February 17, 2003

Creatures of the Grid

There are not a few Floyd County residents who live 'off the grid' to one degree or another. They range from our retired Lutheran minister friend who uses a battalion of car batteries to store solar-generated power at his home, to our reclusive neighbor who choses to live off-the-grid in a tiny cottage with nine cats, who bathes in the creek and reads by oil lamps... this eccentricity compounded by the fact that she is from a very moneyed family whose name everyone would recognize.

We moved into our house here in November of 1999... just two months before the dreaded Y2K event. Our move wasn't predicated on survival when society melted down in January 1, 2000; but the thought did enter our minds that we could be relatively 'okay' for a while during a time of disruption, having the abundant wood for heat, gas (or wood) for cooking and hot water. And I was especially pleased with our water situation.

Image copyright Fred FirstThe house had been on spring water for over a century, but the spring head up the road filled in with sediment some decades ago, and I guess the hippies that lived here over the years brought in water from other wells or springs. Not knowing what to expect when we put in the very first deep well on the place, we were delighted to have 12-15 gallons of water at about 140 feet! And the best thing was that, very rare for deep wells in our area, it was artesian, meaning that there was enough pressure on the aquifer to send water up out of the well without pumping. We had enough pressure to use all the water outlets on the main floor, even when the power to the well pump was off during winter storms! Until...

In the spring of our first year here, we started noticing two changes in the water: it smelled funny, like rotten eggs especially in the shower; and, standing water in the back of the toilet was rust colored and slimy. Ann's pharmacy clinic jackets came out of the washing machine a nice reddish off-white. For reasons we didn't understand, we now had both iron and sulphur bacteria in our water. While there were no health concerns about this, for aesthetics and plumbing reasons, we had to have a water treatment system installed, at no small cost and with great dismay over the loss of our wonderful tasting water. Also, with the system in place, we lost the potential to have water in the house when the power is out. There is no way to bypass the sytem and take pressure directly from the well.

Of course, we still could fill buckets from the creek to use to flush toilets. Mostly. Of course the creek dried completely up this past summer. And there were times during the past month when getting through the ice to fill a bucket would have been quite an ordeal. And even then, this is surface water and not drinkable without chemical treatment or lots of boiling. So, project of the moment: find a low-tech way to get drinking water when the power is out. (The gas generator is a last-ditch option, used mostly to keep the freezer from thawing. We have never needed it since most of our power outtages have been in winter, and of short duration, thankfully. We could have put the meat out in the snow, or in coolers on the north side of the house, and it would have lasted fine for several days).

Possible water solution: We still have artesian pressure at the wellhead. My current thinking is that if I can find someone to put a threaded 3/4" hole in the well cap, we should be able to put a short piece of threaded pipe with a shut-off of some kind, probably just a ordinary faucet, on the end and have easily enough pressure to fill water jugs or a bucket directly from the well. I've made some calls and have a well-driller with a 'can-do' approach working with me on this little low-tech approach to water independence. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Yep, that's it. No surprise ending. No moralizing punch line -- just a mundane narrative of a slice of life from where I live, where I have a wee bit of control. And today I plan to stay off the grid... to 'be here now' all day without Google News, CNN or NPR to tell me about things I can't do a dang thing about. Maybe later, some pictures of yesterday's ice storm. Provided we don't lose power...

Posted by fred1st at February 17, 2003 07:33 AM | TrackBack

What a gorgeous home! Lucky you... :)

Posted by: deb at February 17, 2003 11:13 AM

You snowed in today? My niece in upstate NY is, she says they have drifts to the eaves on the windward side of the house.

Posted by: feste at February 17, 2003 04:24 PM

Fred, I sent a recommendation around to fifteen or twenty of my favorite people to read your blog. My friend James in England says this:

This HAS to be one of the biggest distractions I have seen on the 'net'! I can see exactly why you keep going back!

James Windle

Posted by: travelertrish at February 17, 2003 06:29 PM

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