is reached drive the pipe an extra 10 to 20 feet to make for sure you have water.
Water-jetted well can be put in fairly rapidly with a pump that forces water down a pipe. The water pressure jars the soil loose and forces it up the well hole to the surface. As the well deepens, the pipe should be rotated periodically to help keep it vertical. The mud in the upward flowing water helps to line the well wall and prevent crumbling. A casing, installed as the well is being jetted, will further reinforce the wall. If no rock formation is encountered along the way, a strong pump can jet a 1-ft.-diameter well to a depth of 300 ft.
The most expensive and complicated method of acquiring water is with a drilled well. These wells can go down thousands of feet and is only limited by the equipment used. Once water is reached the hole is enlarged and a pipe, a deep well pump are installed. This type of well can cost a lot but you are virtually assured a constant supply of good, clean drinking water.
Now that your homestead has water ANYTHING is possible!
For further reading:
The Ultimate Guide to Homesteading
Back To Basics: A Complete Guide to traditional skills