Check your water

We pump our own water out of the ground here, using a well Ian paid Big Bux to have drilled, with a solar powered DC immersion pump…

…through a whole bunch of flexible pipe into a big water tank…

…and from the tank to a network of buried pipes. We have lost water from several causes in the past eight years: Manifold freezing. Pump failure. Flexible pipe kinking. Pipes freezing and breaking at a low point. All but the first emptied the tank. The first unavoidable symptom is no water in the pipes.

That’s not a good first symptom. If it’s a simple problem I can fix it myself. If it’s a not-simple problem, like a pump failure, resolution may take weeks while I pull out the pump, wait for someone to show up here and take it to the city, wait for repair, wait for someone in the city to come back up here, re-install the pump. Did I say weeks? Months is not out of the question. So far it’s never taken longer than weeks.

The system’s flow rate is very low, so even if I can fix a pipe break easily it will still take a day or two before there’s sufficient water in the tank to give me good pressure – or maybe any water at all. So paying attention to the water system is a good habit. But it will try to fool you.

I can stand by the wellhouse and hear the pump, if it’s running, humming up through the pipe. That tells me the motor is running, it doesn’t guarantee water is being pumped. That happened once: The pump was fine but the vertical hose had kinked under gravity. Empty tank.

If the pump isn’t running it might be a problem with the pump or with the electrical circuit. That happened twice: The floating switch in the tank got wedged in a dumb crevice of the tank and wouldn’t signal the pump to run. Empty tank.

Or the pump could just crap out. Empty tank.

Or, as happened day before yesterday, a cow could tap dance on the hose I run to my pear-tree-which-will-never-bear-fruit. Broken hose runs for hours, makes much mud, tries to empty tank. Pisses Joel off.

Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy the privilege of hosting the frickin’ cattleman’s frickin’ cattle? But I digress.

My point is, it’s a good habit to check the water level in the tank. The tap-dancing cow made a good system test: The tank level was definitely low, and probably not because of any fault in the water infrastructure more complex than a torn garden hose. So I made a mental note to check the tank level at the end of the day, after the last dog was walked and the last horse fed…

Perfect. Joel all reassured now. :)

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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10 Responses to Check your water

  1. Ben says:

    That’s a nice writeup Joel.

    It’s occurred to me before that you need some sort of low water alarm or water level indicator, which could be electrical or something very simple and mechanical. Can you see the tank from the Lair?

    Another simple possibility is a suitably accurate water pressure gage in the Lair. You could log it every morning along with your battery voltage. That way you could catch a slowly dropping water level day/weeks before you actually run out of water.

  2. That looks like a sweet set up, Joel. I have a drilled well , with an electric pump. If the grid goes, I can run it off my diesel generator as long as I have fuel. I usually have between 800 to 900 gallons of diesel in two above ground tanks. If that runs out, I will have to pull the submersible pump, and use a well torpedo to pull water up . Already have all the parts I need to put up a well pulley. But you can just go on forever as long as none of the calamities you describe occur.

  3. Mark Matis says:

    Is that tank large enough to accommodate a bovine carcass? Sure would be a shame if a tap-dancing cow were to “fall in” and “drown”. Or would that have to happen instead at their cistern?

  4. Joel says:

    Harry, our set-up is ad-hoc and unusual. Most people have AC pumps with high flow rates, and fill their tanks with a generator every week or so. But as you say, once we got the bugs worked out we can set ours and forget it. Until something bad happens. Problem is that there’s no warning if I fall out of the habit of periodically checking the tank level.

  5. Michael says:

    Drill a hole in the lid of the tank and glue in a two foot length of one inch PVC pipe. Insert suitable length stick with suitable styrofoam float on lower end through said PVC pipe. Presto, easy, dead nuts reliable visual water level indicator.

  6. Joel says:

    Michael, I kind of like that idea.

  7. Robert says:

    I’ve seen the the stick-on-a-float on a Piper Cub gas tank. KISS, baby!

  8. Norman says:

    Michael’s idea can be carried one step further: the gauge doesn’t necessarily have to display the exact level of water in the tank, just enough and not enough. What those levels are is your determination, but it comes down to “can I see the float stick” and “I can’t see the float stick.” Which, depending on geographic location of Lair and tank, could be conducted with magnifying optics.

    Key point will be making the float stick thingie sufficiently bulletproof so it doesn’t generate false readings.

  9. jon spencer says:

    Had a variation of one of these.
    On our 15,000 gallon capacity elevated water tank. Accuracy was within a quarter inch.
    All you have to do is put the guage in a line that is in a pipe that has tank pressure (not pump pressure) then fill the tank to the over flow point and record the pressure. Then measure the hight of the water to the top of the discharge pipe and using .43 psi per foot of water or .036 psi per inch to know how much water is in the tank. Easy to figure usage and pump output too. Just have to keep a record.

To the stake with the heretic!