Saving Every Drop of Water We Can

This is that curious and exhausting stage of our lives during which Amanda and I effectively live in two worlds. Most of the week we work at our desk jobs, she teaching students at Samford University and I helping people survive divorce. Most Friday and Saturdays, though, we work at Longleaf Breeze. This weekend we will be visiting our brand new grandson in California, so we’re sneaking down for a one-day trip to work on our rainwater harvesting system.

img_2529_south-side-run-13Our friend Dave Berry and his partner Sean will be working there today, finishing laying the PVC pipe that runs underground from the gutters and runs down the hill, eventually to a storage tank. I say “eventually” because the collapse in the investment market has clipped our financial wings and forced us to put off the purchase of the tank. Right now all we can afford to do is to concentrate the water in the pipe so it doesn’t cause an erosion problem at the barn. This photo is looking along the southern edge of the barn at the long run of 6″ PVC pipe buried there. My main task for the day will be to use Tractor to fill in the ditches around the PVC. We will stop at 6-12 inches below the surface so Amanda can lay out a strip of “Caution” tape (Dave’s idea, and a good one). The idea of the caution tape is that we know we will eventually forget where we have buried the PVC. So years later if we’re digging and we hit the caution tape, maybe we’ll slow down to see what it is that may be buried there before we plunge on ahead. The barn has 5,000 glorious square feet of galvalume metal roofing, so a 1/2 inch rain is 1,500 gallons of water. We won’t save all of it, but we’ll save what we need and then pump it back up the hill to the barn and eventually to the house. Yes, that will mean we are dependent on electrical service for pumping the water, but that’s where we are anyway with the well, so there’s not much we can do about that, other than to make sure we keep the standby generator working smoothly. img_2527_screen-filter5The question of how to filter the water has Dave and me scratching our heads. We know we will strain the water before it goes down the hill to keep out most of the trash and leaf litter. Dave designed the strainer and I’m cutting and bending six of them, one for each downspout. Once the water gets down to ground level, Dave and Sean have installed PVC piping to carry it away. The piping concentrates all the water in a 6-inch PVC pipe that “daylights” just down the hill and to the west of the barn. We also know we will filter it in some way down the hill, probably after the daylight point and before it goes into the tank. We know we will add one or more filters of the water from the tank before we consume it in the barn and the house. The question is whether we also want to add a first flush diverter. The gurus say that a first flush ought to divert the first 1/10 inch of the rain, so that means the first 300 gallons. All the first flush diverter mechanisms we know of are smaller than that, so we’re still looking around. If you know of a solution, please let us know.

4 thoughts on “Saving Every Drop of Water We Can”

  1. Have you thought about using a windmill for pumping your water? It would work best if you had a high up gravity tank(think water tower) but your water would be pumped without electricity and windmills are very effective.

  2. Yes, we have. Perhaps the technology will continue to evolve, but my impression is that the wind here in central Alabama is just not strong enough or steady enough to do useful work. Am I wrong?

  3. I think there is a lot of misconception about wind power in places that don’t have a reputation for wind energy. Alabama ins’t likely to have the giant windmills of the plains and coastal regions with some serious technological advancement. It’s very important to note however, that the focus of people who are implementing wind technology and almost exclusively attempting to generate large amounts of ELECTRICITY for a large number of consumers. For this purpose the wind much be both fairly strong and very steady and predictable. You on the other hand, are not looking to do that. There is a lot of windmill technology specifically designed for smaller needs in low wind areas. Many cell phone towers, for example, in rural areas are powered exclusively by wind and solar with battery backups. Keep in mind though, that even most of the low wind technology that I know of is designed to generate ELECTRICITY.

    For pumping water, your wind need not necessarily be very consistent and not nearly as strong as the winds used to turn those giant windmills of the west. Also, Alabama is considered unsuitable for wind power because we don’t have wind all year in most of the state; we do however have pretty strong and consistent wind for most of the winter and spring and even the fall depending on your area. This is were you might be helped. If your windmill only pumps water, you will absolutely need a tank. Knowing this, I would then ask, does it mater when the tank get’s filled as long as it is full when you need it? If the wind is sporadic, it may not be a good source of electricity as I said, however, the overall total of a weeks worth of sporadic wind may be more than plenty to keep your water tank full. In fact, it could be so much that you would have to install some kind of critical mass shutoff to keep from overflowing your tank. Also, it may be that the wind would be more than enough to pump your water during the winter and spring but not in the months spanning the summer. I would think that it still would probably be worth the investment of a windmill well pump if it supplied your needs for even just six or nine months in the year thereby relieving you of the electricity cost during most of the year. Windmill pumps are fairly simple and require little maintenance and many still work even after pretty serious neglect, though not as efficiently as if they were well kept.

    As I mentioned above, there is a lot of new technology designed for low wind places, especially for those with small needs. There are even windmills designed to take advantage of the updraft created by large buildings (like your barn) in areas that would otherwise not be well suited for wind power. You may or may not know, but Alabama power now (as required by federal law) will supply at your request(though I think the fee is $80 if they have to replace your current meter as opposed to new construction) a power meter designed for you to feed extra electricity back into the grid, for which they pay you. If your location is suited for wind for six or nine months of the year only, your best option may be to sell your extra electricity back to the power company during the months of high production and then draw back from the grid during times of low production. Using this method you could still accomplish I significant net gain over the course of a year, though for some months you might be all consumption and not production. Windmills for electricity are often fairly low cost unlike many solar systems because the parts and materials used in them are not as specialized and are already used for many other purposes. I have seen windmills used to turn used car alternators for example.

    Keeping all of the above in mind, I wouldn’t dismiss wind out of hand simply because the wind in your area is not suitable for LARGE SCALE production. I suggest taking a good look at the options and getting more information. I would also suggest putting up a weather station (on the roof of the barn?) for year to see exactly what your wind is like. Since your on a hill you just might be in a sweet spot for using wind. Probably consulting an expert on weather station placement would be wise.

    Since you aren’t currently using your water collection system for collection, I would suggest using it for flood irrigation. You could quickly(and probably freely) convert it for this use in the meantime. You’ve also said that you have several springs on your property and from the sound of it they are close together. I would clean them out and either pipe or ditch the water to the pond or turn it to flood irrigation(the most common method throughout the world). Watermelons or other such thirsty crops could be planted were your roof water or springs drain out. As I understand it watermelons are a decent cash crop and I know that they require almost no attention between planting and picking; in them you might find a decent cash crop with a high profit margin since they wouldn’t be expensive to plant and require little labor. If not for irrigation, then the next best option is definitely to supply your pond. This extra water will insure that your pond will be able to maintain a high level and not turn stagnant during the summer months, which will be highly conducive to raising fish.

    Another tidbit on power production. Hydro power is great even on a small scale and is wonderful in terms of bang for your buck. It may also be a source that has a few slow months, but with a stream that flows all year, I would think it very steady though it may not satisfy your total need for electricity. Also, there are many hydro options designed for the small scale that do not disrupt the stream ecosystem.

    I do hope some of this will help. I apologize for leaving such a long post!!

  4. No apology necessary. That’s helpful. I’ll post something soon about our “dream” system for water use. I like the way you’re thinking; it’s entirely possible that there could be not just one but two applications for the kind of wind power you describe.

    We do have a regular breeze here. Hey, it’s in our name – right?

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