Water and Wastewater

When I was growing up we obtained our water from a well. The first was a shallow hand dug well from which the water was drawn by a hand turned windlass with a bucket on the end of a rope. Our drinking water was stored in the house in a ceramic crock with a tin dipper. A second bucket in the well served as our refrigerator. The arrangement did not seem very sanitary by today’s standards but the hard water did provide a lot of minerals and nobody seemed to get sick. Later we were able to afford a drilled well equipped with a pump (hand operated at first), later with a gasoline engine and finally with an electric motor. It was several years before it was piped to a faucet in the house. For my entire childhood, running water meant running with a bucket. Needless to say , without a pressurized water system our wastewater was thrown on the garden and our most important hygienic facility was an outhouse, complete with a department store catalog for wiping.

Thankfully, those days are long gone for most of us (at least in the developed world).

In urban and suburban areas, our water and wastewater services can simply be hooked to municipal, or utility, provided services at the front street. You may be responsible for providing a contractor to do the hookup or alternately the municipality, or utility, will arrange it. The hookup is simple and relatively inexpensive. Maintenance is rarely necessary, and your only long term responsibility is a monthly bill. When building, the only necessity is ensuring that the piping enters the house at a convenient location. Arrange for hookup well in advance to avoid delays. A security deposit for service may be necessary if you have not had a previous account with the municipality or utility. It is usually best to arrange for installation of hookups at the excavation stage, but it can usually be done later if necessary.

A water analysis is usually available from the provider, and should be studied. Most water will not need any further treatment, but it is possible that drinking water should be filtered or treated for taste. A water softener may also be advisable to reduce soap requirements and maintenance on water heating systems. A whole house filter is inexpensive insurance against plugged shower heads and faucet aerators.

If your new home is in the country on a farm or acreage, you probably won’t have access to utility provided water or wastewater services. You will have to provide your own. For water some of the options are a well, spring or creek, rainwater or hauled water from a treated source. In some areas runoff water collected in a dugout is the best option.

Wastewater will require some sort of carefully designed and located septic system. The municipality will have strict regulations. A permit and inspections will be required. In every case, this will be more costly than a utility hookup, but you won’t have regular bills. Maintenance cost may be an issue.

If there is an aquifer beneath your property, a well will likely be the most practical source of supply. A relatively small pressurized tank will probably provide all the storage you need. Size will depend on your peak usage and the flow rate that your well can maintain. Your drilling contractor will determine the best flow rate your well can sustain. In most cases a jet pump with either a surface or a down well jet can provide sufficient flow and pressure. A submersible pump is more efficient for deeper wells if your well diameter is large enough to accommodate one. Deeper wells will require the most elaborate lifting systems.

Well water in some areas is safe for potable use without any special treating but you will need to have a complete analysis done before first use and a regular analysis for health issues thereafter. Hard water is not usually a health issue (in fact it may be healthier for drinking), but it is destructive to equipment and more soap is required. A softener is a good investment in this case.

Stream or spring water will almost certainly need some treatment. It may not be practical to use for drinking or cooking. Rainwater will also need filtering, at the minimum. Water may be purified, by reverse osmosis or distillation for drinking or cooking, in most circumstances, but there are cases where pollutants make it impractical or overly expensive to clean. A different source for the water used for drinking or cooking may be a practical solution.

Dugouts need a clean drainage area to collect water from. The drainage area must be protected from sources of contamination such as feces from domestic livestock. It is essentially a storage system for water from precipitation. Practical where climates are cold enough that liquid precipitation is not available for long periods and in areas that are not underlain by an aquifer. The dugout needs to be deep enough to prevent freezing to the bottom and to minimize evaporation losses. It will need to be located in relatively impervious soil or a liner will be needed.

Treated water, hauled to you, can usually be used without concern, but storage tanks should be regularly cleaned with a chlorine bleach solution. Be certain that the hauling contractor is reputable.

Wastewater will require primary treatment at a minimum. This can usually be accomplished with a septic system. Disposing of the water after septic tank treatment can be done in different ways, depending on local by-laws, slopes and soil conditions. A pump out system or a disposal field may be appropriate but there may be cases where it will have to be hauled to a treatment facility. There are not many instances where an outhouse is acceptable in this age. A poorly designed or operating system is a health danger to you and your neighbors, as well as a danger to the environment. Close consultation with your local authority is essential. In every case, it will be more costly than a simple utility hookup, and maintenance can be an issue. Once again, however, there will be no monthly tariff.

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