Friday, August 7, 2009

Tapping Your Own Spring Water Source

Why Spring Water?

Let me say at the outset that there must be many different ways to approach tapping a spring water source. The following is a shot at describing the way I did it with the tools and supplies available.
You most likely will not have the same land conditions/locations, tools or supplies, however it is my hope that you can find something of value from this humble post should you be considering tapping your own spring.

To Spring or not to Spring... that is the question!
Rather than using a spring, a deep water well was first considered. A survey of well owners in close proximity soon changed our minds on this as all seemed to have discovered a less than palatable Sulfur taste and odor in their water. I couldn’t see the sense in taking this expensive route when for just the cost of pipes and pumping there was free, clean, drinkable water close by.

Be warned, this is an exhausting and dirty job. If cost is not a problem, read no further and get a professional to do it for you. If you are like me, long pockets and short arms, then the lower outlay/high achievement factor of doing it yourself is the better option. Co-opting a few able bodies to help with the heavy stuff would also be a good idea if they are available.

So why am I doing this?
After not finding any good hard information through a long and fruitless Internet search, I found myself inspired to publish something of what we did so that others who are considering a similar task may gain advantage from my experience.

Survey the site
First, a good survey of what must be done to make the spring ‘tappable’ needs to be undertaken. Look at the ‘lay’ of the land, distances from the spring to your house and what equipment you might need to make it happen. (See 'Equipment/Materials' below)

Our spring site was on coastal plain, slightly sloping downward away from the house. The strata was a foot or so of topsoil, a couple of clay with shale beneath that. Fortunately for us the spring runs year round without freezing.

Our homesite was elevated around 5 ft/1.5 mt on a shale pad. The pipe from source to destination ran approximately 240 ft/73 mt. Taking into consideration the natural slope of the land and the house pad, we needed to lift the water about 12 feet/3.6 mt to our home.

This elevation was not a lot but to ensure a good pressure and long life from the pump we opted for a 1/2 horsepower jet pump to lift the water and maintain a good constant pressure.

Think about the gear
An important consideration is the type of one-way valve to use inside the collector unit. This is a vital piece of equipment in any set up. A working foot valve keeps the supply line from the Spring constantly full of water, ie not allowing it to drain back down the pipe. Without it the supply line would empty to some degree and when the pump turns on, it will be pumping air instead of water. This situation requires the pump to be manually primed again before water can flow. An ugly task anytime, but would be particularly so in the middle of a Canadian winter.
The Footvalve also contains a filter which must be cleaned and maintained to ensure long life and good pressure of the system. With the foot valve buried deep within the collector pipe, the question is... how do I access the footvalve/filter mechanism to clean and maintain it?

A suggestion from a plumber friend was to install a nifty piece of gear called a Pitless Adaptor. This is a two piece fitting installed through the wall of the large collector pipe onto which is attached the foot valve. One piece of the Pitless Adaptor is threaded and placed through the pipe wall from the inside and clamped from the outside by the rubber washers and threaded nut. The second part slides into the inside mount and contains the foot valve plumbing. The beauty of it all is that the footvalve can be removed by accessing it with an adaptor stick. This is just a metal rod with a matching thread on one end.
Reaching down from the top of the collector pipe, the rod is screwed into the top of the Pitless Adaptor fitting and then pulled upward, bringing the attached foot valve with it. The advantage of this is obvious, should you ever need to access the foot valve it can easily be removed without either pumping out the big collector pipe, or climbing down into it. Not just for claustrophobic reasons either, spring water is very cold and as the pipe fills quickly you will be feeling it coming up your legs whilst down there cleaning the foot valve or whatever… not fun.

Trench Digger/Backhoe/Excavator - Owned, Hired or borrowed to dig the trench and clean out the spring before installing the catchment pipes.
Supply line pipe - Must be food quality poly pipe. If just one household is to be supplied from spring, 1in (25mm) to 1 1/2in (38mm) pipe should be sufficient.
In Canada, drinking water quality poly pipe is called ‘green stripe’, and we had decided that 1in (25mm) diameter was sufficient to supply our needs. We bought a 300 ft (91mt) roll and paid CAN$1.13 (inc tax) per foot.
Collector Pipe - In my case it was an 21in (53cm) inside diameter x 8 ft (2.4m) long concrete pipe. May vary with what you have available. Buy.
Concrete Drill - These are large industrial hammer drills and bits that you will need to hire unless you have a plumber friend who owns one. These are the only way to pierce the concrete pipe to install the necessary outflow plumbing and overflow pipe. Hire or borrow
Sump Pump - A pump that can suck up dirty water and thin mud from the bottom of the spring as you are working on it. Hire or borrow
Generator - We had to use a generator to run both the sump pump and the hammer drill at the site as mains power was not available. Hire, own or borrow
Pump and Pressurizer - What you use will largely depend on where your spring is in relation to your home/destination. The topography has a huge bearing on what is used. Had we been undertaking this on a hilly site with the spring elevation above the homesite, no pump or pressurization unit would have been required at all.
Remote locations may opt for a 12 volt pump that could be run on solar and/or from a backup car battery if required.
As we were soon to be connected to mains power, a lower cost modern efficient electric pump made more sense to us, around CAN$400 (inc tax). The pressurizer we already had.

Roll up yer sleeves
Once we had worked out and purchased/hired/borrowed the equipment and supplies required, the real work began.

We started the trench from the house end and dug it down to a depth of 5 ft /1.5m (to avoid the winter freeze).
I had decided to place the pump and pressurizer in a small shed (they call 'em 'baby barns' here), next to the house.
My rea
soning was that pumps operating with pressurizers have automatic on/off switches that activate when either the pressure gets too low or the maximum pressure has been reached. Either way, the sound of an electric motor shutting on and off randomly was not a sound I wanted to hear. Beside that, all Australian boys need a shed, don't they? ;)
As the picture here shows, the trench was started where the back of the small shed was going to be located. Access to this area is restricted so the trenchwork had to be done first.

A few small trees had to go, but that was small change to the value of having free spring water. Using the excavator produced a rather wide trench, removing a lot of soil in the process. As this machine was readily available we used it anyway. A better alternative would be to use a trenchdigger. Think of these machines as a large chainsaw adapted for digging. They do indeed use a form of chain that produce a narrow, deep hole and so disturbs the surrounding earth a whole lot less than the way we did it.

Once we had dug a trench back to the spring site it was time to dig out the accumulated mud and pump out as much water as we could before connecting the trench to the spring by removing the last of the earth.

Here is where a good sump pump is valuable. By removing most of the water and mud we could clearly see where the origins of the spring were coming into the basin. With the hole at the right depth and relatively clear of mud and water, we then added crushed stone and clean, large rocks to the bottom.

Whilst the excavator may have been overkill on digging the trench, it was the right tool for setting the big concrete pipe on its end. If you intend using a collector pipe as large and heavy as mine, a machine capable of lifting and placing it where it is needed is totally necessary.
I know this is stating the 'bleeding obvious,' but trying to place this monster any other way would have been a disaster waiting to happen.

We actually placed the pipe twice in the spot it needed to go. The first time was to mark where the outlet pipe holes were to be drilled. Drilling holes and fitting the pitless adaptor was far easier on the bank than knee deep in mud and water, especially since electricity was involved.

In addition to the pitless adaptor hole, a series of 4 holes were drilled around the lower perimeter of the pipe to allow a free flow of spring water in through the base.

With this task completed and the collector pipe back in place, the 1in /25mm poly pipe was then coupled to the pitless adaptor and the soil placed carefully back in the trench.
Be careful that the p
ipe and/or fittings are not damaged when doing this by always filling by hand underneath the pipe before using the machine to complete the job.

This is what the outlet looked like before we connected the feed line back up to the house.

After laying the pipe back to the house, backfilling the trench and adding extra rock around the concrete pipe itself we added the outflow pipe.

This was simply a 4” PVC sewerage pipe connected to an sleeve adaptor and then run o
ut to the existing drain. Try and keep this as low as possible without going below the drain level. Getting this right will mean your surrounding earthworks will be dry and free of any rogue water that might make it to the surface other than through your collector pipe.
Theory is, water coming to the surface seeks the easiest and fastest way to get there. By providing a big, fat pipe and large overflow, you are doing just that.

To give you a better idea of what the whole thing looked like when we were finished, here is a drawing I whipped up previously.

The next stage was to connect up the pump and pressurizer, but before doing this I had to bring the pipe up from the trench, adding a heating strip to it in the process.

These little gems only draw small amounts of current but they warm up the pipes and prevent them being frozen, (and bursting), during winter.

The silver foil you see wrapped around the pipe and taped to it is recommended when using poly pipe as it disperses the heat more efficiently.

As it is a critical operation, I called in a plumber to make the final connections and test the system. This proved to be a good decision as it takes experience and the right tools to make good leak-proof connections and purge the pipes of air.

The picture at left is looking down the finished collector pipe a few hours after installation was finished. You can see the Pitless adaptor in the lower left of the pic, the outlet at middle right. If you are wondering what the other pipe is doing in there, its a provision for a future outlet.

There is more I could add but its probably not necessary. For now I am happy with having great pressure and lots of cool clear water at our home for no more than the cost of pumping it.

If you have read this far and are still planning to tap into your own spring water then I hope that the information I've put here is of some help to you.

If you have a question to ask or if I've missed describing some detail of the operation, please feel free to add a comment on the bottom of this post. I'll check back from time to time and post replies.

Cheers and good luck!