This was my entry for the Safecastle Freedom Award.
Many of us depend on our municipality or rural water district to provide water to our homes. Where these are not available, each home may have its own water well.
But what if municipal service was interrupted? What if the electricity to run the pump in your well was suddenly cut off? How would you meet your basic water needs if your primary water source was eliminated?
The oft-repeated rule of thumb is that each person needs one gallon of water per day to survive. Most people adhere to this rule when preparing a 72-hour kit or stocking a storm shelter for their families. But what if water service was disrupted for longer? There’s no way to store enough water to sustain a typical family for an indefinite amount of time. And that one-gallon-per-day rule only accounts for drinking water. If a real, large-scale emergency happened (think national) and basic services such as water and power were offline, you would need a backup water source.
If you live near a lake, river, or even a small creek or stream, that is one option. The water will need to be filtered before drinking, cooking, or washing dishes. Depending on what you suspect might be in the water (for instance, chemicals from an industrial facility upstream), you may even want to filter water before use in a garden. There are many options for filtering water, and I leave it to the reader to do his own research.
If you live in a highly populated area, consider that most of the people near you will utilize that same lake, river or creek. How long will that water source last? Are there people farther upstream (or downstream) that will be counting on that water, too? And without services like sewer and garbage pickup, what will get thrown into that water?
If you’re confident that you can adequately filter any water collected from a surface source, you can also augment it with captured rainwater (filtered for consumption, of course). Cut off the bottom portion of your gutter and set a barrel or other collection container underneath it. You’ll be surprised at how much water a roof sheds during a good thunderstorm. And you’ll be happy for the reprieve from hauling water up from the creek!
If you live in an area where groundwater is accessible, another option is a well with an electricity-free pump. Both hand-operated pumps and solar pumps are available. Solar pumps are the more expensive option, of course. Dedicated solar panels can be set up for the pump, or in some cases, you may be able to wire the pump to solar panels on your house. However, most solar-operated pump packages do not include a battery, which means you’ll only be able to operate the pump when the sun is shining or the solar panels have not yet lost their charge. Furthermore, solar panels must be kept clean (and in good repair) in order to maintain high performance.
In many areas, a permit is necessary to drill a well. You will need to make inquiries with municipal as well as state authorities where you live to see what is required. Typically, though, less regulation is placed on wells designated for landscape, cattle or irrigation use than on wells designated as a primary drinking water source.
Groundwater may appear to be “clean” at first glance. But contaminants at the surface can leach through the soil and enter the groundwater. Additionally, some naturally occurring minerals and metals—arsenic, for example—can be harmful to humans as well. A good idea, after installing a well, is to collect a water sample and take it to a certified lab for testing. Before doing this, you might want to do some research on the geology in your area. Pay attention to what elements are naturally occurring. Also, look for scientific research conducted locally by the USGS or area colleges and universities. You may find information on naturally occurring contaminants, as well as any man-made debacle that might have affected the groundwater where you live. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be able to make an informed decision about what to have the lab test for.
As you might expect, it’s not cheap to have a well drilled. (It’s possible to drill your own well, but not easy). Depending on the local geology and the depth to groundwater, expect to spend $4,000 or more. Also, consider if there is access to your property for the drilling equipment (is your back yard surrounded on all sides by other homes?), as well as whether you want a drilling rig driving across your manicured yard. Even the concrete in your driveway is probably not rated to support a 20-ton (or heavier) truck. But then, yards can be repaired or re-landscaped. Even concrete driveways can be replaced. In a world without basic infrastructure services, a secondary water source is better than money in the bank.