Honestly I haven’t had reason to think about such things much since the Carter Administration, when people in the CIA were telling their friends to build secret redoubts and rich people were moving to the Ozarks and buying caves. I did go through the Cuban Missile Crisis when I was little, and I wrote about that on this blog some time ago. I still think it’s a good read so click here if you want to hear the story of the day the world almost ended : ). In recent years I’ve thought more in terms of power grid collapse, which could occur simply naturally as a result of terribly violent weather, or could happen as a result of a hacker’s war, or now once again, could be an aftermath of a nuclear strike on the U.S. North Korea’s ability to hit us with ICBM’s is still in question, but it certainly has the ability to put a nuke on a boat and we are definitely patrolling harbors on both coasts with this concept in mind. Wind direction being critical for maximum effect, expect this on the west coast rather than New York. Even the chaos following such an event could bring down the power grid, although it would take a deliberate EMP strike to knock it down for a year or more. Estimates are that 90 percent of us would die without the power grid.
What I worry most about, in practical terms, is a really bad thunderstorm. I’ve seen how the Trump Administration responded to the disaster in Puerto Rico and I have no reason to think the concerns would be greater in Trump’s mind if such a thing happened here in Indiana. Indiana, the land of Pence, by the way, is what happens to the rest of the country if this current administration remains in power. I’ve tried to explain this to others and until recently no one has taken me seriously. But they don’t live here.
Getting down to just practical problems, if you live in the country and depend on a well, you depend on the power grid to deliver your daily supply of water. It doesn’t come in a tube from a municipal supply, it comes from a hole in the back yard like it does here. If I’m the only one without water, no one gives a shit. It’s my problem. I’ve pondered what I would do in a widespread and extended grid failure, but until this fall I’d had no reason to actually develop countermeasures.
What happened this past summer was tricky, in plumbing terms. About six years ago we had the pump replaced and the plumbers decided on their own to replace the galvanized iron pipe above the pump with flexible PVC. That’s actually ok, that sort of PVC is stable and easier to pull than galvanized iron pipe, which will eventually rust out. However, they connected the pump to the PVC with a cheap crappy Chinese-made galvanized iron fitting. In a separate gripe, they didn’t tie on a safety line to the pump, so if that fitting had totally failed the pump would be jammed in the bottom of the well and that would have cost me about ten grand.
This summer was very dry here, and in drought years I see some air in the pipes because the water level in the well drops. I thought that happened this time, and it possibly did, but if so there were other problems this disguised. The water pressure dropped. The temperature of the water from the cold tap rose, and again I thought this was because of the heat. Then I got the light bill, which suddenly went up a hundred dollars from normal. So, let me summarize symptoms, if perchance any reader here might be curious if they have a similar problem.
Things to Watch For:
1) Air in the pipes.
2) Low water pressure
3) Warm water from the cold faucets
4) Sudden increase in the light bill
All these things happened in sequence here but it was the light bill that woke me up. What could cost that much? The pump. I checked it out and the pump was running constantly and never getting pressure up far enough to trigger the cutoff switch. So, I had water, but the system was not working properly, the pump was overtaxed and probably blew a seal. It’s like a murder mystery for plumbers, because you don’t want to just fix things at random and the pump is the most expensive suspect so you leave it to the last.
Air in the pipes can happen simply because the water level in the well drops. So you use less water, the problem goes away. If it doesn’t go away . . . . hmmm. Low water pressure and warm water on the cold side, well, those are connected problems. In this case I will assume there was just enough pressure to keep the check valve open and a siphon effect kept pulling hot water back into the well. Although I wanted to believe it was just the hot weather, this belief didn’t fix the problem. With the pump running constantly and the water heating up because the hot water heater was now trying to heat the well plus the hot water tank, the light bill exploded. I sat up and took notice then and stopped thinking happy thoughts.
Other possibilities, I hit first. I replaced the 30 year old pressure switch and the three year old secondary check valve in the basement. Nope, that wasn’t it. This left either the pump or something else in the well. That’s expensive. How much it costs depends on whether you can trust the plumber who does the work, and around here I’ve noticed that all the plumbers have cousins with backhoes who want to replace the entire septic system no matter what the problem is. I’ve never allowed this and there are many plumbers who won’t answer my calls now. I have retired and taken over my own plumbing work because I have time. Pulling a pump, though, that’s a bit tricky, and if you make a mistake it can cost you the value of a new well. So for years I’ve known this was coming, and I had put a lot of thought into it.
With a sixty foot well like mine, if it was galvanized pipe with a pump attached, the total weight might go close to three hundred pounds. Plus, you have to raise the pump a section of pipe at a time, disconnect pipes as you go, and not drop the lower part of the system. So that was what I prepped for. I was very relieved when I got to the piping and found out the previous plumbers had stolen my good galvanized iron pipe to use on some other project (probably as new pipe) and put flexible PVC in this well. Worked out fine, cut about two hundred pounds from the dead weight. I was not happy when I got the pump out and realized first, they didn’t tie on a safety line; and second, the crappy galvanized adapter hooked to the PVC had corroded so far that there was a 3/8 diameter hole in it and a paper thin wall of pipe was all that held up the pump itself. When I tried disconnecting it, it crumbled.
You may be asking how this works into preparations for nuclear war. In a fallout situation, without power, water remains in the well but you can’t get it. When you get out of the basement eventually (and hopefully you will have adequate water stored away for that two week period and more), you must get at that water somehow. Here, the other option would be the radioactive farm pond over the hill, the one surrounded by the dead cows. OK, the well might be a little radioactive, but it would have no cows in it.
First thing to do, pull the pump and the wires and the pipes out of the well, that’s useless for the moment. This does take some rigging. It’s not something you can do on a moment’s notice unless you don’t mind breaking things, and in dire times those parts will be tough to get. If it’s a deep well, over a hundred and fifty feet, forget it. Sixty feet is still workable, if you are working alone and by hand. You need some rigging. I love rigging.
Then! the more fascinating problem is how to get the water up to ground level, by hand. Other people have studied this, too, and there is a simple answer, if you accumulate the parts beforehand. I figured this out, so have others. So this plumbing puzzle requires a rope, four feet of four inch diameter PVC pipe, a cap to fit, a way to bore a hole in the cap that’s a little smaller than a cheap rubber ball Walmart sells, and two bolts or something similar you can jam through the sides of the PVC to keep the ball from floating away. It’s a bucket with a one way valve in the bottom. Drop it into the water, it fills. Lift it and the flow pulls the ball onto the drain and plugs it. Simple. Can’t do it unless you have all the parts, so invest in this now. Nuclear fallout may be coming soon and you can no longer depend on the power grid.