I messed up embarking and I do not have a river available for water. There are lakes I want to drain water from the bottom (I'm inside a mountain) and transport it to a hospital. Is there a way I can safely do this? I'd rather not dig downwards to pump up water. I don't want to learn how to use pumps yet and I've already dug 40 z levels down without finding underground lakes.

  • 2
    How far down does the water need to move? It'll change my answer somewhat. Apr 1, 2013 at 0:26
  • 1
    Surface lakes contain undrinkable water. Keep digging down, looking for underground lakes. Apr 1, 2013 at 2:30
  • The lakes needs to move from 50 to 70 tiles horizontally and 4 z levels down.
    – Chan
    Apr 1, 2013 at 14:25

2 Answers 2


For moving water down, the right way to do that is with pumps or a large reservoir* that will not overflow (if the lake is 20 tiles then your reservoir must be at least 20 tiles at or below the level you wish the water to be at). To move water up, you will need a pump stack. To move water horizontally just build a tunnel (digging it 1 level below the water will help with the speed, due to pressure. You can also use buckets - designate a pond activity zone over a downward shaft and have dwarves carry water there.

Note that still water can be stagnant, in which case it will lead to unhappy thoughts and infections (while cleaning wounds), you can purify stale water by pumping it.

You really shouldn't be shy of using pumps - they only require 2 units of wood and 1 unit of stone to build and can be operated manually if you don't have power.

If you are worried about pressure and don't want extra pumps, there is a bug you can exploit - pressure does not travel diagonally, so you can just dig a shaft from the lake to the level you need the water at, then make a diagonal tunnel for water to travel through - it will not flow up. Here's an a top-down example.

wwww   w=wall
wwoo   o=no wall

Not all sources of water have pressure. Only rivers source tiles, screw pumps and falling water into more are pressurised. So you only need the above cheat if one of these three sources of pressure occurs.

*Obviously a reservoir is not going to work if you are dealing with an infinite water source such as a river or an aquifer.

Find out more about water pressure.

  • You said if I want to move water horizontally, I should just build a tunnel so does that mean if I dig a hole in the bottom of a lake of 2 z-levels, I can just run for the nearest door and not risk drowning?
    – Chan
    Apr 1, 2013 at 14:27
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    you can dig out a tile from above by making a channel, so you could dig out the last tile without worrying about drowning at all. Don't forget to add a floodgate (with levers) so you can stop the flow of water later when you want.
    – Ids
    Apr 1, 2013 at 15:33
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    @Ids though dwarves won't go into 7/7 water, so you'll have to expand the lake so the water level becomes acceptable for them. You can also put a grate over a hole in the floor to make sure your dwarf has a clear path out and doesn't fall in (currents sometimes push creatures). Drowning is a fairly slow process, as long as there's a way out of the water tunnel it should be safe.
    – kotekzot
    Apr 1, 2013 at 15:35
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    I meant, just prepare the tunnel you want the water to flow into, and dig out the last tile from above. Without letting the dwarf into that tunnel. (So you make a separate path). That way your dwarf is never in the way of the flood, and should not be at risk. iirc the same way you deal with lava.
    – Ids
    Apr 1, 2013 at 15:37
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    Yeah, breaching from below is a bit to much fun for me ;).
    – Ids
    Apr 1, 2013 at 15:50

If you only want water for the hospital, and not for a water-based project, then you can do this easily without using pumps. A well will draw water up from below, no matter the distance, as long as there is nothing between them. It should be a simple matter to safely dig out a tunnel on the lake level to below where you want the well and move the water to there horizontally.

If you want to actually move water to form your own reservoir higher up, you'll either have to use pumps, or you can use activity zones, creating a water source and pond zones, to have your dwarves fill the pond with buckets.

If a lake is bowl-shaped, it can be hard to channel it into a tunnel at a level lower than the surface, but is definitely possible. I would break in a level above my tunnel, using grates on the floor and doors to give the dwarf an escape route when breaching the lake.

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