Ok, Christmas is getting close, so is Kwanzaa and you are already late with your Chanukah presents. You’ve got one more present to buy, and it is for someone really tough. Something wonderful. Or something they don’t have – which might be a challenge. What should you get them?
How about a manual well pump? No, I realize it isn’t a cashmere sweater, but hey, you can live your whole life without cashmere, but water…well, that’s a bigger issue. And if your loved one is on a well, the chances are good that the next time there’s an extended power outage, he or she is going to be out of water. And that’s a very unpleasant situation – ask anyone who was out for a week or two weeks last year in tne Northeast ice storm. Ask folks in Kentucky who lost power for as much as two or three weeks. Ask folks who survived Katrina, Ike and Rita – what did you miss most? Chances are it wasn’t “the delicate feel of super-fine cashmere goat hair against my skin” but “being able to bathe, and not having to ration drinking water.”
Now the problem for folks who are reliant on wells is that the well pumps don’t work if the power goes out. If your well is very, very shallow (less than 25 feet) you can use a regular old pitcher pump to pump up water – but your water table has to be consistently high, and for most of us, it isn’t.
Now you can put in a cistern, or if they aren’t frozen, drinkg out of your rainbarrel, or melt snow (that’s way less fun than it sounds), but realistically, the best thing to be able to do is to get water out of your well, even if the well is fairly deep. Now if your water table is deeper than about 200 feet, you won’t be able to use a manual pump – the only possible solution for you is solar powered and, unfortunately, expensive. But the majority of private wells in the US, and certainly the vast majority of private wells in the east, are less deep than this. So, if you have a manual pump on your well, you can get water out whether the power is on or not. Yes, you will have to carry it – but that will pale as problems go compared to not having any water.
The problem with putting on a manual deep well pump *was* that it was freakin’ expensive – more than a thousand dollars in most cases, with installation. This is a big barrier to most people – few of us can afford to spend more than a grand on a hypothetical – with luck, you might never lose power for long, after all. Fortunately, there’s a better option now.
A middle school shop teacher named Jim Juczak has created a manual well pump that is extremely inexpensive and within the price range of most people. He sells plans for $20 (postage included) that should allow someone who is reasonably handy and has access to a good selection of tools to put one together – his off the shelf estimate for parts is a bit over a hundred dollars. For those of you who are less handy, Jim has kits available, for $250 he sells a steel and pvc version – he has one himself and has been using it to pump water at his farm for several years of heavy use and should be good for a decade or more. For $450 he’ll send you a kit for a brass and steel version that should last out the century. You can see pictures at his blog here.
This makes pumping water in an outage a viable solution for many people. The level of handiness required is only moderate – if you can’t do it yourself, you should be able to find someone who can help you, or you can order a kit. He says:
“You will need to be pretty proficient at cutting steel pipe, running a drill press, cutting and assembling PVC pipe and pipe fittings and a lot of related topics. My wife reminded me that I tend to forget that others don’t have a big range of materials processing background!”
Jim designed this pump so that middle school children with a little shop training could put them together. All the information is available at his site. I’m planning on getting a kit, as we got the plans and decided we just weren’t up to it – I could hire out, but I’d just as soon do it from Jim, who is doing his best to make water accessible to as many people as possible.
This is a wonderful gift – access to something basic and a measure of security for families who before had to worry every time the lights flickered. I’d also suggest that if you are one of those “one for me, one for them” shoppers, this is a good idea, not just for private families, but also for towns and communities that rely on city water. Because pumping stations can fail, or water become contaminated, manual pumping stations, not vulnerable to power outages make a lot of sense in most communities. Many communities that now rely on reservoirs or pumped water have old wells that could be reactivated. Again, the low cost makes it viable to put a manual pump at the schoolyard, in the park, at the community center and have a resource available should water supplies be interrupted.
It may not be as pretty as a cashmere sweater, but what other present can provide so much that is so necessary?