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Authors: Nicholas Hyde

Tags: #Sustainable Living, #House & Home

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BOOK: Harvesting H2o
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You won’t know when you hit water except by trial and error, so when you think you are getting down to the water table try filling the pipe with water. If you cannot fill it up to where the water level remains full at the top of the pipe, you are not there yet. Repeat every few feet until the pipe can be filled and retains water. When it can, attach a pump to it temporarily and make sure you actually have water and not debris caught in the pipe somewhere. If the holding water pumps out and then you have muddy water, great. If not, put a long thin rod (or smaller diameter piping) down the pipe to try and free whatever is caught in it. As an alternative way to see if you have hit water, you could just insert a long piece of wire to the bottom of the pipe and then pull it up to see if the end is wet.

Once you have water pumping, go several feet deeper if you can, and you are done. Attach the pump and pump it until the water runs clear. You have a well. As you can see, the main attraction of this method is the simplicity of it, just drive down a pipe and hook up a pump. However, oftentimes this method goes awry because of large rocks or hard clay.

Washing in a Well

The other techniques for home well-drilling are all water-oriented and are collectively known as
. This is a very effective method and can get past hard clay, and even larger rocks sometimes with a little determination. The bore hole is scraped by hand-twisting or stabbing a jagged-edge end of a pipe or piece of tubing, while water is used to continuously bring the
to the surface of the hole where they wash aside.

There are two basic methods for washing the bore hole. You either shoot the water down the inside of the drilling pipe, bringing the cuttings up from the outside (that is, between the drill pipe and the outer diameter of the hole), or you pour water down the hole and flush everything out through the top of the drill pipe, as already has been described. Either way, the bore hole is larger than the diameter of the drill pipe due to the constant moving and twisting of it. Sections of pipe are added as needed while the drill pipe goes lower into the ground.

PVC Pipe Drilling

Water pressure can be an issue with this method. Be prepared to use a heck of a lot of water to drill your well this way, unless you have access to a mud pump, in which case you can recirculate the water. For the first 10-15 feet, you don’t need much water pressure, but as you go deeper, it will take more than one garden hose to flush out the cuttings. The solution is to use two garden hoses, a mud pump recirculation system, or use an air hose in conjunction with one garden hose (which will increase the pressure enough to use the water from one hose).

One end of the first piece of PVC pipe will be your drill bit. Cut triangular teeth into the end of it, or screw in a metal end-piece with jagged teeth cut into it. If screwing in a metal end-piece for the drill bit, you will need to secure it with a screw through the side of the pipe to keep it from unscrewing as you drill. Keep in mind plenty of wells have been drilled this way using only plastic teeth cut into the PVC pipe itself. Whichever way you make the drilling end sharp, make the teeth large with lots of room between them, and keep the inside of the end of the pipe clear and open! Eventually, you need to run your smaller well casing pipe (with a well point fixed on the end of it) through the end of your drill pipe.

On the other end of the drilling pipe a T-section cap fits on, which is securely fitted with two garden hoses coming in each end of it, or one garden hose and one air hose. Turn the water on, put the drill pipe into the starter hole, and start twisting. Keep twisting. That is what you will be doing for hours on end, twisting and wiggling that pipe. This will bore a hole in the ground which is a little bigger in diameter than the drill pipe. You will need to fasten a removable handle of some type to the drill pipe, such as a thin, strong piece of wood held on by hose clamps. The pipe will go down to the ground, and then you will need to turn off the water, remove the T-head (with the hoses) and the handle attachment, then couple in a new section of PVC pipe. Use inside couplers and use both PVC primer and glue when attaching. Give it a few minutes to dry, then attach the T-head and the handle assembly to the new section of pipe, turn the water back on, and repeat.

Go slow once you get past 12 feet or so. Trying to go too fast can get your pipe stuck. When you hit hard ground and think you stopped making progress, just keep at it, and keep going slow. If you become absolutely sure you hit rock, drop a heavy metal object tied to a rope down the pipe over and over, trying to break it up. If that fails, put a little Bentonite solution down the hole and remove the entire drilling pipe and try smashing the rock up without the pipe in the hole. Re-sharpen the teeth of the drill pipe, or add a metal tip to it, and attempt to continue. Most likely, you will get through it.

This process can be greatly improved by using a mud pump instead of two garden hoses. In this case, you just have a single attachment at the top of the open drill pipe section, connected to the mud pump output hose. Dig a pit in the ground next to the well hole and connect it to the well hole with a small trench. Fill the pit with a Bentonite solution and place a barbeque grill over the bottom of the pit, allowing for a few inches of the pit below the grill. Place the intake of the mud pump in the pit over the grill. You can now pump your drilling fluid down the drill pipe and it will recirculate and leave the cuttings in the mud pit under the barbeque grill. You will need to add extra water/drilling fluid at first and occasionally stop to shovel out the cuttings under the grill.

At some point, you will hit the water-bearing sand you are looking for. It will just start pouring out the sides of the top of the hole. At first it will be fine. You want to go a few feet deeper to find the coarser sand. When you do, you can stop twisting the drill pipe and you should be able to watch it sink further without any pressure on it at all. That is when you have arrived.

Piece together the entire well casing pipe ahead of time. Keep track of how many sections of drill pipe you sank, so you know your depth, and finish off the well casing pipe to be the same length. When it is all glued together with the well point sealed on the end, sink it all down inside the drill tube to the bottom. Lifting a long section of PVC pipe may be (at least) a two-man job, but fortunately it will bend quite a bit, and you may want to lay it over a high object such as the cab of your truck. When the well casing pipe is down, you can pour pea gravel down the inside of the drill pipe tube and slowly begin to pull it out, if you like, until you have a layer of several feet of gravel poured in. Then remove the drill pipe completely, add sand, and top off with cement. Prime the well casing pipe and hook up your pump. Nice well.

If the water table is expected to be within 25 feet, use 2” pipe for drilling and 1.25” pipe for the well casing. Otherwise, remember you will need a 4” pipe for well casing which means drilling with at least 5” diameter PVC pipe. Using larger diameter pipe and going deeper means going slower, and the process will be more arduous.

Flush Drilling

This is the opposite method for washing in a well, where you flush out the cuttings through the inside of the drill pipe – which is usually a metal pipe with a removable elbow-cap on the top end, positioned so the flushing spays away from the driller. You extend it by adding more sections as you go, always moving the bent end-cap to the top of the new section. The drill tip usually resembles a spear, except that it is fashioned above the hollow drill pipe so the flushings can get into the pipe. Water pressure and suction force the flushings to siphon out the top as the driller continually thrusts the drill pipe into the muddy hole.

To start, water must be added to the starter hole in order to create mud, and frequently be replenished. So, the ground is essentially turned to mud, ground up by the spear, and flushed out through the tube. After going down ten feet or so, a Bentonite solution should be used instead of water, as this method of drilling has a high danger of cave-ins due to there being no supporting pipe in the drill hole.

When mixing Bentonite, be swirling the water before adding the powder. Mix it in a bucket first before pouring it down the bore hole.

When you get past 18 feet or so, the driller will probably need help. If necessary, multiple people can then do the thrusting of the drill pipe in unison. It also may help to have somebody at a higher level pull the drill pipe up using a rope, so that the thrusters only need to thrust downward. For that purpose, a makeshift derrick is sometimes constructed above the drill hole with a pulley. The people pulling the drill pipe upward can then work from the ground.

When the sandy, clearer water flushes out the drill pipe, you have reached your destination. At that point, you can sink a well point connected to a long pipe and seal up the well. Many wells in third-world countries are dug by missionaries in this fashion.


Collecting Rain


Collecting rainfall to meet ones water consumption needs is not a new idea. People have been doing it for thousands of years. In lifeboat emergency kits, you will sometimes find large folded-up plastic tarps which are intended to be unfolded and used as rain collection devices during storms (this was especially true in the days before portable marine water makers). Sailors who became shipwrecked on islands have used the large leaves from banana trees and other tropical plants to capture rainwater and direct it into collection vessels.

In many regions, a bountiful harvest of water can be collected during rainstorms and then stored for later usage. You just have to be ready for it when it happens. Using rainwater as a supplemental supply can significantly increase the life of your other water-producing resources. For example, your shallow well may last 25 years instead of 15. No wonder collecting rainwater is rapidly gaining interest with today’s off-grid homesteaders.

Rainwater is collected from wide surface areas and then funneled into storage containers. The simplest method is to have the rain gutters from the roof of your home empty into collection barrels. If you have multiple structures on your property (including sheds and carports), put roofs with rain gutters over all of them and direct the gutters into barrels. You can also build additional structures specifically designed for capturing rainfall, which are really nothing more than overhead shelters. Water collected in this method will be more contaminated than water from other sources due to coming in contact with the roof and rain gutters. That makes it a good candidate for distillation if you plan on treating it to become potable. Otherwise, most rain barrels are used for watering gardens and livestock.

The primary challenge in collecting rain is that you need square footage in order to do it. Rain comes down in measurable inches, but you can only capture those inches with however wide of a collection area you have. If you need to collect more, you must use a wider collection space. Building a deeper collection vessel does nothing to increase your yield.

Fortunately, the roof of any decent-sized home will actually yield quite a bit of water. To give you an idea, the runoff created by an inch of rain on a 1,000 square foot roof will typically yield more than 600 gallons of water. That’s a lot. What you want to do is maximize your collection efficiency. Most homes are guttered only at the low points of the roof, allowing a lot of runoff to escape over the higher edges. This can be fixed by guttering the entire roof, but that may create an aesthetic issue with some folks. As an alternative, you could put up short upward metal railings along the edges of the non-guttered roof sides, which will guide most of the runoff down to the gutters. Or, you can simply gutter more structures on your property, and maybe put up a new carport to harvest rain from.

That leaves us with the fun part: rain barrel design. Rain barrels are just plain cool. Making them is a rather easy project which allows for a great degree of individual tailoring. The best ones I have seen involve multiple vessels which overflow into one another, the last barrel in line being equipped with an overflow spout. I would set up a multi-barrel system like this under each structure you intend to capture rain from. In the case of a small shed, one large barrel may do, as long as you are additionally capturing the runoff from your house with a multi-barrel setup.

The barrel itself can be plastic, metal, wood, or PVC. I am partial to food-grade containers, whichever way you go (if wooden, you can use old wine or whiskey casks), especially if you will be using the water in a vegetable garden. The holding capacity of the vessel is a concern. Go with at least 50-gallon size containers. I have seen some really cool setups made from 110-gallon metal food-grade drums. Because of the impressive volume of rain runoff, you will occasionally have storms where your overflow valve is reached no matter how large your system is – so think big.

Filter the incoming runoff water with a screen of some sort. Regular window screen works great, because it is fine enough to keep mosquitos out of the barrels. All other leaves and particles will also be filtered out, and will accumulate on top of the screen and eventually clog your filter – so you must clear it between storms, and maybe change the screen occasionally. On the system with the 110-gallon metal drums I mentioned, a shower drain plate was installed as a filter, which was neat-looking, but not fine enough to keep insects out. I saw one rain barrel that was made out of a plastic garbage can; a window screen covered the entire top of the can, and a hole was cut in the lid of the trash can to place the end of the rain gutter in.

You want a large enough intake opening to keep from losing water by overflow, but you also want the barrel to be as sealed as possible in order to keep the loss from evaporation at a minimum. A screened hand-sized opening on the top of the barrel is probably optimal for the intake, especially if the barrel has a lip around the top to capture overflow when the water is gushing at a high rate. You can, of course, install such a lip if one does not exist by using a bit of ingenuity (perhaps via clay or a metal ring or a combination).

BOOK: Harvesting H2o
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