November 19, 2011

Water Preparedness

I sometimes lament the course of my homesteading life. Not that I regret having our place and what we're doing now, I just wish we'd been able to start earlier in life. As empty nesters and first time grandparents, it seems to be a bit late to be getting started. Or perhaps I should say to return to it. My first experience (way before Dan), was back in the 1970s, although we didn't call it homesteading back then. Then, it was back to the land. And we didn't live off-grid, we just didn't have electricity. Why I left is another story, but those three years of my life laid a groundwork that has influenced me everywhere else I've lived.

I was reflecting on that as I prepared for this post. Back then, having water meant digging out a mountain spring and gravity feeding the water to a faucet in the outdoor kitchen. Since then, we've lived with city water and well water, and have learned the benefits and problems of both, including emergency situations.

We have city water now. About the only benefits to it is that it's convenient and still works when a hurricane, ice storm, or tornado knocks out the power. But it comes with a monthly bill, chemicals, and other contaminants. These effect not only taste and smell (ours is terrible on both counts), but also what we have to ingest.

Well water on the other hand, varies in taste according to location. The best we ever had was naturally sand filtered when we lived in central Florida. Nowadays well water is accessed with an electric pump, so if one's electricity is down, guess what. No water. We learned that a 55 gallon drum of stored water lasts a family of 4 for only a couple of days. Well water is not necessarily free of chemicals and contaminants either, it depends on the groundwater source. Also, we found sediment and pipe corrosion to be higher with well water. Still, if I had a choice, I'd choose well water over city water any day.

We know that when our home was first built in 1920, there was a well. We just don't know where it is. Old surveys didn't indicate things like that. Our neighbor's was where his driveway is now. He discovered it when it created a small sinkhole that tried to swallow one of their cars. He had hoped to use it for watering their garden, but alas, it was dry.

Water is an area we think important to us in a self-sufficiency sort of way. We have plans for both rainwater and greywater conservation systems (see my Assessing for Water Conservation Systems post). These are slow to implement because of time and resources (one of the reasons I was lamenting), though time on the project so far, has been well spent in research, assessment, knowledge accumulation, and planning. And Dan talks about having a well dug for us. Someday. If we're allowed. One thing that we figured we could do in a more immediate sense, was to filter our water.

Like everything else, I did a lot of research and Dan even went so far as to talk to a few sales reps. If we had well water like we used to, he would have wanted a whole house filter, but with city water, we felt our concern should focus on water for drinking and cooking. The factors we considered were contaminants filtered out, life of elements, non-energy consuming, maintenance, and price. For us, a Berkey best met our needs. The clincher was not the sales pitch, but the fact that it is a common unit on the mission field, where it is being used successfully in primitive conditions, to provide potable water from sources that none of us would otherwise dream of drinking.

I'm not trying to promote this brand, I'm just very happy with the choice we made. It suits our needs and circumstances. We noticed a difference in the taste (and smell) right away. Not to mention a sense of relief at being able to drink pure water. I'm also confident we are better prepared for a water emergency, as long as we have a source of water to filter. That's peace of mind.


Doyu Shonin said...

Very glad for you; it looks nice and businesslike, too!

We had a hand-dug spring and springhouse in the 70s, and still miss it where we are now, with an electric well. There's another older well pipe and put in a hand pump on that for just-in-case, but it takes a lot of pumping to clear the rust out. So we store a lot. Out creek runs half the year; it's not very potable long term but would do in an emergency and can flush and such as needed. Everyone needs to think hard about where their water comes from and what they'll do without that source.

Woolly Bits said...

we have no water connection over here. the quality is disgusting,half the year it's not fit for human consumption! so we skipped the connection. the old cottage was never "on the grid", so we had to think about another source. we thought about our private well, but this wasn't feasible, due to the ground here. there is a small well in one of the lower fields, which had been used for a long time and the quality is good, if rather limey. we use this for drinking water, but it means that we have to walk quite a long way, and carry 10 l canisters uphill back home. not feasible for other water needs:)) we rely entirely on rainwater for this! we have several large black tanks around the house, lots of smaller ones and several made from bricks. all in all we have around 12.000 l of water if all are full! of course ireland has usually a good (and rather steady:)) supply of rainwater - we haven't been without water for the last 15 years! and the quality is better than anything out of the scheme. we have both wells (there's another one in the village) and the rainwater tested regularly and we do boil the well water, just in case... some neighbours are envious, because they think we have "free water"! that is not so. we don't pay much (apart from electricity for a pump), that's true - but it is a lot of work nonetheless. we have to clear the roofs and the gutters regularly, we have to clean all the tanks as well, the pumping takes time, too... in my experience there is no such thing as "free water" and there shouldn't be! it's one of our most valuable commodities, and we should save our supplies at pretty much all costs! and we should try to minimize our use of it, even in a country of plentiful rain. we have no flush toilet, we don't have sprinklers (you think twice about overwatering stuff, when you have to carry every can:)) and we don't shower twice or more every day... ehm - why do I feel that I am preaching to the converted?:))

farmgal said...

My little farm has two wells, one shallow, one drilled, the shallow is hooked into the house/little barn, the drilled is at the big barn, and was able to be hooked into the house but I took it offline and had a hand pump attached to it, we will in the next year or two attach a wind mill pump to it ideally.

We have steel roofs that we do rain water collecting on, plus we have a small pond that stays with water for spring and fall depending on rain fall, we want to gutter the big barn and drain it into the pond as well as run a pipe from the drilled well to run all extra water into the pond.

We are within walking distance to the nearest creak and that is part of the reason I trained the cow to be a oxen and pull a small cart, if required she could be used to move barrols of hauled water.

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

I believe in redundancy in Homesteading and have both a deep well with 220v pump, a sepreate deep well with hand pump, and spring that is mostly used for the livestock now. I have a whole house filter but worried that if I had to use the hand pump or spring I would need another filter so I too bought the Berkey. And it has been nothing but trouble. We have gone through FIVE new sets of filters since buying the unit 6 months ago. Berkey is very nice about replacing the damaged filters, but there is no way a filter that is only siliconed around the bottom can be trusted to remove hazardous microscopic particles as advertised. We have a contract with a water testing company and test it regularly. I encourage everyone to do this that has a berkey to insure the unit really is filtering more than taste and smell-which a charcoal filter can do for $5. The drop of food coloring test they tell you to do is not assuring you that benzene or cadmium will come out also. They told us they changed filter manufactures and realized the defect and changed the design with this last set. It looks almost the same as the last four. Another example of a company that outsourced its manufacture and now we consumers are paying the price.

Leigh said...

Risa, that is so true. Water is something we all seem to take for granted, yet it ought to be a number one priority, "just in case."

Bettina, thank you for sharing that! Preaching to the converted? Maybe, but a lot of folks are trying to figure things like this out, so all ideas are welcome! Is there anyway I can coax you into taking photos and doing a post on your blog?

It's true there's no such thing as truly "free" water. It always cost something, money, time, energy, care.

Farmgal, that's excellent planning, every way around. I regret that our insurance company pressured us into getting the roof replaced too quickly. We wanted a metal roof, but couldn't swing it in the timeframe they imposed upon us. That's another story though.

Jane, that's beyond disappointing, that's discouraging. Considering the cutting-corners-to-increase-profits of almost all manufactured goods these days, I suspect your advice would be well headed for everyone with any kind of water filter.

Mr. H. said...

This is something we have also been concerned about as they have started adding chlorine to our water due to issues with bacteria. I have also been worried about what effect this water has on our garden crops.

Theresa said...

Seems like a good solution Leigh! We have well water and love it. Pretty good, clean and clear aquifier up here in the mountains. Tub Springs is an open bubbling spring that anyone can come and fill water from, we draw from the same source 1/2 mile down the road.

bspinner said...

Having good safe water is so important!!! I hope one day you'll be able to dig your own well but a lot of place where there is city water you are not allowed to dig your own well.

We're on a well and I try to keep bottled water around just in case we lose our power. Our kids are so lucky they have a very large generator that turns on as soon as they lose power.

Mama Pea said...

One of the main reasons we left Illinois nearly 40 years ago was because all the wells around us (in farm country) were becoming contaminated with chemicals.

One of the selling points of our current property here in NE Minnesota was that it had a good, drilled well on it. (Yes, we had the water tested before purchasing.) We have a hand pump on the well that can be used should the electric submersible pump fail. We feel so fortunate in that our water is plentiful and great tasting. We still have it tested regularly.

We've got a reverse osmosis filter on the kitchen sink but have plans for a whole house filter system in the future. We consider ourselves very fortunate when we hear of how others struggle to obtain good water. So, so vital to life but not easily available to all.

Gingerbreadshouse7 said...

Reading this post really made me think back to the time I lived in NJ and had only well water! it was the best tasting water I can remember ever having! We would send Jugs of it to a college daughter (that's when shipping was cheap :o) Today I'm living in NC and the water here sucks! We use the water from the Fridge and you can tell when that needs changing by the taste..Bottled water doesn't measure up to the well water we an emergency , the only thing I have is bottled..the big Bottles could be an answer, I'd have to investigate.

Leigh said...

Mr. H, that's a good point. I can't say I notice any overtly adverse effect from watering the garden with city water, but I'll be glad once we get our rainwater catchment system in place.

Theresa, you are so fortunate! The bubbling spring is a great idea too.

Barb, exactly! We don't know yet if we would be allowed to dig a well, it's just something we'll have to research if and when we get to that point. A generator with well water is a good idea.

Mama Pea, that's a very sad state of affairs. Unfortunately, Illinois appears to be Monsanto country, so I doubt the situation has gotten any better. You are very fortunate to have good water now!

Ginny, you need some of that NC mountain water! I agree about bottled water. Even the best isn't always that great. I think the plastic gives off an odor and a taste, and that's part of it.

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Like you, back in the 70s, our desire was to live "off the grid" . . . but we were never able to pull it off. Raising a family, owning a home, and having full time jobs in Southern California seem to squelch our dream. However we now are retired and live in the country and enjoy well water which, when we moved in was tested as potable however it tasted like iron and smelled like rotten eggs (sulfur). We put up with it for a while using Brita filtered for drinking and cooking but finally broke down and had a whole-house filter system installed and oh my, what a difference. The water tastes good and no more rotten egg smell!

I enjoyed reading this post and learning the different solutions to solve water problems that folks come up with. It taught us that we really do have to have some kind of back up plan as far as stored water in case of power outages, something we have thought about but have put it on the back burner. It's now on the front burner. Thanks Leigh!

NancyDe said...

We have a rain catchment system. We live in an area on the Big Island that doesn't have any county water available, so we're lucky that catchment systems are readily available. We have 2 fiberglass tanks (5,000 gallons each) and we run the water through two filters for washing and 7 filters for drinking and cooking. We add bleach about once a month. It works, except in extreme drought (rare) when watering the sheep and horses takes a toll.

Michelle said...

I am glad you chose a Berkey. That is a big one on our list of things we want to do/buy. We are on rural water, but our land has a cistern, a hand-dug well, and a drilled well. They are not currently in use, and have not been properly maintained, but not abused, either, that we can tell. It's comforting to know that a Berkey, a bucket, and a rope are all we'd need for potable water. I'd love it if you updated us in the future on your happiness with it.

BrokenRoadFarm said...

I love having a well after living in the big city. We have some sediment that we filter out with a small all house filter (we have to buy the charcoal filters). Down the road we want to look at a better filtration system. I still put my drinking/coffee pot water through a Brita filter I keep in the fridge. But at least I can drink it. I NEVER drank the water in the city - I paid for 5 gal bottles of water and had a water cooler. BUT, we paid a lot to have our well drilled - all totaled about $6,600 (we had to drill 500 ft to get water). But, we have not had a water bill in 3 years now - wonderful!! And if we have a power outage, we have a 24ft above ground pool full of chlorinated water :-)

Suzan said...

I've always wanted to be where we could have well water! In Florida, we had an artisian well for watering the plants, but city water for inside the house. When we move to the country --- we're having a well dug!! Saw a program last week about fracking and the oil that is in the drinking water of many people. They could light a fire as the water came out of their faucet.

Leigh said...

CaliforniaGrammy, you're welcome! There are so many things to think about to be prepared these days. I can't imagine your sulfur smelling water being deemed safe to drink! Yuk. Definitely a filter was in order, pronto!

Nancy, thank you for sharing that. Interesting how folks make do. I don't reckon you could dig a well(?)

Michelle, we're happy with it so far. The smell and taste are amazingly different. Do you use your well water for irrigating?

BRF, gosh, I knew wells were expensive to dig. And yes, its' great to not have a water bill! We didn't have one for 10 years, so to have to pay for yucky water is a sore spot. Good use for a swimming pool, I might add. Emergency water! (very helpful for flushing toilets).

Suzan, yes, fracking is a real problem. We keep hearing how pure water is becoming so scarce, yet these people are allowed to do this stuff? Something's very wrong with that picture.

Michelle said...

We plan to use the well to irrigated the garden, but haven't bought a pump yet. :-) Its on the list.

Leigh said...

We've thought that if we can ever find the original well here, that's what we'd probably use it for, though we'd probably have the water tested just to see.

Michelle said...

I wouldn't hesitate to use it for irrigation as it is, but would have it tested before taking a swig. :-D

Donna OShaughnessy said...

Yes, like you, I wish I'd started a lot of things much earlier. I am now 52. We have four children. We have three grandchildren and were just beginning to get started on this road to total self-sufficiency. All we have to do is sell this great big old farm business. When we started this business. 17 years ago we thought we'd be doing it the rest of our lives. But unfortunately we got what we wanted it became very successful too quickly, now we are ready to relax. Once we find a buyer who wants to do what we wanted to do so long ago, we'll be on our way.

The way we look at it, we should be completely back to the land by age 55, since we are going to turn 100 anyway, if we are lucky, were not getting started that late after all.

Still hope you are blogging when we do make the big move. We will certainly need you!

trump said...

Id like to wish everyone whose blog that i visit a happy Thanksgiving to you and your family's, and thank you for being a reader to mine. Richard from Amish Stories.

Agatha said...

I think one of those would work really well for us too! Just what we've been looking for, actually. Considering that we live in a teeny tiny condo in the city right now, I like that the system is compact and portable. :)

Leigh said...

Michelle, I'm with you on that one!

Donna, I'm not planning to go anywhere. :) It's funny how our goals in life can change like that. Your farming experience will be invaluable as you begin your homestead. I know you'll appreciate the less hectic demands. At least I hope they'll be less hectic!

Richard, thank you! Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

Tinner's Rabbits, its a little over 19 inches tall, and the lid needs to be lifted to pour in water. It's about 8 inches in diameter, and the whole thing holds a little over 2 gallons of filtered water. While it won't fit under kitchen wall cabinets, we felt it was worth it to find it a home in our house!

Anonymous said...

After buying some land and wanting to build a house on the undeveloped land we decided to drill a well. We Have lots of water apparently (60+ gallons a minute) and the water quality is very good.

That being said we don't want to use it for irrigation or sewer expulsion if possible. We have decided instead of pooping in our drinking water(excuse the crass description, I can't think of a more nondescript way of putting it) we are using a composting toilet. We have put a tin roof on our house and we will use the run off for irrigation in the warmer months along with a dug out that will fill in the early spring.

We are trying to install a grey water system that will irrigate trees, bushes, etc. as well. But we are finding most plumbers are...unimaginative when it comes to doing things different then has been done in the past. I think we'll mostly end up having to do this ourselves come the spring.

We also have irrigation rights on our land but we are hesitant to become dependent on such a system. We are thinking if we can train our land to use what water is given it will be better for us and the environment. Not to mention irrigation water must be filled with all sorts of pesticides and chemical run off.

A well can be a part of the solution but (in our area) I'm hoping there are many other sources of water that will be beneficial, useful, and sufficient for our needs.

Great post.

Grace said...

Everything about water is going badly for us just now. In our suburban home we are on city water. This water is so heavily chlorinated that I am terrified of what they are trying to kill with all of those chemical infusions. I can't justify a filter for this house, I don't think, as we will be moving to our country place in South Carolina in less than two years.
There we will have well water (Yay!) but the water has gone rusty in the last year and is now unusable. I am afraid to imagine how much money it will cost to replace all of that galvanized piping, if that turns out to be the problem. In the meantime, I can't use it to cook or shower or even wash dishes.

Leigh said...

Doug, thank you for sharing your experience and decisions regarding your water. Great ideas, especially regarding the composting toilet. We've considered one for the future someday. In the meantime, we don't mind flushing the recycled toilet water than we get from the, LOL

Grace, if you get a filter like a Berkey, you can take it with you when you move! Check out their website for more information.

Anonymous said...

In our town in MA (10,000+) no one has sewers--we are all on private septic systems. Plus, about half the households are on private wells, including us. That means that our local govt. is quite protective in enforcing health and environmental laws. I don't think I would feel quite the same about living here if that weren't the case. We have a whole house filter, but only because the grit is ruinous to the valves in the pipes. Plus, it helps prevent those same pieces of grit from attaching themselves permanently to the white laundry loads. I agree that it would be nice to have a hand pump for emergencies, such as the recent 3-day outage we had over Halloween. I had to make due with the gallons stored in the basement for just such an outage. We have been fortunate that strong state laws allow our town to create an aquifer protection district, which is something that's probably lacking most places. Most people don't think about asking around about, say, local private dumps that might once have been located nearby that could conceivably pollute their water. However, every five years or so I have the water tested just in case. FYI, the whole house filter is changed about every 3 months. Sue in MA

Paula said...

That's what we bought too! We used to use a Pur tap filter, but when the device bit the dust, we opted to take the rest of the filter inserts down to my sister at Christmas and start using our Berkey. We like it a lot, and should there ever be a disaster, the only addition to the routine for water will be going down to the river via the city park in the neighborhood and fetching water out of the Willamette. I envision making and using a sand filter first in that instance to get the big chunks out first though....

The eventual plan is to have a rainwater catchment system and a cistern, because if there's one thing Northwest Oregon has, it's rain.

Leigh said...

Sue, interesting that you had the same problems with will water that we did. If we had owned that home, Dan would have put a whole house filter in too. Good points about aquifer protection, and regular testing.

Paula, we used to have one of those Pur tap filters too, but I got tired of having to replace the innards! Avoiding things with replacement parts is high on my list of things to not buy, LOL. Yes, the Berkey is great, with the longest life on filtering components that we found.

Darren (Green Change) said...

Rainwater collection is very popular here in Australia. Our home runs completely off rainwater tanks - two house tanks that are about 6,000 gallons (25,000 litres) and another for the yard that's about 5,000 gallons (20,000 litres).

It always strikes me that rainwater collection isn't talked about much on US sites. Is that because of your harsh winters? I guess you wouldn't get much water into your tanks while it's snowing and everything's frozen, so maybe that's the dealbreaker? Maybe tanks might freeze up in sub-zero temps, too?

Interesting, anyway, reading about how different people around the world solve the same problems!

Leigh said...

Darren, thank you for your comment! It is encouraging to hear from someone who is successfully using a rainwater collection system. How much rainfall would you say you get a year?

My husband and I have done a lot of preliminary research into water conservation, and I have to say that Australia is truly the forerunner in this. One of the problems Americans have faced, is local government codes and regulations, which have been restrictive for such systems. Often they hold hands with the service providers, who don't want to lose revenue if folks get off their system. Places like Colorado tax rainwater collection (which never encourages the use of a thing) and California used to be terribly restrictive regarding greywater, though new laws there have loosened things up a bit.

I agree it's interesting to see how others utilize these systems. I'm learning some good things just from the comments.