Begin at the Beginning

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The event that triggered what has become (WU) started on the day before Thanksgiving, 2014. We had a large-ish crowd coming the next day, and my wife was working on the front yard landscaping. As I walked past her she said, “Hasn’t that pump been running for quite a while now?” When you live in the country, and all of your water supply is dependent on pumps, these are words that can send chills down your spine.

I opened the door to the well house and immediately was hit with air that was about 20° hotter than it should have been. We have 2 pumps—well and pressure—and the pump that was running was the well pump. I put my hand on top of it and yanked it back. The pump housing was so hot it almost burned me. This was Bad.

Because we have sandy-loam soil and a relatively shallow well (78′), we were using a jet pump. Supposedly jet pumps are less aggressive, so we were using one to slow down the inevitable infiltration of fine silt into the well. (I now know how to better handle this, but that will be discussed in a future article.)

One of the problems with a jet pump is that it needs to be primed (have the pipe in the well-casing filled with water) before it will work. If the “shoe” of the pump (a special venturi device at the bottom of the well) ever sucks air instead of water, it breaks the prime and the pump won’t work correctly until you re-prime it. “Sucking air” in this case means we pumped water out of our well faster than the well could recharge from the surrounding aquifer. We have lived on this property for over 12 years and this had never happened before. Than again, California’s current drought is the worst in people-recorded history, although the tree rings tell us things have been much, much worse in times past.

I climbed the ladder to see how much water was in our 9′ high, 3,000 gallon storage tank and was shocked to see that there was about 1′ of water (about 300 gallons) in it.This much missing water meant that somehow we had completely missed that the well pump had been not working for several days. How could this happen? Of our 2 pumps, the well pump is quite a bit quieter than the pressure pump. It’s also the case that if the pressure pump is not working we will know it within a 5-60 minutes, because without it we have no water pressure anywhere on the property.

I’ll skip the details of our recovery and simply give shout outs to our neighbors, Nick Gurney and Diane Rooney, for sharing water & pressure for our Thanksgiving crowd, and to Tom Campbell who came over the next day and helped get the pump re-primed (something that turned out to be quite a bit more involved than it should have been). Thanks Guys!

Bottom line: I knew I never again wanted to find out that I had a problem with our water system by turning on a tap and having nothing come out. That meant we needed timely information about how much water was in the well, and how much the well pump was sending to the storage tank. As long as we were at it, we also decided to start measuring the water usage of the house and irrigation systems.

The rest of this site was driven by this one incident.

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