Let's face it. With conflicting scientific and environmental reports about the safety of public water supplies, it's quite tempting to head out into the woods and find the nearest spring. But before filling your water bottle, you need to know how to go about actually locating an underground water source. Besides, knowing how to locate a spring might just save your life if caught in a survival situation.
Understand a little about how springs are formed. Springs are formed when an underground water supply is intersected by a valley or other rift in the earth's surface. The underground water source, or aquifer, fills to the point of saturating the ground and eventually spills onto the surface. Or, the underground water can be flowing, as in an underground stream, and where it eventually intersects a low area, it spills forth, forming an above-ground stream. The size of a spring ranges anywhere from a mere seepage of water that only occurs after a heavy rain, all the way to those that pour forth millions of gallons every single day. The actual flow rate of water depends on many factors, such as: the size of the aquifer (cave) holding the water, the pressure from the water pressing upwards, the amount of rainfall and the human activity near the spring (a lot of wells dug into the same aquifer lowers water pressure).
Locate an existing stream. If it is a large stream, walk until you find one of the small feeder streams running into it. Once found, follow the smaller stream until you locate its source. The stream's source is the spring; it's where the water is coming out of the ground. Keep in mind, the mightiest rivers in the world all start as tiny springs.
Clear debris. Use a hand digger to scrape away leaves and other loose objects from the source. Get as close to the place where the water is coming out of the ground as possible.
Dig around the source, not a lot, just enough to clear the area around where the water is flowing the strongest.
Make a small bowl depression around the source using your digger. This needs to be just large enough to use as a splash basin. There's nothing like a splash of fresh, cold spring water in the morning to start the day, and utilitarian enough to replenish your depleted water supply. The bowl shape will allow sediment to settle to the bottom. This is as pure as it gets, complements of Mother Nature.
Every location and water table is unique. Water from a spring located in a water table polluted by agricultural runoff or industry needs to be filtered. Even drinking from a pristine source carries risks of ingesting giardia, cryptosporidium and other microorganisms. Use a filter on the water before drinking it.