I’ve talked before about storing water for emergencies – even the non-TEOTWAKI kind – you know, like the bad storms that contaminate your drinking water for an extended period. But now I want to talk about how to get water off your roof, out of the ground or otherwise when things get difficult.
Why do you need to know this? Isn’t it just crazy talk to imagine us not having *WATER*? Well, how much is your water bill right now? Are you sure you’ll always be able to pay it? Will you be able to pay for all the water you need for irrigating your garden? Or do you have a well?
Are you certain you’ll be able to keep paying the electric bill? If you live in a dry place, are you sure there will always be water coming out of the tap? These are questions worth asking ahead of time, because water matters. Some of us have no choice but to be aware of that already – those who live in very dry places may already be struggling with water issues.
You need water. You will be very unhappy without it. And while we’re a long way from people dying from dehydration, not having it can be very tough on you and your body. So how do you get it if the normal routes get disrupted? The very first step on this is to begin to research your local watershed. Where does your water come from? What are the long term planning issues facing your region or community in regards to water? What impact does climate change seem to be having? What projected impact might it have? What issues are there with contamination? How safe is surface water? Do you have problems with acid rain? Pesticide runoff? PCB contamination? Mercury? What about your well? What about the local reservoirs? What are the legal issues of your water use? Can you collect rain? Can you make use of surface water? These are things you need to know.
Basically, you have three choices – you can get water from under the ground, on top of the ground or the sky. It is worth understanding fully where your water comes from and where you might get it. This essay is necessarily an overview, rather than a complete resource - and if you are concerned about water, I recommend _The Home Water Supply: How to Find, Filter, Store and Conserve It_ by Stu Campbell as the most complete source I’ve seen on this subject.
Most of us can get some water from the sky – how much varies a lot. Some cities do prohibit rainwater capture, and in those places it is worth working on the legal issues – more and more cities are recognizing that keep heavy storm rains from causing problems is a benefit, and more and more areas are seeing strong movements towards permitting rainwater collection.
Rainbarrels can be made http://www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/conservation/rainbarrel/make-a-rain-barrel.html or purchased. Or you can put in either an above ground water tank or a cistern to catch larger quantities of rain. A cistern can a large, premade tank, or you can build it yourself: http://www.dancingrabbit.org/building/cistern.php If you can put your rainwater capture close enough to the house, you may even be able to bring water into the house from the cistern or tank for doing dishes, laundry, etc… I have not yet achieved this, however.
From under the ground depends on where you live – generally water tables are higher in the east than the west. You need to know how deep your well is if you are pumping directly from underground.
If you have a well, and the power goes out, you have several choices. The first is to put a manual pump on your well. This is only feasible if you water table is less than 200 feet down, and it isn’t cheap – usually above $1000. But it is a good system. The following will also work, and work even a bit deeper than 200 feet. http://www.countrysidemag.com/issues/83/83-1/Steve_Belanger.html
If your water table is high enough, you may be able to hand dig a well – the difficulty being that most surface water isn’t that clean. But if you have a good filtration system, you might find this useful – particularly if you have a source of drinking water and primarily need irrigation, laundry and livestock water. Remember, most of the water we use does not need to be drinking quality – using drinking quality water only for drinking, rather than flushing, washing, etc…. and using either less perfect water or greywater for other things is one possible strategy. Conservation is your first tool here, as it almost always is. Here’s information about hand-dug wells: http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-53545254.html. Do be careful doing this!
If you have a deep well, and are concerned about losing power to it, solar direct http://www.otherpower.com/otherpower_waterpumping.html or windmill pumping http://www.aermotorwindmill.com/ is probably your best bet, but this is not cheap – if you are permitted to capture water from the sky and have sufficient rainfall, you might find the cistern option much less expensive. Or you might not, depending on what you can put together.
If these options are too expensive, well, in much of the world, people rely on community wells. This is something to consider proposing in your town – there have been enough natural disasters around that most towns, even if they are not preparing for peak oil and climate change may see the merit of central water access points – in public parks, at schools and community centers. Consider asking your town to put in manual or solar powered water pumping stations so that community members can have water access in a crisis. Or consider getting together with neighbors and putting in a neighborhood well.
If you are lucky enough to have a spring, you can tap it – we have a bunch of them, and it is on my agenda – we might even be able to pull off gravity fed water eventually here if we put in time and work enough – something we’ve thought about but not done much about. http://www.sungravity.com/bulletin__3.html - many springs can be usefully developed, either for home us, irrigation or grazing.
If you are using surface water, you will need to have an extremely good filtration system – I’m a big fan of my British Berkefeld (which, among other sources, can be purchased from Sustainable Choice, advertising on the sidebar) and Kataydin, but there are other options out there. You want something gravity fed, that doesn’t require electricity, and that handles as many contaminants as possible – since you don’t necessarily know what you will be dealing with. Store filters are not sufficient. You could also distill your water: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Renewable-Energy/1974-09-01/How-To-Build-and-Use-A-Solar-Still.aspx.
Getting water from surface sources is pretty simple – you go there and bring some buckets. If you have to carry a lot a long distance, you may want tanks that strap on your bicycle, or at a minimum a yoke and bucket set up http://www.lehmans.com/jump.jsp?itemType=PRODUCT&itemID=6163 (this is for illustration purposes – I don’t think those buckets are water tight, although you could probably substitute), which is far more comfortable than carrying them in your hands. In the winter, if you have one, you can melt snow, but it takes a lot more snow than you think to make a lot of water.
I hope everyone will at least give some serious thought to water sources in the longer term.