Evan Tackles a Well

– I promise the next blog post will have pictures.  No matter how long it takes for something worth taking pictures of to occur. –

As though my trials with the pump were not enough…

I decided that since the problem didn’t seem to be with the pump after all, it must be the well.  It was too late on Sunday night to start diagnosing the well issue so I had little choice but to wait until the following weekend.  In the meantime, I had to calibrate the pump’s regulator – an electrical circuit that is triggered by high and low pressure: high pressure, it shuts off; and low pressure, the pump comes on.  Calibration is done by adjusting two nuts either up or down on springs which, in turn, act on a pressure-sensitive plate.  This plate creates a circuit when the pump needs to work and breaks the circuit when the desired pressure has been reached.  It was setting these pressures that I was going to attempt.  I would turn one adjustment nut a few times and then go upstairs and flush the toilet (the largest volume of water that I can drain from the pressure tank at a time) and then I’d have to run back down to the basement to see when the pump came on.  I never made it once, so I quit trying to adjust the ‘cut-in’ pressure setting.  I would have to wait for the tank to fill up before it started to pressurize and then I’d have to wait for it to finish pressurizing, which – considering the lack of water coming through the hose – took forever.  After several flushes and an eternity spent sitting in front of a vibrating pressure gauge looking for any sort of positive movement, I decided that the pressure settings were livable and I left the tank and pump with plans to fix them – and our pressure problem – the following weekend.  That was Sunday.

Coming home from work on Tuesday, the day that Jenn and Hunter had left for the Soo for a 3-day vacation – I couldn’t help but notice the big, black clouds that were accumulating over our house.  I went in the house and put some water on the stove for coffee, thinking that once it was made, I would go and take care of the animals – feeding, watering and moving chicken tractors – and return to a hot coffee on what was looking to be a stormy night.  The storm blew in faster than I had expected, however, and sheets of rain fell, lit by lightening and accompanied by booming thunder.  Standing in the kitchen and looking out the window, I could seen some of our trees bent nearly horizontal to the ground.  As I reached for the now boiling kettle, a bolt of lightening hit somewhere close by.  All of a sudden, the kitchen was filled with a blue-green ball of electricity that had come out of the wall outlet not two feet beside me.  It made a loud pop, like someone had just burst the most colossal blister of bubble-wrap and left the kitchen smelling of ozone.  Gilligan didn’t know which way to run: his feet and legs were going a thousand miles an hour but on the linoleum floor he was getting nowhere.

“What the hell was that?!” I shouted to no one in particular.  Standing became a chore because my knees didn’t seem to want to support me anymore.  My muscles were not working like they should have been and everything seemed to be an effort -even pouring the water into the French Press for coffee.  I managed to get most of it in but, due to my shaky hands, a good deal of it landed on the floor, too.  As my mind began to clear I thought it might be best to check the wiring, fuses and electrical devices that were still plugged in.  The phone was dead, the computer monitor was showing some pretty trippy tye-dyed designs but all else seemed to be normal.  The electrical smell of ozone was fading, too.  Then the second lightening strike hit.  It was as loud and immediate as the first one, but apart from whatever it hit, it did no damage.  Nevertheless, I wobbled my way around the house checking out sockets, outlets, the fuse panel, and the wiring I did outside last year, but all seemed to be normal, apart from the phone and the monitor.  Later, after the storm had passed and I felt safe enough to go outside again (I,ve never been spooked by weather but this storm seemed as though it was taking something I said personally) I found that one of our hydro poles had been hit by the first strike and had blown the phone line right off the pole and melted the wires a few feet from the house.

One thing I didn’t check however, was the pump.  A day later, when I was yet again obsessing over the sound of the pump running and wondering if it had been on for too long, I went down to see what was going on.  Looking at the pressure gauge I saw that it was already reading 90 psi – a full 30 psi past its shut off mark – and still climbing.  The lightening had somehow skewed the contacts.  At least three hours of flush, run downstairs, adjust the nut and repeat went on before I managed to get the pump regulated again.

Friday had me going to the hardware store with a friend to buy the proper fittings for a second pump.  We were going to try a borrowed one to see if the problem really did lie with my pump.  While we were in town, we thought we should maybe buy the items we’d need to fix the well, just in case, since town is on the longer side of half an hour away.  The second pump didn’t work – which wasn’t a very big surprise – so my friend and I headed down to the well to check out that end of things.

The well is a funny thing: it is at least two hundred feet away from the house, at the bottom of a hill and despite looking like a sand point driven into the ground, it is a reported 103-plus feet deep.  It is enclosed in a 3-foot casing and lies about ten feet underground.  The bottom of the casing has clear gravel around the pipe that reaches the water pocket and inside this pipe is the hose that feeds our house.  I have never seen the clear gravel dry.  Always, we have surface water leaking in the top of the well pipe but not this year – which for me, seemed a major clue to the problem.  We pulled the feeder line out of the pipe and found that it only reached 45 feet down; dropping a weighted string down showed the well to be only 50 feet deep.  We spent several hours in the well, around the well and also in the pump room.  We managed to stir up so much fine particulate material that we had extremely muddy water (if we had been able to drop a secchi disk into the water, it wouldn’t have sank, but rather, stayed afloat, buoyed by the abundance of clay in the water.)  The water was so full of clay that we didn’t have clear water for two days while it settled again.

We checked fittings (none seemed cracked), we checked lines (none seemed cracked) we tightened hose clamps (all had been tight to begin with) and we did a lot of walking back to the pump room to look at a pump sucking air. On the bright side, though, I have a good idea of how to make an air compressor. The only other possibility, and one that I don’t think I’ll be checking any time soon, is that there is a crack in the line somewhere underground. I would rather buy enough line to run over the ground than dig ten feet down for two hundred feet, hoping to find a leak. Besides, I have no idea where the line runs from the pump to the well and assuming that it is a straight line would be folly, given some of the other goofy things the builder of the house has done.

My final conclusions about the well, the tank and the pump are these: first, we have had such a dry summer that our well, which relies on surface water to recharge it, has not been able to keep up; second, I think we were better off hauling our water when we lived in Whitehorse because we always knew where we stood with a semi-transparent, 1000 litre tank; and third, maybe I ought to stay away from plumbing.

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6 Responses

  1. Oh…that’s not good. At least if it was the pump or plumbing it could be fixed, if it’s low water you’re pretty much at the mercy of the weather. Been there, it’s not fun. Our old shallow dug well used to go dry every year until we got a drilled one.

    • This is the first year we’ve had any problems with the well. I think that the well isn’t recharging fast enough mostly due to it being silted (or, in this case, clayed) in. We’ve discussed the possibility of having the local fire department here to force water down the pipe and wash all the silt/clay away from the bottom end of the intake. Doing so would (should) recharge our well at the same time. But you’re right: a drilled well would be the real solution to this problem.

      • If you do that, where will all the clay be flushed to? Won’t it just settle again or would you have to keep pumping it out until it’s clear? Can a drilling company do fracturing for the problem you’re having, or is that only for drilled wells?

        It’s amazing how we all take for granted having water come out of the tap whenever we turn it on. After suffering with low/no water every summer and into the fall for so many years I will forever be thankful for a good water supply now. It really makes you think about what life must be like for people in areas where there is limited water available, or no clean water supply.

      • I expect the clay will be forced away from the well’s intake. I can’t see down there, but if it is as I imagine, then there is a lot of sediment clogging the intake and by forcing the water down it should clear it away. Some settling will have to occur, just because in pulling out the hose we disturbed a lot of clay and I can only guess what a large volume of water under pressure will do.

        Our set up in Whitehorse was still the most reliable yet. Water came from the river by a Honda pump and several lengths of pool hose and it was stored in two, 1000 litre tanks. Water was fed by gravity to the faucet and the bath tub; the water heater used a small, in-line pump which we could turn on when we needed it. No issues with power failures, no worries of the well going dry, and believe me, when you have to chop a 4-foot deep hole through the ice to get at the water in -20 weather, you most certainly won’t take it for granted.

  2. These last two posts have brought back memories. We struggled with our sand point well for a couple years – we would flush it – it would get better for a while and then it would get worse. We spent many nights with fittings laying everywhere, flushing toilets and timing the pump. Finally we gave up and drilled a well (we were lucky and got away with 30ft and great water). Since then, things have been better but we still have to fiddle with that tank and pump every few months.

    As I said we have great water and I’ll miss it when we move. The endless pump and tank issues – not so much….

    • If we ever get out of having pump and well problems, then I, too, will not miss them much. It’s frustrating, especially when I can’t figure out why the previous owner did some of the things he did when he built the place.

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