Back in February, when the temperature dropped below zero, I was gloating over the fact I still had running water. That new water line they put in must be really good, I thought, since it never froze up and broke, though it’s still lying on top of the ground! There was one day when the water stopped for part of the day, but by evening it was running again. So I assumed it had just frozen up somewhere and then thawed.
Check out "Water Problems: Episode One."
Everything was fine until late March, when the water suddenly ran out. I looked in the holding tank and found the water level very low, and no water coming out of the pipe – not even a drip. Someone raised the possibility that a pipe had broken during the cold weather, but I discounted it because there had been several weeks of milder weather since then, and I still had water. When I could find the time and the courage, I hiked up to the spring to see if I could discover the source of the problem.
Up until now I had felt that maintaining the water system was simply beyond me, and had just been hoping nothing else would go wrong. But I was beginning to realize that’s not very realistic when you’re dealing with spring water. Spring-fed systems do need to be maintained – especially very crude, DIY systems like what I have here. So I decided I’d better learn to maintain it as much as I can. It’s not rocket science, after all. If there’s some part of it I really can’t do, then I’ll get help, but I must do what I can for myself.
When I got to the spring I peered into the barrel that collects the water and could hear a little trickle coming in but couldn’t see any water in the barrel. It was dark in there, and there’s only a little hole to look in, but I should have been able to see it anyway. I saw that the catch basin was all muddy, so I started scooping mud and sediment out of it. I kept that up for a long time and then pulled the pipe out of the barrel and removed the strainer, which was also full of mud, and cleaned that out. After that there was a good stream of water going into the barrel. I realized that every now and then, preferably during dry weather, I should go up there and clean it out. The climb wasn’t as scary and forbidding as I thought it would be - it gets easier with practice.
At that point I felt so encouraged that I decided to try and climb further up the ridge and check out the view. I guess I was gone for about 20 minutes, and when I returned the water in the catch basin was clear enough that you could see the bottom. There was still a good stream of water going into the barrel, but I noticed something strange: the barrel wasn’t filling up. When I got back to the house, I wasn’t too surprised to find there was still no water. Obviously the water was going somewhere – just not to my house!
Over the next few days, I noticed something interesting: Occasionally I would turn on the faucet and get some water. One day in particular there was so much that the pump shut itself off without my having to go and shut off the power. Then I remembered something the plumber had told me last winter when they were working on my system. He said that water was seeping into my tank and I should think about getting it sealed up or replaced, because it could be a source of contamination. I realized that the day I had a lot of water was after a heavy rain. So the water I was getting was undoubtedly ground or surface water seeping into the tank.
This made me very glad for the seepage, because at least I had some water for washing, cooking, and for my animals, though I had to use bottled water for drinking. I’ll bet all that time last winter when I had no running water I could have gotten some! I just never thought to try it. This also got me thinking that very likely something did break during that freeze, and I still had water because the ground was saturated from the melting snow, and water was constantly seeping in.
For the other chapters of the water problems series: