Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dan, can't you see that big green tree where the water's flowing free and it's waiting there for me and you? (a.k.a. Well Done Broke, Part 1)

Well, we're having trouble with our well.


We've been having issues with the well, and the amount of water we can pull from it, on and off practically since we moved into the house. On most days it's great. Once in a while, though, it runs dry for a spell, returning again a few hours later. We can usually tell when the well is getting low because our water begins to smell of sulfur and we then treat it with care for a few days until we think it's risen to a level that will again allow us to run the dishwasher. Usually the summer months are the worst, and this summer has been particularly dry. So dry that we didn't feel we could water our lawn and had to use our ever dwindling rain barrel water supply to water the plants in the flower beds. My back lawn--which I had replanted last fall after the drought of last summer, and had been babying back to life--pretty much dried up and blew away. Even with this, though, we've counted ourselves lucky because we have a number of neighbors who have no water in the summer at all and have to import it in 500 gallon containers.

In August, my in-laws were visiting and our water began to smell a bit funny. We thought we were low. My father-in-law proposed that we drop a line down the well pipe and see just how deep the sucker was and how much water we actually had in it. This might give us a better idea if we needed a new well drilled or if there was another, cheaper solution. We lowered a wrench on a stout line, then had to tie kite string to that line when we ran out of line. When we struck what we thought was bottom, we were at 380 feet. Over 200 of those feet were wet when we pulled the line back up, which told us we had some water. But we first theorized that perhaps the pump was only seated in, say, 20 or 30 of those feet, which would give it a limited amount of water to pull from. We also quickly realized we probably weren't up to the job of lowering it ourselves, as that involves having to add more pipe and potentially more wire--assuming our theory was right in the first place.

We called a local plumbing and well company to come and have a look and told them our theory. The guy who came out didn't blink twice at what we said and told us he could lower the pump, no problem. First he dropped a few rocks down the well pipe and listened to them hit, but our theory sounded as good as anything to him. The company he worked for, he added, would probably charge $1200 for it, but he was willing to come back after hours and do the job for $200. This sounded like a bargain, but it also sounded like a guy trying to undercut his own employer. Beyond the bad taste we got from the idea of dealing with a guy so willing to undercut the man who paid his wages, we decided that it also wouldn't look right to include such an under the table job in the paperwork pile we have about the house, which would be passed on to future owners of our place. We told him we preferred to do it on the books. He then phoned his employer to get an official estimate of what the job would cost and came back to tell us it was actually $3200. That seemed like quite a jump to us, so we declined. Instead, we called for a second opinion by an actual well digging company (as opposed to a plumber that also did well service).

Our new well guy, Dave, came out a few days later. He quickly and professionally pointed out that our well was actually deeper than 380 feet, but that the pump was actually sitting at the 380 foot mark, which is what pa and I had hit with the wrench. And to prove it, Dave busted out a sonar device that told us what the water depth of the water level in the pipe. There seemed to be plenty of water in there that day, at least, until we proceeded to run the well completely dry via the water hose. We did this both to see how fast our water would flow out (8 gallons a minute) and to lower the pump level to show us exactly where it was located compared to the previous level of the water in the pipe. Took half an hour. After that, Dave did sonar calculations to determine how fast the water returned to the well from its underground source. Not very fast. Only about 12 gallons an hour. So it would take a few days to return to the level it had been at before he arrived. In the meanwhile, he recharged our pressure tank that regulated the water pressure within the house. He said that it had dropped in pressure from its standard level, which was a sign that it was going bad. He didn't want to replace it then and there, but warned that if our pressure began to waiver wildly we'd better have it done or it could burn up the pump if it dropped all of its pressure. He also replaced the power unit for the pump.

And while Dave was under the house, he asked if we had any extra water filters for our whole house filter system. He figured he'd change it out and have a look at the amount of silt in it. It was pretty nasty, but had been changed less than two months previously and it's supposed to be a three month filter. I told him that I hated that filter system, because it was terribly difficult to change. It was woefully hard to get the damn housing for it unscrewed and after the filter was replaced was equally difficult to get it screwed back on without leaking. Dave said he'd fix it with a little plumbers goo. He smeared some around the threads, gave it one crank with the filter wrench and it was set and sealed. Amazing!

At the end of the time, Dave said he didn't think we were in such dire straits that we needed a new well to be dug, but we certainly didn't have much more for standard household use and certainly not enough for watering the lawn. He suggested another option would be to install a reserve tank which could pull 500 gallons of water from the well gradually and then be there for use whenever we needed it, connecting to our existing plumbing. It sounded like a good plan, but the other wrinkle is that our outside-the-city-limits neighborhood was slated to get city water sometime in the relatively new future.


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