On an unpleasantly hot, humid, July day, I noticed that the water pressure in the kitchen sink seemed lower than usual. A subsequent scurry of phone calls and Googleverse encounters suggested that the well pump was dead. As suburbanites, we had never had to deal with this problem before as we had always had public water and sewer. If something went wrong, we called the appropriate municipal utility — or, if the problem was purely on our end, “the guy” — and the problem was resolved in relatively short order. But now that we have moved to the farm, here at the north end of a very large county, the question became, “Call WHAT guy?”
Twenty-four steamy summer hours without water meant more than no showers and no toilets. We had no water, and 32 animals for whom to care. It had been dumb luck that the pump had failed late in the day, after the animals’ water buckets had been cleaned and refilled for the night, although we had to plan for the morning. We are fortunate that we live less than fifteen minutes’ drive from a grocery store, which is only inconvenient in a winter storm when you have to dig out and get the truck up the side of Hard Hill. I set out for that store, with Colin along to carry those really heavy commercially filled water jugs, while Mark, who had rushed home from work, stayed at the farm with “the guy.” The guy turned out to be a plumber with an agency we had used previously in suburbia. The agency was not cheap, but the guy was at the farm in under an hour and had the problem diagnosed just in time to get needed items before his supply house closed for the night.
The plumber worked diligently for hours in his efforts to get us running water by the time he left, just before 10 PM. As the light appeared at the end of our arid, thirsty tunnel … a piece of the system, unrelated to the shiny new pump, sprang a leak. With all the area supply stores long since shuttered for the evening, the plumber went home with instructions to call his dispatcher first thing in the morning. It was a long, hot, dry night on Hard Hill, using gallon jugs of water to wash our hands and flush the toilets. The dishes didn’t get washed at all.
The story has a few more nerve-wracking plot twists, but it ended happily around 11AM the next day. We strive to plan ahead for emergencies, with preparations including preserved food in the canning pantry, a generator and gasoline to power the well pump in a power outage, heated water buckets and plenty of hay and grain in the barn, and the usual candles and batteries and blankets. We made it through the miserably cold and snowy winter of 2015, and through Winter Storm Jonas’s 30 inches of snow in a day without losing an animal, partly because we had several sturdy snow shovels to use when the giant snow blower died in the middle of a hill (which it did). How did we miss WATER? As suburbanites with no water, we would have locked up the house and headed to a hotel for the night, but you can’t just up and leave your goats, hens, and alpacas.
About a week after the day without water, we happened across a cable program while we were hiding from the heat about a family that helps homesteaders who are in dire need of support. One segment included a family who had moved to the Nevada desert to homestead off-grid, in an area with no public water and no well. They had traveled daily to fill water containers in a nearby town … for THREE YEARS. I’m not sure if this is an example of dedication, desperation, or foolhardiness. Although it is often a delight to be unable to see a neighbor’s house from ours, the one miserable day without water slapped us with a dose of preparation reality. There are twenty gallons of jugged water in the shop now, and that plumber’s business card is close at hand.