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Basic Country Skills: A Practical Guide to Self-Relianceby M John Storey
From Chapter 3: The Water Supply Water Sources _ Water Supply Systems _ Wells _ Pumps _ Natural Springs _ Ponds _ Water Distribution
_ Water Quality
We started our publishing business in a converted motorcycle repair shop in Pownal, Vermont. One hot July morning, we ran out of water.
We called Floyd Patterson, the builder, who explained that there was a reservoir in the hills and a pipeline that ran down a mile or so. "Could
be a break anywhere on the line," he said. "We could dig it all up, but why don't we try a dowser first?" Skeptically, we watched the dowser
use a forked stick made of hazel. Within 20 minutes he had found the break, allowing the backhoe to dig in just the right spot. We were
quickly becoming converts to the arts, crafts, and skills of country life.
--John & Martha Storey
Good homesteading land must have an unfailing supply of good water. As you look at land, find out all you can about the amount-and
quality-that is available. An ideal site will have a reliable spring, but if yours does not, it may have a well. As a last resort, you may have to
develop a new well.
Spring. If you have a spring, be sure it has an ample flow of 4 to 6 gallons a minute. Does it flow year-round or dry up during summer? Is it
reasonably near your home site? If the answer to these questions is "yes," you probably have a reliable water supply. But you'll need to have
the water tested for purity and hardness, too.
Well. Dug wells are seen on old farms that were in operation before electricity became common. They were dug with hand tools, and the
sides were rocked or bricked up to prevent cave-ins. Drilled wells are common today, primarily because of the availability of drilling
equipment. To create a driven well, a pipe fitted with a well point is driven into water-bearing sand.
Town water. Many rural areas have established water districts. If you live close enough to the town water line, you may have a choice of
whether to dig a well or tap into town water. Figure the cost of both options over 10 or 20 years before deciding. Check with local officials,
because sometimes you pay for town water anyway.
Non-drinking water. There are time-honored methods of gathering water for animals and for washing. One is the creation of the farm
pond, usually the excavation of a low-lying, swampy area. Normal drainage should fill the pond to a consistent depth. Another method is
catching rainwater from eave troughs in barrels. Some homesteaders in low-water areas provide most or all of their water needs from
rainwater, which is naturally soft, by constructing home roof runoff systems that filter into very large storage cisterns.
Water Supply Systems
Five Kinds of Wells
Because groundwater moves in so many ways, at different speeds and different depths, the general term well is about as useful as the word
aircraft. To say a well is any pit or hole in the ground used to extract water is a misleading oversimplification. Some shallow wells venture
only a short distance from the ground surface. Elsewhere, wells penetrate deep into subterranean space.
Like groundwater, wells and well technology are complex and largely misunderstood by the public. Understanding begins with knowledge of
the basic kinds of wells.
Grandma's "wishing well," with its stone-wall top we could just see over, its little roof, and the bucket on a windlass, was almost certainly a
dug well. Because it penetrated just a short distance into the water table, its water may have been polluted-even in our grandparents' time. A
very high percentage of today's dug wells are contaminated.
Dug wells are generally thought to be undependable as well as unclean. They're often known to fail during dry times. Still, in places where
the water table remains pretty constant and groundwater quality is high, dug wells are common. They're rarely more than 50 feet deep,
reaching just a few feet below the water table into soaked sand and gravel.
Digging the well hole, which may range from 3 to 20 feet in diameter, is normally a tedious, hand-excavated, pick-and-shovel operation.
Dug-out material is hauled to the surface in a pail on a rope. A clam-shell bucket on a crane can be used if the earth is very soft. Digging a
well can be very dangerous because of the potential for cave-in. Seek professional advice on constructing a structure within which to dig the
The stone wall around the top of Grandma's well was actually the upper end of the lining. Today, fieldstone is used to keep the well walls
from caving in, but brick and mortar or concrete blocks are easier to work with. More often, dug wells are cased with sections of
3-foot-wide, precase well tile that fit together at tongue-and-groove joints. Whatever the material, the lining should be as well sealed and
watertight as possible.
A modern dug well should have a sanitary seal at the ground surface, which effectively keeps rainwater out of water below. It will keep
surface water from contaminating the water table. Space between the well liner and the surrounding earth should be plugged with a
waterproof cement grout.
A bored well is essentially a dug well made with an earth auger instead of a shovel. If the auger is turned by hand, the hole will be between 8
and 14 inches in diameter. Power-driven augers bore wider holes-up to 3 feet in diameter. A bored well might be somewhat deeper than an
ordinary dug well, but rarely can it be expected to reach a water table lower than 100 feet in the ground.
Vitrified tile, steel, and plastic are the lining materials used most often. In some instances this casing is perforated where the pipe extends
into water-bearing gravel and sand. These perforations receive water from the surrounding strata, and may need to be covered with
screening to keep silt from entering the discharge line. Like all wells, a bored well head must be sealed and protected from surface drainage.
Jetted or Washed Wells
If conditions are right, a well can be jetted or washed. The two most important ingredients in this kind of operation-aside from soil with
reasonably uniform texture-are a nearby water source and a pressure pump. A protective casing is driven into an augered hole and a riser
pipe, fitted with a special washing point on its lower end, is inserted inside the casing. A stream of water is forced down this riser pipe and
the jet from the wash point dislodges sand and soil below. As the point is pushed deeper and deeper, the muddy mixture is carried back to the
surface in the space between the center pipe and the casing, and is discharged into a settling vat. Later, when the wash point is removed, the
riser pipe becomes the suction line for water being pumped out of the well from above, and the top few feet of space between the two pipes
are grouted to make it watertight.
A driven well is quick, relatively inexpensive, and, unless there's an unlimited water supply near the surface, relatively undependable
compared to the drilled well. In places where well driving is easy but the water table fluctuates, homeowners hedge their bets by driving a
number of wells and connecting them to one pump.
Driven wells can be 25 to 100 feet deep, though most draw water from 50 to 60 feet. A well point or sand point, made of cast steel, is
connected to lengths of threaded pipe and forced into the ground by blows on the pipe from above. This is the simplest and most direct way
to reach groundwater, as long as there are no rocks in the soil to damage the wire mesh jacket of the well point.
The well point itself is only 1 1/4 to 2 inches in diameter, so it has little resistance as it penetrates. The necessarily small riser pipe limits a
driven well's yield to about 3 gallons a minute.
Maybe the best argument for a deep (and probably more expensive) drilled well is that it's less likely to be polluted. Second, it's more likely to
produce greater yield, simply because of its immense draw-down potential.
In many districts, law demands that wells be drilled only by licensed drillers. There may be other regulations about well location, construction,
capacity, disinfection methods, and water-quality standards. A drilling permit may or may not be needed. Rules vary from place to place. So
do the per-foot drilling and casing costs.
Drilled wells are done in one of two ways: with a percussion-type cable tool that beats and punches its way into the ground, or with a rotary
bit that grinds, bites, and crushes its way through rock. Both are mounted on portable derricks with self-contained hoists.
Rock cuttings are mixed with water trucked to the job site, and the resulting slurry is lifted to the surface in a bailer, a 10- to 20-foot length of
pipe with a valve at its lower end. Bailing gives the drillers an indication of the formations the drill is breaking through.
As everybody knows, pumps are machines for elevating water. Keep in mind that "pump" refers to both the water-moving mechanism and
the power source that operates it-be it a windmill, motor, or the muscles in the arm that operate a hand pump. Remember, too, that pumps
come in a variety of sizes and types. Proper selection and sizing are vital, and the range of choices is wide. It's worth spending the time to
know a little about each.
Reciprocating (Piston) Pump
A reciprocating pump is a positive-displacement pump. It consists of a mechanical device that moves a plunger back and forth in a closely
fitted cylinder. The plunger is driven by the power source, and the power motion is converted from a rotating action to a reciprocating motion
by the combined work of a speed reducer, crank, and connecting rod. The cylinder should be located near or below the static water level to
eliminate the need for priming. The pumping action begins when the water enters the cylinder through a check valve. When the piston
moves, the check valve closes, forcing the water through a check valve in the plunger. With each subsequent stroke, the water is forced
toward the surface through the discharge pipe.
If a child's hollow top had holes drilled around its greatest circumference, was filled with water to the height of these holes, and then was
spun, it would shoot out water in all directions. As the top turned faster, water would be thrown farther and with more force, in proportion to
the speed increase. Imagine that the top also had a hole in its base and could be spun as it sat in a pan of water. As water shot from the
upper holes, an equal amount would be sucked into the bottom. A centrifugal pump works much the same way.
Within every centrifugal pump is at least one rotating impeller, which spins water outward across its curved vanes at ever-increasing speed.
The water is accelerated enough to create a partial vacuum, causing more water to be drawn into the eye of the impeller. The impeller itself
sits in a precisely machined wearing ring, which allows it to turn independent of the suction pipe.
A centrifugal pump does not displace a constant quantity of water. Increases in water pressure will slow it down, and it will pump less water
as the water level in a well diminishes. A shallow-well centrifugal pump can't be called upon to lift water more than 15 to 20 feet. The
centrifugal jet is the most common pump for domestic water systems. It requires little maintenance, is quiet, and because of its simple design,
it's economical to own and operate.
Jet (Ejector) Pump
When water under pressure is jetting through a small opening like a garden hose nozzle, it accelerates and squirts. As it speeds up, a
low-pressure zone is created at the very spot where the squirt begins. Any fluid near the squirt tends to get drawn into the jet stream. This
additional fluid contributes to the overall flow. It's easy to see that a jet of water, blown into other water, could move a large volume of liquid.
If this happens in a confined space, such as a well pipe, all of the original water plus the extra can be slowed down again in a gradually
widening venturi called a diffuser. Low-pressure water, diffused of its velocity, develops strong force that can be carried forward. In other
words, high-speed water blown into the point of a hollow cone will slow down and be converted into pressure.
An ejector is a metal plumbing assembly that contains just such a nozzle and a diffuser. The combination of an ejector and a centrifugal
pump-called a centrifugal jet pump-is a powerful one.
When a centrifugal pump is driven by a closely coupled electric motor constructed for submerged operation as a single unit, it is called a
submersible pump. Today's units are slender enough to pass down a 6-inch, 4-inch, or even a 2-inch well casing, and are dependable enough
to stay there for years without major servicing.
A typical submersible pump is operated by a 1/2-horsepower electric motor and has as many as 14 teams of impellers and diffusers, one
above the other. It's suspended on a drop line attached to the well seal above. The pump's motor is filled with lubricating oil, but depends on
the water that surrounds it for cooling.
Troubleshooting and servicing are usually easy and uncomplicated. The biggest danger to the pump is motor burnout, which can happen if the
water level in the well gets too low or when the intake screen becomes clogged.
--adapted from The Home Water Supply by Stu Campbell and Manual of Individual Water Supply Systems, U.S. Environmental
Selecting a Pump
You've studied the basic operation of each type of pump. Now you're approaching another moment of truth-the selection of your pump. It's
important to coordinate this with your well driller. You'll need to map out the yield of your water source, weigh it against your daily needs,
and figure the total head and lift in your proposed system. A plumbing contractor or pump dealer can help you accomplish this.
If the lift from your source to the pressure tank is never greater than 15 to 25 feet-even when the well is at its lowest-a shallow-well pump
offers the best bargain. All you do is drop a suction line down the well.
Don't forget that a shallow-well pump should have either a foot valve at the base of the suction line or a check valve in the suction line to
keep it filled. This way the pump will always keep its prime. Obviously, a nonsubmersible pump should never freeze. So it must be sheltered
in a warm, dry place where you can get at it easily.
If the lift is more than 25 feet, you'll have to explore the many deep-well pump possibilities. The size of the well casing will influence your
decision, particularly if it's smaller than 4 inches in diameter. There are a number of deep-well piston pumps for casings as small as 2 inches.
Jet pumps for 2-inch casings are also available.
Before you sign on the dotted line, get advice from plumbing contractors and several reputable dealers. Ask questions about reliability, initial
cost, economy, efficiency, servicing, and availability of replacement parts. There's no reason for a good supplier to offer bad advice. A
dealer who sells you the wrong product knows he or she is only going to end up with service and warranty problems later on.
--from The Home Water Supply by Stu Campbell
Springs as Water Sources
Not all springs are enchantingly clean or beautiful. There's one behind my house that I didn't know about until the house was finished. I can
depend on it only to erupt each November, do its best to flood my driveway all winter, then shut off automatically around May 15.
A spring is any opening where water flows out of the earth, either by gravity or artesian pressure. Unfortunately, many of these wounds in
the earth's skin "bleed" erratically, and the irregularities are so dramatic that a spring may not always be considered a reliable water source.
They are also easily contaminated, especially in places where there is a lot of contact water.
Tapping in. It pays to watch a spring for at least a year before you make up your mind to tap it. Observe the spring closely during dry spells.
To be considered truly dependable, it should yield at least twice a family's maximum needs-24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
A spring on a hillside will provide water pressure to a home below. In fact, for every 2 feet of elevation, 1 pound of pressure will be
developed. The pressure will always be there as long as the spring is productive enough to keep the intake pipe filled. The spring functions
like an elevated reservoir.
If the spring's yield is inconsistent, a hydropneumatic system made up of a storage tank, pump, and pressure tank will be needed to pressurize
the home's internal plumbing.
If the spring is located below the house, it's a whole different story. You will have to determine the distance water must be lifted and
calculate head loss before designing a pump system that's sure to be adequate.
A developed spring will have at least five components: the spring box, a basin that's watertight above, yet open enough below grade to let
groundwater flow into it freely; a cover or housing; cleanout access; an overflow; and an intake line that connects to the distribution system
of the house.
Protection. Protecting the sanitary quality of any spring used as a potable water source is of paramount importance. A spring ought to have a
removable cover, but the cover should be a heavy one and perhaps be locked in place. I've never known a child who could resist exploring a
spring once he or she has found one. It's best to fence in a spring, to keep out both children and livestock.
Terrain above a spring should be bermed or swaled to divert surface drainage. If springwater looks turbid after a heavy rainstorm, runoff
water is probably getting into the spring.
A contaminated spring should be disinfected, much like a well or cistern. A solution of water and bleach may be poured into the spring box.
It should be allowed to run through the spring line to the house until its chlorine odor can be smelled at all fixtures. Disinfectant should sit in
the system for as long as 24 hours if possible. Then it can be flushed out.
--from The Home Water Supply by Stu Campbell
Building an Excavated Pond
New ponds come in two categories: the excavated pond and the embankment pond. Excavated ponds are simpler and more economical to
build on nearly level land. They eliminate the need for expensive and elaborate embankments, spillways, and drainage systems. Their
maintenance cost is low, and they are relatively safe from floodwater damages. Their disadvantages may lie in limits on the size of the area
that can be excavated.
Selecting the correct site is the most important part of any plan, and the water-holding capacity of the soil is especially critical. Test borings
to the proposed depth of the pond, then filling the hole with water, will give some idea of the water-holding capacity of the lower soil strata.
If there is some doubt that the test reflects the bottom strata, set a pipe the full depth of the hole, then fill the pipe with water. The result will
reflect the water-holding capacity at your maximum proposed depth.
Excavated ponds may be fed by surface runoffs, groundwater aquifers, underground water from natural springs, or water pumped from
man-made wells. If you have a good water table, the water-holding qualities of the soil at the pond site will not be a problem; if your water
table is too low, include a supplementary water supply in your plans.
Bentonite is a volcanic clay that makes an excellent sealing compound. It is applied by mixing about 2 pounds per square foot of land surface,
disking it into the top 6 inches of soil, then packing it tightly.
Rectangular ponds are the most popular, because they are simpler to build and can be adapted to most kinds of excavating equipment. The
width will be dictated by the size of the equipment available; the length, by the square feet of water surface desired.
Some authorities recommend hauling away the excavated material. This is expensive. Instead, the excavated soil can be used to build
embankments around the excavated area to raise the pond's water level.
Building an Embankment Pond
Embankment ponds are the most expensive and difficult to build. You will no doubt need an engineer or expert technical advice and
assistance in both the planning and the construction phases.
The elevation of dams and spillways must be calculated precisely. The exact degrees of slope in the pond and the spillway must also be
determined. Other important factors include the nature of the soil at the depth of excavation; the suitability of material for building the dam;
and determining the best sealing agent for the particular conditions. A poorly planned or constructed embankment pond will be not only a
sore disappointment, but also a waste of money.
Heavy equipment is needed to construct embankment ponds. The equipment may include a dragline excavator, bulldozer, tractor-pulled
wheeled scraper, sheepsfoot roller, and a compaction roller. Renting this type of equipment can be expensive; hiring the operators adds to the
Before making even initial plans for an embankment pond, contact the people at the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. They provide many free
services in the planning and construction phases.
Embankment ponds are usually built in valleys at the foot of a watershed, or at the foot of a small stream. Care must be taken about
interrupting normal waterflows that affect other farms in the area. Check with your county and state authorities before altering streams,
regardless of how small.
A solution might be to build your pond on the edge of a stream, then pump the water into the pond. However, such stream waters may be
rife with trash fish that you will not want in your pond. To remove the wild fish and fish eggs from the stream water, you may have to pass
the water through a screen filter.
Planning Your System
Water distribution systems turn out best when they're thoughtfully planned, diagrammed, and tailored to circumstances rather than bound by
Long-term considerations for any plumbing machine (it is just that) must see beyond initial costs. Convenience and adequate supply to all
corners of the system are not the least of your worries. Nor is energy use. Maintenance costs are another large factor. And noise in your
system can become a big annoyance. Plumbing within the house itself may be part of your home's building plan. Outside sillcocks and
hydrants are another story, and here you'll need to do your most careful thinking.
Start drafting your plan by making a sketch of your property, including all buildings and outbuildings. If you draw it to scale, the whole project
will become that much easier to understand and estimate. Include in the drawing any known obstacles that would make a straight trench
(between house and chicken coop, for instance) difficult.
Now you need to figure the demand at each outlet. Not only will you need to estimate a peak demand allowance for each building, but you
should also determine which outlet will have the greatest fixture flow rate.
Draw a line from the source, such as the well, to the point of largest demand-probably the house. Draw a second line to the next closest
major demand, and others to all locations. Pipes should be laid as straight as possible in trenches dug below the frost line, but there may be
situations where a straight line is the shortest but not the easiest distance between two points.
Plan for cutoff valves throughout the system. Locate them so that when one part of the system needs to be shut down for repair, service
everywhere else isn't interrupted.
Take your time figuring out what you want and need. Once you have your completed drawing, take it to a good plumber. It's worth
investigating which plumbing contractor can do the best installation at the best price, as well as which will provide the best service.
--from The Home Water Supply by Stu Campbell
Water reserves are an integral part of any water supply system for a home or farm. Water to be stored for later use can be collected in
three primary ways.
Cisterns are ground-level or below-ground reservoirs. A cistern that collects and stores rainwater can be expected to gather as much as 2/3
to 3/4 of the annual rainfall on the catchment. Some homes have cisterns just for emergency storage, but others use rainwater for garden
water, cleaning, toilet flushing, and other nonpotable uses. Because rainwater is soft, water in a cistern can also be used for bathing, laundry,
Constructing a good cistern is not a project to be taken lightly. Brick or stone masonry is sometimes used, but high-density concrete, vibrated
as it's cast in place, is far better. The concrete should be allowed to wet-cure before the cistern is used.
Cisterns should be carefully covered, and their sidewalls should stick out of the ground at least 18 inches. Covers must be accessible, of
course, but they should be locked to keep unwanted visitors and substances from getting in. Manhole covers make great cistern covers.
Cisterns should be disinfected with a chlorine solution on a regular basis.
Elevated storage tanks, called gravity tanks, provide gravity-flow pressure to systems below. They're usually designed to hold enough to
supply a family with at least two days' worth of water. Gravity tanks should have vents to allow air in as the water level within them is
lowered, and to let air out as water is pumped in. Screening should cover these vents to keep out insects and small animals.
A gravity tank can provide pressure to a system without any need for a pressure tank if it's located high above the uppermost outlets in the
house. As always, 2.3 feet of elevation will produce 1 pound of pressure. If the system needs 20 pounds per square inch (psi), the tank must
be at least 46 feet above any faucet.
Pressure tanks and elastic storage cells constitute the third type of water storage. Although they generally have a small capacity,
hydropneumatic tanks and storage cells are considered the most sanitary way to keep water on hand. Their additional function is to keep a
steady push of water against the plumbing.
--from The Home Water Supply
Routine Treatment of Your Water Suspended matter found in water (particularly surface water) must be removed in order to provide
safe drinking water. Various filtration systems are designed for this purpose.
The advantage of sand filters is that sand is usable indefinitely. Simply backwash or clean the sand bed to remove the accumulated matter.
The disadvantages of sand filters are cost, requirements for chemical pretreatment with some units, and more intensive operating
Slow sand filters allow the slow passage of water through a sand bed. They are usually built outside within a concrete box. They require a
larger filter area than do rapid sand filters, but they are ideal for gravity-flow surface sources. Slow sand filters are ideally suited for small
Pressure sand filters have automatic controls, but they still require attention to operation and maintenance. They effectively remove oxidized
iron and manganese, as well as large particles; however, they cannot remove fine suspended matter effectively. These relatively inexpensive
filters can be installed by an amateur plumber.
Diatomaceous earth (DE) filters remove small particles, but they cannot remove very fine suspended matter. The filter medium cannot be
reused and must be purchased new. DE filters are easily installed but require more extensive maintenance than do sand filters.
Carbon filters remove suspended matter and other contaminants through the process of absorption. They are the most effective means of
removing a broad spectrum of organic compounds. Carbon filters are simple to maintain. If they become clogged, backwashing will clear
them. However, they should be replaced routinely because they serve as an ideal environment for bacterial growth.
Various cartridge, ceramic, and porous stone filters are installed at different points on the water system. Some attach directly to the faucet,
others bypass the faucet; some attach to the main water line into the house. Cartridge filters are rated by micron size-that is, by the size
particle the filter will remove. These units may remove coarser material, but they do not produce bacteriologically safe water. I do not
recommend them. Continuous disinfection is necessary for water supplies drawn from lakes, ponds, streams, and cisterns. It is recommended
also for shallow water sources such as dug wells and springs.
Chlorination or Disinfection
Continuous chlorination equipment feeds a chlorine solution into the water system, where it will have enough contact time to kill any
microorganisms in the water. Different types of chlorinators work best with different water systems.
Positive displacement pumps. The most common type of chlorinator is a positive displacement pump, which is adjustable and can be
synchronized to operate with a water pump. These chlorinators are widely available from plumbing and swimming pool suppliers, as well as
from larger hardware stores. You can install one yourself in your basement if you have some basic pipe wrenches and a little plumbing and
Water-flow-activated chlorinators. These apportion the amount of chlorine added to the flow of water in the pipe. Such units are
necessary where more than one pump may be used, or for gravity-flow systems. No electrical power is used, but a minimum water pressure
of 10 psi (pounds per square inch) is needed to activate the drive mechanism. Because it needs no power, a flow-activated chlorinator can
be installed on a long pipeline from a spring to the house, where chlorine contact time can be maximized. Alternately, an amateur plumber
can easily install one in a basement.
Erosion chlorinators. As water passes through an erosion chlorinator, the proper amount of chlorine to disinfect the water erodes into the
water. Generally, erosion chlorinators are not as accurate as positive displacement pumps, but they can be used where power is not available
or where water pressure is low.
--from How Safe Is Your Water? by Kenneth M. Stone
Testing the Water
It is a good practice to have a complete analysis performed on a newly developed source of drinking water. Such an analysis will tell you if
your water is safe, before you begin using it. It also serves as a baseline for all subsequent analyses. If the purpose of the testing is to help
diagnose a suspected problem and an earlier comprehensive test has been performed, testing can be limited. Discuss your problem with the
testing laboratory to determine the deg
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