Adventure #1: They Told Us This House Had Running Water

We are city kids. Here is what we knew about water when we moved here: You turn on the faucet and it comes out. Once a month you get a bill.

Oh, we had environmental tendencies, and we tried not use more water than we really needed. But out here in the high desert, there's one important fact about water and we all have to reconcile ourselves to this fact: There's not any.

Our new house has a well, which yields sufficient water for the two of us as long as we're careful. It wasn't long before we got our first introduction to the complexities of water out in the country. In fact, the day after we closed on the house, while the movers were unloading all our stuff, the water went off. One of the moving crew asked if he could have a drink of water. "Sure, Yvonne said," grabbing a glass and turning to the sink. She turned the handle and <ta-dah!> NOTHING came out. "Uh... ," she stammered, "I guess not."

The helpful neighbors shook their heads solemnly over the Coyote, a nifty little gadget that controls the well pump. Then they gave me the name of a good pump service outfit. Rusty came right out the next day, but the verdict was grim: The pump would have to be pulled.

Pulling out a pump that's sitting 300 feet underground is no small undertaking. It takes a big, specialized truck, two workers, and about an hour and a half. It will be another day before the truck is available to come out here.

The next day around noon the truck and crew arrive to pull the pump. There's a nifty little doojigger that you hook onto the well head to keep the pipe from falling back down into the well as you pull it up. You hook onto the top of the pipe, use the truck's winch to pull up a section of pipe, unhook and remove the section, then do it all again. It's hot, tedious work. When you suspect that the pump has come detached from the well pipe, as Rusty did, it's nerve-wracking, too. If the pump catches on something on the way up, it could fall off the end of the pipe and end up on the bottom of the well. Goodbye well!

Rusty was right! Here is our pump, hanging by a wire from the bottom of the pipe. The pump was shut down for several months while the house was up for sale, and the stress of starting up again probably caused it to break loose. It's been pumping away, all right, but since it's no longer attached to the pipe, it's just pumping water through itself and back down into the well.

Two days without water later, the pump is reinstalled and working like a charm. Rusty tells us we ought to think about installing a water storage tank; in fact, he says, everyone out here on the mountain probably needs one. Water is scarce, and a storage tank would let us even out our water consumption by pumping water from the well at night when we're not using any. In the event of a really dry period, it would also let us buy water from a water hauling company if the well went dry.

Here's what we've learned about water: Conserve, conserve, conserve. We use bottled water for our drinking water. We wash dishes only when we have a sinkful, and we use a minimum of water to do so. A collection of 55-gallon barrels collects rain and snowmelt from the roof; this (we hope!) will keep a small vegetable garden watered this summer. We let the well recover for awhile after someone showers, and we don't do more than one load of laundry a day. Soon we may be set up to capture the grey water from the washing machine for use in the garden.

Water is a precious commodity for all of us, but in the high desert you can't ignore or rationalize water waste.

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