Rummaging around in my junk drawer last evening I found a gadget I completely forgot I owned!
That’s a cute little pen-like digital Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) meter sold by the company owned by the father of my old neighbor Geiger Counter Guy. I forget if he gave it to me or if I “inherited” it while cleaning out their house after they fled the scene. Either way, I had it and I must have used it once just for play, and then I tossed it in a drawer and forgot all about it. But apropos our recent conversations about drinking water, these results: (Several pics and a wall of words below the fold)
First, I looked up what “acceptable” TDS levels are supposed to be. This proved more difficult than I expected because virtually every discussion of the subject on the Intertubes will try to sell you something. But this is typical:
So I drew a cup of our fine well water from my kitchen tap…
I drank that shit unfiltered for five years before falling sick in July 2013, mostly just from dehydration because drinking it hot from the water tank was so unpleasant I’d unconsciously stopped doing it. Finally shook loose a kidney stone that about convinced me I was dying, and I changed my evil ways. There’s nothing actively toxic about it, it just contains unbelievable amounts of calcium.
This is the pot I use to boil well water for bathing and dish washing. For obvious reasons I don’t boil well water in my actual cooking pots, which are rather nice and I’d like to keep them that way. The only neighbors I know who have successful water heaters of any sort also have large and elaborate water softeners which get serviced a lot.
This is not an unknown problem around the neighborhood, and several approaches have been made toward filtering the well water: Reverse osmosis, various sorts of canister filters, even distillation. RO works if you have enough electricity and if you can tolerate a run-off pond breeding mosquitoes and attracting wildlife to your back yard. Distillation works but not in sufficient quantity. Canister filters clog in days or weeks.
The generally-accepted solution is to haul in drinking water. There are several approaches to this, as well. Some cedar rats don’t even have wells and have to haul in all their water. I personally consider that taking off-grid life a dangerous step too far, but I’m not judging. A common sight in this area is some sort of water tank on a trailer rig, often with one of these things…
…strapped to a small old trailer of some sort. (Again, I personally consider these) a terrible solution to the problem because the water isn’t sterile, the tanks admit light, and I’ve seen some horrifying green stuff growing in those tanks. Hey, it’s your life. I would go back to drinking unfiltered well water first, but as I said these folks don’t even have wells. This approach is so common, in fact, that in the little town nearest where I live there are two water distribution sites with overhead pipes and canvas hoses, and they’ll dump a whole bunch of water into your tank very quickly – 50 gallons for $1. Get to know a townie with a garden hose and you can fill your tank more slowly for free.
My neighbors and I, as TUAK readers know, take a smaller approach. We go to one of the three vending machines in town – this one is in the local grocery store…
…and fill 3- and 5-gallon bottles for 25 cents/gallon. I’ve been going to town once a week for five years now, often for the sole purpose of filling my drinking water bottles. It’s a pain in the ass but it works.
In those five years I’ve never seen anyone service that machine, and have long suspected that the water it dispenses isn’t in any way superior to townie tap water. So this morning I poured a cup of it, and tested it with the TDS meter…
Sorry, I don’t even know if you can read that – it says 193 ppm. Which is on the hard side of ordinary tap water, and probably isn’t really going through an RO filter as advertised. Not surprised, really. Still better than the well water.
Some method of producing drinkably pure water independent of the locals is obviously desirable. Solar distillation is most obvious, being free and easily improvised, and it does work. But as I said the amounts produced are minuscule and the distillation box clabbers up with goo very quickly and needs constant cleaning.