Troubleshooting the Water System – Again!

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As I wrote earlier in Winter Projects, I recently checked my entire water line and tightened any loose connections I found. So I was a bit baffled when I was taking a shower a few weeks ago and the water suddenly ran out. The temperature had dropped into the teens the night before, so I wondered if perhaps the line had frozen somewhere. Still, it didn’t seem cold enough for that. During the winter of 2015 the temperature dropped below zero, and still the water only froze for part of one day.

When warming temperatures and a sunny afternoon didn’t solve the problem, I knew something was wrong. I was hoping the trouble was at the spring, because otherwise — I thought — it was probably in the buried portion of the line where I’d have to dig it up. Perhaps that bear had finally managed to knock the barrel over again? (The water runs first into a barrel, then into another pipe that goes out the other side.) When my plumbers were working a few years ago, they had found it knocked over and the pipe pulled out. My neighbor said it must have been the bear that’s been living up there for years and had knocked over a similar barrel that he was using to store grain. So the plumbers had piled rocks all around the barrel and on top and said, “If the bear knocks it over now, that’s one mean bear!”

As soon as possible, I headed out with my walking stick and a scoop, thinking it was probably time to scoop out some of the mud that’s always collecting in the basin. On reaching the spring, I found things pretty well clogged up and not much water running into the barrel. It was pretty muddy at the bottom, and it looked like only a trickle of water was going out. So I reached down into the barrel and scooped out probably about a gallon of mud until it was almost clean.

The sieve on the intake pipe was full of mud, too, so I yanked that out (with some effort), gave it a good cleaning, and put it back in. Now there was a good stream of water going into the barrel and a nice little stream of clear water going out. I also scooped quite a bit of mud out of the catch basin, but couldn’t access one side of it because a huge tree limb had fallen over it and couldn’t be moved. Either a limb or a tree trunk — I couldn’t be sure. Whatever it was, it had been there quite a while because there was moss growing all over one end of it!

Feeling rather pleased with my efforts, I went back to the house and waited a couple of hours to see if I’d get water. I was so exhausted from my climb and from cleaning out the spring and all that I didn’t even haul the cover off the holding tank to see if anything was coming in. As it turned out, I still could get very little water. The next morning I pulled off the cover and found not a drop coming from the pipe.

I decided to check all the connections again starting at the top. I thought I’d pull each connection apart and check if there was water there. But that’s hard to do, and even harder to get it back together if the water’s flowing! Fortunately, I discovered that if I could just lift up the line and put my ear to it then I could hear the water running through. I continued doing this all the way to the bottom of the ridge. I was beginning to get discouraged when I spotted it; just where the old black tubing connects to the new blue line, it had come apart!

Soon I realized why. The screw on the pipe clamp had rusted, and apparently I hadn’t been able to check it earlier because it wouldn’t turn. Fortunately it was an elbow connection, so I was able to take my shovel and hammer it back on good and tight. Pretty soon I had running water again. Later, I went back with some rust remover and fixed the clamp.

This makes the fourth time in less than four years that the system has gone down, so I guess I can expect to go through this at least once a year. But I’m gradually getting over my reluctance to deal with it. The balmy weather that week certainly helped, since I actually enjoyed the outing — except for the strenuous parts. And this time the system was only down for three days instead of weeks!