This afternoon I put on my shorts and a poly running shirt, lowered a ladder into the dark abyss one of my six, 12′-tall, 5200-gallon water tanks and climbed in. I also brought in a hose and a scrub brush on a long stick.
I’ll tell you about it in more detail, but note that my primary purpose here is to describe yet another way in which the country life is pushing me toward the city.
When I turn on the kitchen faucet or a garden hose, the water that most of you take for granted got there through a long and complicated process. The kitchen tap starts as creek water pumped into the the two left-most tanks (they’re numbered “Tank 1″ and “Tank 2″) during the winter when the creek is flushed out and running clear. Then I chlorinate the life out of it and gravity feed it from the tanks to the house and shower. Since the tank lids are vented, the chlorine volatizes and is not so bad by the time it reaches the tap. I need to install a countertop filter or whole-house filter at some point, but no one has gotten sick yet.
The irrigation water is another story. I pump from the creek to the four rightmost tanks (“Tank 3″ to “Tank 6″) and gravity feed from there to the nursery and gardens. Sometime in early summer—usually mid/late-June, but probably late May this year—I switch the pump intake from the creek to the big, lined pond I built on the lower end of the property and begin draining that for use as ag water. Winter rains refill it. Irrigation water gets used as-is, though I sometimes have to adjust the pH to make it more palatable to acid-loving bamboo and other plants here.
So, I have two parallel systems: domestic water and ag water. I decided that, since I have virtually unlimited ag water storage in the pond, I don’t really need 20,000 gallons (i.e. four tanks-worth). Normally the two domestic water tanks—10,000 gallons total—are more than enough to get through a year, so long as there are no distribution-pipe blowouts. The water system is still above-ground, so summer heat and winter freeze can cause fittings to fail, allowing an entire tank to drain if not caught in time.
This project was about converting Tank 3 from ag water to domestic water. That will provide three tanks for domestic water (15K+ gallons), two tanks for irrigation (10K+ gallons) and one tank (5K+) as a backup for fire fighting. Besides redoing a lot of plumbing (requiring two trips to town to get parts), the main task was cleaning out the years of skanky pond silt that had accumulated in the bottom of Tank 3 so it could be used for drinking water.
The drain valves on the tanks are about three inches above the actual bottom, so it required more than draining and refilling the tank with clean water. I had to get down there, scrub all the slime loose and then find a way to get that last, slimy three inches of water out of the tank.
After lowering the ladder and a pressurized hose into the tank, I climbed down under a shower of water. I had left the pump on and removed the tank drain valve so the water spewing out the fill hole at the top would hopefully stir up the silt and flush it out the drain hole at the bottom. Once inside the tank, it was clear that this wouldn’t happen on its own because the silt tended to settle and clean water poured out as more poured in.
I’ll give you the short solution I came up with: after climbing back out, I stuffed a piece of garden hose up the drain opening. Climbing back inside, I got a siphon going and used the pressurized garden hose to stir up the silt to keep it suspended. I kept siphoning till the tank was drained dry all the way to the bottom, adding more clean water from the pressurized hose as needed to swish the last of the silt into the sucking siphon hose.
At one point in this foolishness, I looked up to see a frog near the top of the inside of the tank. I knocked it down with the long-handled scrub brush, caught it, climbed the wobbly ladder and tossed the wayward amphibian to the grass below. To get inside the tank, that frog had climbed up twelve feet of plastic on the outside, found the vent hole in the lid and climbed down through it. I don’t want to check how many frogs are in the other drinking water tanks. Maybe the chlorine scares them away.
The tank has interesting acoustical properties, acting like a rapid-fire echo chamber. I was amusing myself by yelling and hooting and banging, till I realized that if someone on the road heard me, they might call 911 thinking I was trapped. Then again, to hear screaming and banging in Briceland is normal and most would probably ignore it.
As daylight waned and the moon rose, I climbed out of the tank, pulled up the ladder and hose, closed the lid and set up a work light so I could finish re-gluing the PVC piping at the bottom of the tanks. The system is now back together, but we’re relying on jars of drinking water for the evening. I’ll open the tanks valves and pressurize the lines in the morning, after I’m sure the glue has set up completely.
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There was a time when I loved this sort of thing. I loved the adventure of developing and maintaining my own life-support systems. Knowing where my water and electricity and food came from and where my poop went felt empowering. I was “living on the land”.
But, after almost a quarter century of it, my enthusiasm has tanked, dried up and drained away. I think I passed the point where this lifestyle went from an empowering adventure to a tedious drudge about six or seven years ago. I need to be in a place where the work of maintaing basic amenities doesn’t consume most of my time, where water just flows and if it doesn’t, it’s someone else’s problem to fix. Imagine trying to find someone to hire to do what I just did?
Not that I plan to leave here permanently, but I definitely need a sabbatical while I pursue creative, educational and professional interests.