Notes from Windward: #64

Installing the Non-Potable Water System

taking our water system to the next level

the dug well with its steel cover in place

     On the short list of things a community can't do without, water's at the top of the list. Over the years, the concern which has dogged us the most involves making sure that we have enough water to meet the needs of our people, our animals and our gardens. Water is one of the limiting factors that determine what you can do and how well you can do it, so it's a subject that is never far from our thoughts.

     We moved to Washington from Nevada primarily because of concerns over water. Once upon a time, we owned land about thirty miles outside of Las Vegas, but that location was dependent on deep wells that reached into an aquifer that was also being used by large ranches to irrigate hay and alfalfa. Much of the history of the west involves an ongoing battle for control of water resources, and that was a conflict we wanted no part of.

     Moving to Washington state helped, but then we had to cope with the reality that land with lots of water is expensive, whereas land with little water goes for a lot less. Consequently, we sought out land that had water enough to sustain us, but not so much that we couldn't afford to buy a sizeable amount of acreage.

     Our first few years here were dry years, and we had to haul water for our animals as we reviewed our options and learned about our land. The upshot was that are hauling water for three years, we leapt at the chance to purchase an adjoining twenty acres that already had an excellent well and the topography to support it.

Digging due west
towards the center of the pasture

     The water from that well is sweet and pure, and we're very glad to have it, but it's not the sort of resource that, all by itself, will support a large population of people, animals and the gardens needed to feed them. For that, we knew we needed to develop additional water resources, specifically, our non-potable well.

     Along Windward's eastern boundary, there's a creek that flows during the wet part of the year. Come May, it's pretty much a dry creek bed, but there's still water moving under the surface as the hills slowly drain down into the Klickitat river. Someone years back hand dug a well down to the basalt slab that forms the water pan here, and we've been using it to provide additional water for animals and gardens during the dry months of August and September as we wait for the fall rains to return.

     Even at the driest time of the year, we've been able to pump a thousand gallons a day from the dug well, and use that to keep our gardens green, our animals happy thereby conserving our drinkable water resources.

digging north through the middle of the pasture

     We have a 300 gallon trailer that we use to haul water around, and while it's not a hardship to go down and pump up another load of water for the animals, it does get tedious after a while. We knew that we wanted to create a more efficient way to get that water from the far corner of the pasture up to our gardens. This year, we're finally making that happen.

     Hence the construction of our Non-Potable Water System or "NPWS". It's classified as "non-potable", not because there's something necessarily wrong with the water, but because it comes from a well that's open to the surface and therefore subject to contamination. That's in contrast with our other "drilled" wells which tap underground aquafiers.

     It's a "system" in that it's totally separate from the potable water system. Since there's no connection between the two systems, there's no way that surface contamination could accidently get into our drinking water.

      Living close to nature, there's a season for doing most things, and while there are some work-arounds that can enable you to go against the flow, it's always better to let nature set the timetable. Given the clay content of our soil, that's especially true when it comes to excavating. Since we were looking at having to bring in heavy equipment to dig a two thousand foot trench some two feet deep, we were careful to arrange for the job to be done when the ground was neither too wet (the clay sticks to the equipment) nor too dry (the equipment has to work extra hard to break the dirt loose).

on up "Power Lane"

     The heart of the new system involves a two thousand foot run of three inch diameter PVC pipe that I was able to acquire at one of the regional auctions (the Pine Grove Auction is best, but there are other regional auctions as well, and bargains can be found if you keep looking.) This line will run from the dug well due west to the middle of the pasture, and from there north to Windward's highest elevation, a total climb of about a hundred and fifty feet.

     For every twenty three feet in elevation, water gains ten pounds of pressure, so once the line is full, the pressure in the pasture will be in the range of seventy pounds, more than enough to irrigate some grazing area. Without water, it's just too dry in August and September for the animals to find good graze, so having green grass for them to eat will lower our feed costs and raise their nutrition as they try to fatten up for winter.

digging northwest toward the perennial garden

     After crossing the pasture, the line will pass by the new woodshop and continue on up the hill towards the perennial garden. That's where we're planning on developing permanent raised beds to grow items such as lavender, saffron, asparagus and mint, examples of value-added crops that folks here can use to create marketable items in order to generate personal income.

     After traversing the perennial garden, the line runs uphill to Windward's highest elevation where it connects with a 1,500 gallon, partially buried storage tank. The plan is to use a solar powered pump to lift water from the dug well up and into the storage tank, and once it's full, to use that volume and pressure to irrigate a section of the pasture, all without the use of fossil fuels or grid electricity.

     As you can see, the installation of the NPWS involves a lot of work and expense, and once completed will be yet another of the Windward systems which will not be visible to the casual observer. Still, we'll know it's there and we will appreciate the many opportunities for sustainable practice that this new resource will make possible.

backfilling around the Non-Potable water tank;

     Visitors almost always ask us if we grow our own food, a question that usually elicits a discussion of the challenges involved in growing, processing and storing that much food. Up to now, we've been held back by the uncertainty of whether we'd have the ready water needed to keep our gardens growing at full tilt right up to the killing frost. After this year, that won't be a problem.

     While the value of an increased water supply is clear enough, there are other features being built into this project that will enable Windward to bring online other renewable projects involving low-grade geothermal energy and hydroelectric generation.

     More on that in the second part of this article.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 64