Water Problems: Episode One

One of the things I loved about my new home was that it has spring water. What my realtor didn’t tell me was that spring-fed systems are usually DIY jobs that require some maintenance on the part of the homeowner. So a few days after moving in, imagine my surprise when the water suddenly fizzled while I was washing dishes! The next morning I went out to the holding tank and hauled off the cover to find the water level almost down to the bottom. There was nothing coming out of the supply line – not even a drop.


I discussed the problem with a neighbor and was told the previous owner often had to take an air compressor and blow back through the line to get it unclogged. Another neighbor said the line would periodically get airlocked because there’s a section of it that goes uphill. The grandson of the former owner said his pappaw would use a sump pump to pump water back through the line and unclog it. I found all this quite confusing and, lacking the equipment or the skills, didn’t see myself attempting any of these procedures – especially since I didn’t even know what the problem was.

I knew the previous owner had purchased rights to another spring on a nearby property, and I had wondered why – was there some problem with the original spring? Fortunately a neighbor who also draws water from that spring knew about this, and said my predecessor had put a water line up there and never connected it. The neighbor, whom I’ll call Carl, offered to connect this line up to the barrel he used as a reservoir, and said he could then connect it to my existing line, though this might involve some digging and I’m not sure what else.

First he took me to see my existing spring, as well as the one I was to be connected to. This was quite a novel experience. The first spring, at the back of the “holler,” was in an enclosed box, but to access it required a certain amount of bushwhacking. While we were there Carl cleared quite a bit of leaves and debris out of the box, something I would never have thought of doing. Then he took me up to the other spring – a hike up the ridge that involved passing two waterfalls, following a hard-to-find trail, and sometimes pulling ourselves up by whatever we could grab onto.

This spring was running into a rather crude catch basin of loose rocks, in which lay a pipe that fed into the upper portion of the barrel. It also required some cleaning out – especially the strainer that was fitted over the end of the pipe.

Carl spent several hours setting up the connection, during which I had to make a couple of trips back to the house or into town to get supplies. I was glad I hadn’t thrown out all the unidentified pieces of hardware I found lying around the house. A few of them turned out to be pipe clamps, which really came in handy!

I was enormously grateful to Carl for his help, and didn’t want to impose any further, so – over his protest – I called on a local plumber to finish the job. Carl said I could call him if I needed any further help. As it happened I really did need him to explain to the plumbers what needed to be done, and he still says they didn’t do it right. Progress on the work was painfully slow, since the plumbers never showed up until at least noon, and some days they didn’t come at all.

At one point they found the water had stopped, and went up to the spring to find a “crawdad” had gotten into the pipe. Another time they found the barrel knocked over and the pipes fallen out, which Carl said a bear must have done, because that never happened before. After that the plumbers piled big rocks all around it and on top, and said “If a bear knocks it over now, that’s one mean bear!”

After almost two months and a couple of thousand dollars, I finally had running water again. And so it continued for over a year, despite the fact the new section of the line was never buried and was lying on top of the ground all winter!

The experience made me even more grateful for the stream running by my house. At least I always had water, though it meant taking a couple of buckets down to the stream once or twice a day and lugging them back up to the house. At least I could use that for washing and toilet-flushing, though I used bottled water for everything else.

Check out “Water Problems: Episode Two.”

And for the rest of the series:

Water Problems: Episode Three

Water Problems: Episode Four

Published on May 29, 2015

Grit Magazine

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