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Please help me develop this water source

Posts: 2
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Hi everyone, first time poster here at permies.com - seems like a great community!  I'm going to include a quick introduction below because I haven't seen anywhere on the forums to do so (I'm not that adept at computers, so I may have just missed it).

My partner and I have been building our own house on a piece of raw land I bought some years ago.  We've been doing everything ourselves, from clearing the land to framing, electrical and plumbing and everything in between.  It's been a fun learning experience, albeit stressful at times.  We spent the first year living in an 8x12 cabin with no water, and no insulation for the first half of the winter.  Gotta make memories somehow!
We aren't exactly pioneering any groundbreaking ideas; we've stuck with conventional building methods to keep the red-tape people happy, we're tied to the electrical grid (but hopefully not forever), our plumbing runs to a septic system and drain field... but our goal is the same as many others have had for many years - to build ourselves a home with as small a mortgage as possible so we can continue to live simply, grow our own food and enjoy the experiences life has to offer.

So now, on to my questions!

Water has been a big problem for us.  I have a water license on a large, clean river across the road from us and had planned to make use of this by pumping and filtering from the river up to our house.  Turns out the cost of horizontal boring under the rural road, having an engineer design a system and supervise all work (required by law here) we're looking at well over $20k.  I considered having a deep well drilled, thinking we'd surely hit water with the river being so close however after speaking to neighbours within a few kilometres, we found out there is an impermeable clay layer along the river edge and people like us have drilled as deep as 500' without a drop of water.  So that option quickly went out the window too.

I spent quite some time with my dowsing rods and marked out a half dozen spots around the property for a shallow well and started digging, and digging some more.  I dug as deep as I could with a post hole digger (around 6') in the early spring and hit water here and there.  As the seasons changed and we had a long spell of draught, the water dried up (to be expected, but you gotta stay hopeful).  I finally witched a handful of other spots in the middle of draught season, dug a few more holes and finally hit water at 5' in one location.  We're now well past the driest months of the year and the water level has stayed the same so I'm confident enough to develop this into our water source.

What I have in a 1'x1' hole, 5' deep before hitting water.  I should point out that what I've hit is an underground stream/spring, not a static water table.  First few feet of digging were stiff clay then I was into the coarse sandy gravel water bearing layer, now I've got water, and below that is around the consistency of split pea soup - lots of coarse gravel swimming around but no firm "bottom".  There's bound to be some big rocks down there however I've only pulled a handful of palm sizes stones out.  I managed to get nearly a foot deeper by using some very basic tools I made out of a few items anyone would have in their recycling bin (I can elaborate on that if anyone is interested).  So now we're "around" 6 feet deep with close to a foot of water in the bottom of the hole, level hasn't dropped by more than 1/8" in the past month.  

I have a few options and would appreciate some feedback from other minds.  I will have an excavator there to bury a 7000l cistern (approx 1800 gallon) next week, so high yield from this water source isn't critical - that cistern will provide for alot of our water needs without constantly pumping from the well.

Now that I've found water and have a good understanding how frail a spring can be, I'm a bit nervous about doing something like puncturing the impermeable layer below and losing the water..I'd never forgive myself for the rest of my life.  The impermeable layer might very well be that deep layer of clay the neighbours have talked about, but I've no way to tell.  This is what I'm thinking, any thoughts?

#1 - Drive a sandpoint as deep as I can and call it good.  Upside is that this is a cheap and relatively easy.  Since I'm already down to the water layer, I might not have much problem going deeper.  The downside is that my water may be perched on an impermeable layer only a little deeper than I've dug.  If I'm driving the well point into the unknown below, I could easily disturb the impermeable layer and lose the spring or not get deep enough to have enough static water above the screen during drawdown.

#2 - I'm having the 7000l cistern buried by an experienced operator, however he's leaving his machine there for a few days afterwards so I can rent it hourly and play around with some other less critical projects.  I could easily dig that hole deeper, lay in a large metal or HDPE culvert vertically with slits cut in the bottom and develop it this way.  Upside is that it's relatively cheap and easy to do, probably an afternoon project for me.  This seems like a good option although again, I'm worried about disrupting the spring with a large machine in there.  I'd like to keep site disturbance to a minimum as well so I can easily seal the casing, but that's a minor concern really.

#3 - Try washing a 4" casing further down the hole.  Once I have that cistern in place and filled (I'm allowed to pump from the river, across the road with a gas pump in a one-off situation like this), I'll have a fair bit of water to try washing a casing down.  I think this could be a good option, but again I'm not sure how I'd be able to tell if I went too deep and lost the spring, also not sure if I would eventually (or quickly) hit larger rocks that I couldn't wash away.

#4 - Build myself some shoring and keep digging by hand.  This is the safest (for preserving the spring, anyways) but I have alot of other things on the go, like finishing building our house - and this adds more exhausting work to an already exhausted guy.  Once I got deeper, I could lay in a vertical casing, either 4" or 6" pvc or large metal or HDPE culvert with slits cut in the bottom and likely call it good.

Seeing as I'll have the excavator there next week and a bit of time to play, I'm leaning on trying to carefully do it this way.  I know each situation is different, but I'm hoping to get a few second thoughts from other folks who likely know more than I before I get started one way or another.  To re-iterate, my biggest fear is losing the spring - I don't know what's below..could be a bottomless aquifer or it could be perched on a fragile layer only a foot deeper.

If you've taken the time to read all this and could help me out, thanks so much!
Posts: 3124
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Aren't there any local hydrological resources you could use?

How deep is your cistern going? It sounds like if you're not careful with its placement, you might end up doing with your cistern what you fear to do with a sand point.

I would find out what other information is available to you. Your local ag extension office might be of help, as might anyone who has either paid to have a well dug in the area, or anyone who digs wells in the area.

Posts: 355
Location: BC Interior, Zone 6-7
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We're in a similar situation on our property: good water source, but cost prohibitive to use it. We've been hauling water by hand from our creek for close to four years.

If you're installing a cistern anyway, can you collect rainwater from your roof? Depending on how much rain you get, that might be enough for a large part of your needs. Your well you've dug could then just be supplemental and maybe not need to be developed further.
Posts: 2694
Location: Central Texas zone 8a
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As you dig the hole, its probably important that you inspect the soil that you bring up. Once you bring up dry clay , stop.  Further digging gains nothing but can be disasterous if you punch through.

In my case, it was easy to spot. We used a skidsteer with an 8ft auger. The auger grabbed some of the soil allowing us to inspect it. This should be the case with a hand auger also, which i assume you are using. Grab a chunk and put in in your hands and squeeze it. You may feel differences in muddynes. The visual cues you pointed out is also a clue. Pulling up fine particles instead of rocks may tell you that you are getting below the underground flow

Sounds like you are doing this with a lot of thought. I think you are on the right path.
j barilwalker
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Thanks all.  Water is precious, and I'm the kind of guy who likes to think (and overthink) every angle before I get started.  It's been on my mind for many years since buying the land and found out we have water problems, so I've done as much research as I can, but there is alot of important knowledge from people like you and me to be passed around on the interweb.  Before I go further, I forgot to mention that we DO have a small spring upslope of where the cistern will be buried, but downslope from the house, which runs for 7 months of the year.  This year, despite having more rainfall than usual, the spring dried up sooner and has stayed bone dry for longer.  Other people have had problems with wells and springs drying up the past few years, so it may one day go the same way.  If need be, we can install more cisterns, fill with gravity from the spring and live with water restrictions for part of the year.  But cisterns require alot of material to manufacture, are very expensive to purchase and install.  Also, I'm trying to build a system of redundancy, so we can produce nearly all our own food without fear of one source running dry and losing our food crops, animals etc.

Chris Kott - Sadly, there isn't much information available.  Most people in our area are on hillside springs further up the mountain that have been grandfathered with easements of put in illegally way back etc for years, many pump and filter from the river both legally and illegally and even more yet are on a shallow well like I'd like to use.  Aside from local knowledge that it's a big gamble to try to drill deeper, there isn't much.  Older folks I talk to (in their 70's) had good luck with a professional dowser who has long since passed away.  There are other dowsers around, but I have yet to hear of anyone reputable because our area has some very diverse hydrological formations.  Well records aren't much use - when I had a professional drilling company stop by they checked into well records and other available information and were boggled with no clear info - our area has a long, long history of noncompliance of all types and the idea that you don't tell anyone with the power to shut you down a damned peep more than you have to is the way it's been for the last 100 years.  Unfortunately as times change, this is slowly changing too, but it's still a good place to be.  The cistern is actually to be installed slightly upslope in a small hillock, so I would pump from the well up to the cistern, then from the cistern up to the house..lots of pumping.  It's going 7ft deep...but I've had an excavator dig in the area when we put our driveway in and was dry as bone so we should be good.

Jan White - What part of interior BC are you in?  We're in the west kootenay area.  4 years is a long time to haul water, good for you.  We're planning on using rainwater collection eventually, if not for drinking then at least for irrigation - we have a large mono pitch (shed) painted metal roof on our house, we chose this for eventual water catchment.  It could catch alot of rainwater, however in the past few years it's become normal to have 2-3 months of draught (and 35+ degree celsius weather the whole time) in the summer.  Last year we got less 10mm of rain in 3 months time.  Installing more cisterns is certainly an option, but an expensive and very resource intensive one.

Wayne Fajkus - This is definitely good thinking.  In some of the other test holes I've dug, I was able to tell when I hit the clay layer.    You might be onto something with the post hole auger on the back of a machine, I like that.  The fellow I'm to borrow the machine from in the next few weeks does not have an auger attachment, but I'm sure I can find someone who does..if need be.  I'm one of those stupidly stubborn people who often do things the hard way, though, and I'm not afraid of some hard work if I need to.  I will definitely need be able to be able to check for difference soil types, however my problem is digging deeper...I've so much water coming into the bottom of the hole I dug that I can't pull any more wet sand and gravel out without the bottom caving in.  The more I work at it, the more I've started to create a nice 1x1 hole up top with a bell shape at the bottom.  I've been using a clamshell post hole digger...the only locally available auger types are not extendable and with the material being so wet and soupy, I'm not sure I'd have much luck getting deeper without increasing the bell shape at the bottom.  The bell shape is good because it's probably increased flow, but I don't want to blow out the bottom of the hole any more than I have to.  Is this foolish of me?  I'd appreciate some feedback.

One other option I've thought about is to rent a small (or large) trash pump and try to use this to pull some material out the middle of the casing while trying to work a 4" or 6" casing down a little deeper.  A bailer would work too, but not for any large rocks that found their way in there...any thoughts?
Posts: 802
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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I am an advocate for catching rainfall.
I have learnt you hve issues of freezing etc which we dont have in Australia.
I can say $20K to go under the road my be the best outcome over time.
Wells, cisterns etc are all expensive and need repairs, an under road pipe will have no issues at all.
Sure you need a pump on your side of the road, but you need a pump for any system anyway.
Think about it again.
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