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WATER WELLS AND THE MODERN HOMESTEAD
There are many benefits of country living. Producing most or all of your own food is one of them. The ability to have your own water well is another. This alone is a major advantage to any homestead. And anyone who cares about the environment will understand its importance.
When I was growing up, every house on our street in town had a water well with a hand pump just outside the back door. Few remain today. In fact, many farms are hooked up to “town water” because digging a water well seems so old-fashioned, they don’t want to fool with it.
During a major power outage, water only continues to run for a time. Eventually, the water purification plants will shut down. This is when reality sets in, and we realize the importance of “The Grid.” Since we can only survive 3 days without water, panic is often the reaction.
A few months ago, the water well at my good old country home went bone dry. The severe drought that has plagued this area for the last few years finally caught up with us. This well is my only source of water to the property.
Just 80 miles north of me, they were experiencing a massive amount of flooding. I watched the TV news each day, and couldn’t believe the irony of it. Here in southern Iowa, we continued to bake.
THIS OLD WELL!
This water well has been in the same spot for over 150 years, and never went dry before. I have photographs of the old red brick house that used to be here and the old fashioned hand pump standing just outside the kitchen door.
The previous owner had the hand pump removed and had the well pipe put in brand new back in the early 1950’s. He was getting older, and pumping water by hand and carrying buckets was just plain OUT. So, now he was hooked up with an electric pump to pump water straight into the house. Life was good!
My property is up on top of a hill, but the well is shallow – – – only 65 feet deep. At the time, it didn’t need to be made any deeper. The previous owner had hit a good “vein” of water, and no matter how often they bathed, cooked, did laundry, washed the car, or watered their vast gardens, it never even hinted at running dry.
WORLD WIDE WATER SHORTAGE
Only about 2 1/2 percent of earth’s water is drinkable. With an ever-expanding population, we need to conserve what we can while there is still time. And with a drought that seems to be covering the entire world, the time to start thinking about it is now.
Underground water is far more protected from pollution than lakes and rivers. More Water Well Drillers are needed to reach these aquifers. And home owners need to be encouraged to provide for themselves, rather than wait till time of need. Actively working to acquire this sustainable source of water would greatly help to alleviate our worries.
Much of the earth’s surface is covered by water. A whole new, and extremely profitable, industry would be born if someone could figure out how to purify ocean water quickly. There need never be a water shortage again if this riddle could be solved.
FIRE DEPARTMENT TO THE RESCUE
Troubleshooting the well by having the Fire Department put 1,000 gallons of “town water” down it brought my water level back up. Quite often, this will resolve the issue of a dry well. Nevertheless, there was no way of knowing if the fix was temporary or permanent.
Drought is sometimes followed by a number of years of way too much moisture. There have been a few times in the past that I’ve seen the well pit completely filled with water. I had to hire someone to come in and pump out the excess or else the pump, motor, etc. would have been ruined. But this hadn’t happened in many years.
Hiring someone to come in and pump out a clogged well pipe or drill a new well was not an option right now. If just waiting for heavy rain or melting snow and ice would resolve the issue, then it was certainly worth the wait.
An abundance of melting snow and ice or hard rain next Spring could fill up the creeks, streams, and farm ponds. And this might just do the trick for my water well. My next door neighbor’s pond is almost dry with tall weeds growing right in the middle of it. I’ve never seen this happen before.
This began my life-altering journey of learning to conserve every precious drop. I placed a small bucket under the faucets in the kitchen and bathroom. Whenever I ran water I collected it, and when I had enough, I used it to flush the toilets.
When I did laundry, before I let the water drain out of the machine, I would dip as much of it out as I could and put it into buckets. This was also used for flushing.
It was a flaming nuisance to have to do all this, but it was a real eye-opener about just how much water I was wasting otherwise. I bought bottled water to use for drinking water, cooking, and making coffee. I used the well water sparingly in the hope of more rain. This didn’t happen.
RELATED POST: From my friend Cathy at Original Homesteading: HOMESTEADING SKILLS CHECKLIST
A DRY WELL
Three and a half months later, the water ran out. The well pipe is 65 feet deep, but the pipe on the hand pump that sits down inside of the large pipe is only 55 feet deep. (This was done deliberately so the shorter, unfiltered pipe would not sit in sediment at the bottom of the well.)
Since both the kitchen faucet and the hand pump outside produced nothing, I knew it was bone dry again. I took the top off of the pump platform, reached in, and turned off the motor on the pump.
On a hunch, I waited ten days before calling for help. I tried the hand pump again, and water came gushing out. I estimated that at least 15 feet of water had come back up into the pipe, so I knew there was still water down there.
The water was crystal clear and tasted good, like my own water. This told me that the “town water” had been entirely used up and was gradually being replaced with underground water. I suspected the well was plugged up with something.
The Fire Department came back and added an extra 1,000 gallons of “town water.”
This time, I used bottled water for everything but laundry, which got real expensive as time went on.
In place of my nice hot shower, I used a basin and a pitcher of water like ladies did 150 years ago.
Washing your hands several times a day takes lots and lots of water. I used Antibacterial Hand Wipes instead of soap, since it takes more water to rinse off gel soap. All water was collected in buckets and used for flushing toilets.
Paper plates, plastic spoons, and paper towels were purchased to prevent having to wash dishes.
Clothes piled up for 3 1/2 weeks before I tried doing laundry. When I washed clothes, once again I dipped out as much water as possible before draining the machine. This water was used for flushing.
THE NEXT STEP
In the meantime, a Plan was formulated! Water is very heavy. Anyone who has ever tried to carry two water buckets uphill knows this.
And now, I am playing another hunch. I reasoned that if all of that very heavy water was left in the well pipe long enough, maybe it would soak down through and loosen any obstruction and, in time, push it out. It was certainly worth a try.
The fear that I would have to have “town water” put in forced me to think ahead. Since I can’t drink the stuff, that would have meant I’d have to buy bottled water for the rest of my life. What an appalling thought!
The “Game Plan” is to “top off” the well just before Winter sets in, and sit back and wait to see what happens. If this idea works, it will save me, and possibly others, a lot of money and stress.
How to gauge The Next Step:
Amount of snow and ice we get this Winter
And the amount of Spring rain to soak into the ground
Depth of the water in my neighbor’s farm pond in the Spring
Check the Drought Monitor on the TV news for this area
If this experiment doesn’t work, then next year I must:
Find out the cost of having “town water” dug in.
Estimate how much I will spend each year on bottled water if this happens.
Locate a licensed, certified Well Contractor, and check his reputation with the Department of Natural Resources.
Check out the best and most cost-effective solutions, such as pumping out a clogged well OR well-deepening OR digging a new water well.
Compare the prices of each option.