The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Two water systems

Snowy water

Mark's a big fan of backups, and our dual water system is a good example of why his methodology is perfect for the farm.  As I've written previously, we have two water systems --- one for potable (drinking) water and one for nonpotable water.

Gravity water systemThe nonpotable water system involves pumping water from the creek to a 1,000 gallon tank.  The creek drains a large watershed, so the water is only moderately pure, meaning it's only good for washing and irrigation.  But there's a lot of it, and once we fill the tank, water gravity-feeds to the house with no need for electricity for about a month.  That means during power outage situations, we still have a lot of semi-pure water with little effort that we can use for washing hands, dishes (with a bit of bleach), and clothes.  On the negative side, though, we haven't quite got this waterline to the point where it doesn't freeze when lows drop into the mid-teens, although water does start flowing again pretty quickly once temperatures rise above freezing.  So we spend what amounts to perhaps five full days a year with the nonpotable water inaccessible due to cold weather.

Water tankOur potable water supply is pumped up out of a shallow well (which looks like a dark box in the photo at the top of this post), then is piped through a sediment filter and a UV light, before ending up in the new, larger reservoir Mark recently installed in our kitchen.  The main benefit of the well is that we own its entire (small) watershed and the land is completely wooded, so our well water is almost certainly free of pesticides and herbicides.  There's much less of the well water, though, and it seems wasteful to run water through the UV light (requiring electricity) and a sediment filter (that has to be changed every few months) for uses other than washing and cooking.  On the other hand, the line never freezes, so as long as we have power, we have water of some sort.

Having two systems means we probably spend twice as long fixing things that inevitably go wrong, and it definitely cost more to set up than a single system would have.  But it's nice knowing that our water supply is completely under our own control, and I suspect we end up paying less than neighbors on city water even in a climate where water is plentiful.  There are several other options that could have worked as well --- collecting rainwater off the roof, using different kinds of filters --- but this system seems to suit our farm very well.

Our chicken waterer keeps chickens from fouling their clean drinking water.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Do you own a TDS meter? It would be interesting to see the PPM of the different water systems. While the information is not detailed it would at least offer something as the effectiveness of each filtering setup. My own experience is that anything short of a full on RO $75+ RO system or $150 electric distiller is not effective in reducing PPM.

Our best water comes from our roof.

Comment by Mikey Tue Feb 5 10:59:25 2013

We own a small 2.36 acre homestead in the middle of farming country. We are literally at the edge of the prairie. If you look west you can see for miles and miles, but if you look east it's a wooded creek bottom with deep hills and valleys. Our property has a hand dug well the circumference of a wagon wheel and lined in stone and brick that is ~30' deep by our measurement. We took a reel tape measure and tied a large nut to the end and dropped it in. We dropped several times in different spots to make sure we weren't hitting some foreign object that might have been put in there. Each measurement read within a few inches of being the same.

Our house was connected to rural water when we bought it. We would love to be able to reconnect with the well, but are unsure that a 30' deep well is enough to keep us in water. It is also almost ceratinly contaminated with pesticides since we are surrounded by crop land. To complicate matters the well is across the driveway from the house.

Do you have any comments or advise?

Comment by Michelle Tue Feb 5 11:46:40 2013

Mikey --- We don't have a TDS meter --- I just look at the difference in turbidity by eye. Our sediment filter definitely reduces levels, but probably not really enough to get full effectiveness from the UV light. We haven't gotten sick, though, and the hand-dug well definitely has coliform bacteria in it, so something must be working....

Michelle --- That sounds very much like our shallow well, except for the problems in the watershed. I wonder if you wouldn't be better off catching rain from your roof in your situation? Shallow wells are okay, but in my opinion they tip over into not-so-good if you can't control their entire watershed.

Comment by anna Tue Feb 5 12:03:36 2013
Anna, We actually already have plans for a roof water collection system. It will basically be restoring what is already in place. Our back patio is actually the cap of a huge cystern. It has a hand pump and everything. Unfortunately the hand pump is rusted out and when you look into the cystern rusted out pipes are visible in a maze that is confusing to me. (Why would they be in there.) The only access to the cystern is through a man-hole looking plate that is beside the pump, but we believe that originally the gutters to the house were connected to clay pipe that fed into the cystern. The trick will be finding that connection and hoping the pipe hasn't deteriorated to the point of being unusable. The large clay pipe was full of aluminum cans when we bought the place, so we don't know what may be lurking in the cystern.
Comment by Michelle Tue Feb 5 14:13:32 2013

a) Now I see your need for UV tx, having a shallow well. "Natural filtration" thru the soil is fairly good, but contamination with surface run-off is more likely, so frequent testing is probably wise, even with the UV set-up.

b)Are you familiar with the gravity powered ramjet water pump? You could avoid the need for an electric pump with this system. There's plenty of building instructions on-line. It looks pretty easy.

Comment by doc Wed Feb 6 06:45:26 2013
Doc --- I explain why RAM pumps won't work for us here.
Comment by anna Wed Feb 6 10:38:53 2013

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