A little water sovereignty

alice's picture

Thought I would write a quick note to describe our drinking water setup here. We have a rain barrel (200 litres) attached to the downspout of the rain gutter front and back. From there I bring water into the house in a watering can and put through a counter-top gravity-fed safari filter. We have the British Berkefeld filter housing and it fits four Doulton ceramic and charcoal filter candles. These candle units filter bacteria, protzoans etc and some of the chemical hazards -- until recently our next door neighbours relied on a coal stove so I got the chemical filtering type candles to cut down some of the coal soot elements. Then I put the filtered water into the kettle and boil, and when it's cool into a glass demijohn jar for drinking cold. This last step is to make sure we are avoiding any avian-borne viruses as those ought to be broken up by boiling, before I started doing that we used to get more colds.

Even in the hottest of the recent years in the UK, when we've had several weeks without rain, I have not got to the bottom of both rain barrels. We would run out of both if there was a really prolonged dry spell. But this simple setup is what we use all the time, partly because the children seem to be sensitive to when the tap water tastes bad. Sometimes it just tastes really salty or soapy. We have private water companies in the UK so no way to rely on getting really high quality tap water although officially nothing is wrong. We use the tap water for washing etc. But I can manage the work with this system to make our drinking water, with the ongoing cost being replacing the filter candles every six months, and I usually make sure I have a spare set of filter candles in the house in case I decide they need changing ahead of schedule.

Obviously this kind of system won't work where you get much less rain than we do. I've been thinking about how people get their drinking water since seeing the pictures of the USA from space -- I think if there's not enough water to make the land green there's not likely to be enough rain to supply drinking water? If I remember right our average here is about 24 inches / 600 mm of rain a year.

add photo: 

I appreciate you taking the time to describe your drinking water process. Drought and power disruptions here in California have had me thinking even more than usual about our household water supply. We are in a rural area, on a well, and when we don’t have power, our well pump and pressure tank don’t work either. I’ve been thinking about water collection and storage. The challenge for us would be that all our rain comes during just a few months of the year, so we would need massive tanks. Or, I am thinking, perhaps just a large number of smaller barrels chained together. My neighbors purchased a reused food-grade 55 gallon drum to store water in for quite a reasonable price. If I were only to store drinking water, not washing or irrigation, that might be feasible with a daily system like yours.
Again, thanks for the food for thought!

alice's picture

Glad you like Heather. I think it's always worth thinking through the most basic needs especially in this time of overall gradual energy descent. It could make a lot of difference in various scenarios even just an acute illness or job loss.

I know I have heard of off-grid water storage being common in parts of Australia which I guess also get the intermittent kind of rainfall -- anyone here reading from Oz to comment? I have heard about artificial ponds, dams, cast concrete rainwater storage tanks -- no personal experience though.

One off-grid community I know of in northern England have concrete rainwater tanks underground for their water, including washing water, I think those were cast in place in the 1920s or 1930s. Not sure if those are still in use as I think they have mains water these days. I will have to ask more about the tanks if I visit again. That community's land is situated in one of the former coal fields -- I saw a deep well there which was dug using explosive charges owned by miners who were there during the 1926 general strike. In those days the miners were expected to take the explosives home with them and keep them safe, warm, and dry, I am sure it is done differently these days =D

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Here in the USA in the State of Hawaii on the dry side of the Big Island it is typical for all domestic water to be from rainwater catchment as the geology generally is not good for wells (all lava flows no matter how deep). Large multi-thousand gallon stock tanks are often used for storage.

mountainmoma's picture

I am in CA with a well and think about all this. You can have a smaller water tank, or new code ( for if/when we sell) would require 2 5k gallon tanks for fire suppression anyways. Just having a 1000 gallon or 2500 gallon tank would be plenty of water for a week or two. Nice, clean water. Even if it comes out of the tap at a trickle or you need to walk up to the tank ( when power is out) and open a valve to get a bucket full, to me, this is a necessary thing to have on your property. Why bother with chained 55 gallon drums ? So, a small tank, for a few hundred dollars is a minimum to do. The second thing that can be done after having at least one tank of any size is to power just the well pump with solar.

Mine is powered by solar as I have a small solar system for the house, and out of my 4 backup circuits that run off of battery, one is for the well pump. When I did this I switched out well pumps to a 1/3 or 1/2hp 120V pump, and it is a grundfos and so is soft start. Other brands would work also, the regular Franklin pumps. They always oversize our pumps ! My well pump is 220ft down, and this is plenty, when I first put in solar and changed pumps, I did not have a water tank for at least 5 years, so I know that a 1/2hp pump gives more pressure than we need, now that it goes just to a water tank and not for house garden pressure, it could even be smaller and slower. I used to run both the well pump and pressure pump off of this line, temperarily, and I can easily switch, at the well house, which pump should be connected to battery back up. Now that we have a water tank, the default is the house pressure pump is on the battery backup circuit. Although in a power outage, I am often just turning the breaker off for this, since the outages are longer now I want the power for other needs, and the height difference, the gravity pressure, while very small, is enough it turns out for basic needs. But, default right now is pressure pump having backup power in case of fire in this site.

But, if I were to do it now, I would not bother to run one of the house back-up lines out to the pump, as we could use that power here ( for communication, refrigerator or for the pressure pump if needed) , I would just have a stand alone solar panel/pump at the well head. I thought I broke my pump a few months ago and investigated it ( it turns out that the overload protection on the grundfos realy works ! A total short, water in a conduit that had worn wires, and the pump is alive ! ) Some of the options : keep the 120V pump and there are a couple companies that make little stand alone boxes for this purpose that are small inverters/etc... that will take the DC power from a few solar panels and convert it to the AC voltage your pump needs; change pump to a DC pump and connect straight to solar panels, this is not quite as simple as first appears as you do still need a small controller connected to a float switch in the water tank, otherwise the pump would just run all day when the sun was out, overflow the tank, waste precious CA water, but still is simpler and less expensive, if you needed a new pump. Either way you do need a water tank so that water is available at night or rainy days. But, in CA we need the water tanks anyways for fire protection. No batteries are needed if you have enough of a height difference, and normally, just for overnight usage, the tank is at or near the top which adds to the pressure

This site has a lot of info about using biochar and sand filtration for local water purification