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How do you collect water in winter when everything is frozen?  RSS feed

 
Shawn Koop
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Location: Manitoba, Canada
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I tried to find a more general thread on water harvesting to put this under but couldn't find one. If there is a better place for this question please let me know.

I live in Manitoba, Canada, zone 3b, where we have over 100 days below freezing in a year and the frost gets down to seven or eight feet. The temperature here reached -55 C with the wind chill last year, colder than the north pole. I tip my hat to anyone who can live in a colder place than this. So, since the term "cold climate" seems to be being applied to anywhere where it reaches freezing once a year, I figured context was necessary before asking my question.

How does one harvest water for domestic use in an energy efficient and economical manner when there is snow on the ground for at least four months of the year? I don't think melting snow is a great idea since a lot of energy has to go into changing its state. Do we have to bury cisterns 8 feet down?
 
Miles Flansburg
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Howdy Shawn, welcome to permies!

What about using solar? If you put an old window over a patch of snow will it melt?
 
Karen Walk
Posts: 122
Location: VT, USA Zone 4/5
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Hi Shawn,

I live in a much warmer climate - in VT, USA where it will only get down to -20F! But using solar does not work reliably in the dead of winter. It works great when the sun is shining, but it is common to have many cold, cloudy windy days.

If I were in your position and wanted to collect rainwater for use throughout the winter, I would think about how to collect snow, and how to collect it as water when it melts naturally. Do you get any mid-winter thaws? Is there a way to collect and store water a few times as it melts in the winter? If you need drinking/washing water all winter, you may need to install a cistern or some type of water storage in a location where it won't freeze.

It sounds like you also get serious wind. I can't recall where, but I remember reading about the use of snow fences to collect snow. When the snow melted in the spring, the water soaked into the ground around the snow fence. You can also place seedlings to the windward side of the snow fence so that the seedlings get buried in snow and are insulated and protected from extreme cold and winter browsing. As your first line of trees gets established, move the snow fence to windward and start another line of trees! OR, you could place a snow fence just uphill from a water catchment area. In the spring as the snow melts it will fill your water catchment.

Crater gardens are another method of collecting snow in the winter.

Good luck!

--
Karen
 
Peter Ellis
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Location: Central New Jersey
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Tough question. I am assuming that you are looking for a year round system for capturing and storing liquid water - in an environment where the ground freezes 7 to 8 feet deep!

First thought I have is that rather than digging down 8 feet to put your cistern below the frost line - and thereby require pumping power to get it back up - I would consider whether I could build a cistern that would be sheltered by a structure and kept above freezing. I would think in terms of every trick in the book for keeping the cistern above the freezing mark. Position it for solar gain, insulate the structure and the cistern itself. Arrange for whatever roof runoff there may be to be carried straight away to the cistern. I am betting that there is some degree of melting on the roof, especially when there is an insulative blanket of snow holding all the home heating energy that sneaks out through the roof right there against the roof.

I think you are right that energy costs of melting snow are high enough to make it unreasonable to pursue, other than as an incidental byproduct of other operations.

And that would be my thought process - What things do we do that generate some heat energy where excess might be utilized to melt snow? How can we arrange to do those things so that we can capture the snowmelt? How can we do all of this with minimal added effort beyond whatever the original process might be. As a sort of off the wall example, if you had a maple sugaring operation, you would want to work out a system that would let you utilize all the excess heat generated while boiling sap to melt snow, that you would then capture and store
 
Dale Hodgins
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The soil in a greenhouse with insulated concrete foundation walls can be kept from getting super cold at night and sometimes during the day, it can get warm enough to melt snow. The melt water could be piped to a subterranean cistern. Snow could be brought in and allowed to melt and run down the drain into the cistern. On colder days, nothing will happen. The cold snow can't run down the drain.
 
Shawn Koop
Posts: 10
Location: Manitoba, Canada
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Thank you for your responses!

Miles, I can't say I have personally tried it, but I would be very skeptical of the window on snow technique for my area. It could work during the shoulders of winter but I don't see it working straight through.

Karen, we don't normally get mid-winter thaws of any significance and we usually get a good couple feet of snow or more by the end of the winter. Though I really like the idea of the snow fence and harvesting the extra water, getting snow off the ground so it can dry up sooner would be more of a priority here. Often fields are still soaking wet from the spring melt/flood in the beginning of May. I am afraid the purchasing of a cistern might be necessary to remain off the main water supply all year round.

Peter, I really like the approach you suggest. The prospect of having to put a cistern down that low did not excite me at all, though getting water from an above ground cistern to a house would still require buried pipe, unless someone has a better idea. Do you think combining a cistern with a greenhouse would be more beneficial than just building a separate structure for a cistern? Then there should be good insulation and solar gain and the cistern could act as a thermal mass to help keep the temperature in the greenhouse warmer during the nights., while also providing a water supply to water plants in the green house at the same time. I also really appreciate the questions you ask in the last paragraph of your post. These are good questions to ask.

Dale, if a greenhouse could be created that had that much excess heat here in the middle of winter, I do see some potential for some casual snow melting (better use excess heat than vent it), though I don't think I would want to put snow directly on top of the plants I'm trying to grow. Instead, perhaps there could be a different thermal mass that can hold the snow and melt it. If excess heat was needed, potentially a rocket stove could do a little bit here and there. That said, I would definitely not want to rely on melting snow. Shovelling walkways is already enough work, never mind shovelling it into a greenhouse multiple times a day. I think I would rather rely on storing water for the winter, possibly filling the cistern during the spring melt when nature melts the snow for us.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello Shawn,

Welcome to Permies...

I will assume you are looking for domestic use on a homestead, as when guiding in areas like this the snow pack is the water source and/or springs which Natives have used year round for millenia.

Now, for domestic use most often it is going to be a well or spring that is dug and protected during the "thaw."

Some also rely on lakes and ponds for their water and use a filtration/purification system, and again, as understood in the "really cold climes" these systems all have to be "freeze proof."

Each case is going to be very different depending on the biome resources the project may actually be in.

Good luck, and let us know what is figured out,

J
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1359
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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I would just pretend that I live in a monsoon/seasonal area where I have 6 month of drought(winter) and 6 months of rain. I would then base my catchment and storage area based off those 6 months of drought. effectively doubling my roof area compared to say if I lived in zone 10 Florida and doubling my yearly storage.


You are going to have to dig a hole 10ft deep and put a 3ft (height) tank.

You can also build a 10ft by 10ft by 10ft cube tank fill it with water and build your house around it.
It will be a huge thermal mass to keep the temp in your house stable. Once you get that water heated up to 21C/70F in the summer. Keeping it warm in the winter will not be a waste of energy, because all the heat that it losses will just go right into the house keeping everyone warm.

 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Putting the cistern inside the house has many advantages. As long as you control overflow...

But there isn't a great solution, you just have to pick the downsides you are most comfortable with and live with them.
 
Dale Hodgins
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Diana Marmont
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Location: NE Washington State
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I'm in a similar situation, although my climate is not as severe as OPs. Zone 5b. Most of the precipitation we'll get is in the winter and I'd like to come up with a way to catch/store as much as possible to use during the summer months for crop production/livestock. We have a well that will provide us with sufficient water for in-home use, but during the peak growing season we're not sure how we'll get by.

I've thought about a 'pond' that snow can be shoveled to and snow melt can be routed to, but something that requires less regular effort on my part would be greatly appreciated. I'd like to not have to rely on the well for irrigation needs at all, given WA state 'legalities' regarding water rights.

 
Shawn Koop
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Location: Manitoba, Canada
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Dale Hodgins wrote:Is there a quality issue with well water ? I don't know of anywhere in Manitoba that is so dry that you would not find water in the ground.


I'm no expert on groundwater but I'd wager you're probably right. My (as of yet unresearched) concern would be that the herbicides, pesticides, etc. might have made it down there too, but I guess it could just as well end up in any surface storage. I'm also not very familiar with how well pump systems work, but would running a pump every time a tap is turned on not cost a fair amount of energy? Or is there some sort of buffer tank that gets used?
 
Peter Ellis
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It would probably make sense to have a holding tank that was located in a heated zone where it would not freeze.
The tank could be pressurized by the pump drawing water from the well, or it could be positioned for gravity feed, or a combination of the two.
Size of the holding tank - and the pump - would depend on your water needs.
Fairly easy to have an auto system that refills the tank when it goes below a certain point.
 
Robert Jordan
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Location: Dublin, Ireland
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Years ago when we made wine, we kept it at temperature using an element like a small strip light. Wouldn't such a thing run if a ov array, even in winter. Free electricity putting a small amount of heat into your cistern all day.
I'd also put the cistern in/under a barn or some such structure such as one finds on farms. RJ
 
Robert Jordan
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Oops. Run off a pv array. Sorry. R
 
Joe Ruben
Posts: 27
Location: Southern Colorado 6200 ft elevation, 20" annual precip, zone 6a/5b
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Interesting question!

It occurs to me that you wouldn't have to have a cistern that was entirely below mid-winter frost depth.  Using the ideas of PAHS (passive annual heat storage) you could dig down to around frost depth for the bottom of a large cistern (which might likely have to be concrete in order to keep from caving in when low on water).  Technically, the bottom would not even have to be as deep as frost depth.

You could then make a cone shaped pile of dirt all around the cistern.  DO NOT insulate the cistern itself, but instead insulate all around the cone pile of dirt down to the full depth of the hole and up to the top of the cistern and over it.  Some PAHS homes have insulation out as much as forty feet from the edge of the buried structure!  Obviously this would require waterproof insulation.  Backfill the entire hole (assuming that you've made provisions for pipes in/out for the water you'll want to move).

This technique allows the heat of the ground to keep the tank from freezing by effectively creating a "bubble" of earth that is not subject to frost below the insulation.  The cone shaped pile of dirt will give much extra mass to the slightly warmer area around the tank and thus be further frost protection.  Frost does not drive laterally under the insulation due to the fact that ground warmth is always, however slightly, conducting upward.

This technique is now pretty well researched and if you read up on PAHS I'm sure you'll understand why.

The new international building code (at least as adopted where I live in Colorado) even includes a form of this as a buried skirt of insulation around a foundation which precludes the need for footings to be below whatever frost depth is considered to be in any locale.

Keep in mind that below frost the ground is always "warm"....  at least in comparison to the frozen ground above.

I know this would require a lot of dirt moving, but the tank would not freeze and it would not need to be heated.

An easy experiment to see how effective this is:  place one sheet of insulation on the ground with enough dirt around it's edges to keep cold air from having a direct route underneath.  Wait until the ground is frozen hard everywhere else in the late fall and then pull up the sheet of insulation and see what the ground is like under the center of that one sheet. 

Wishing you the best with your project!

 
Jerry McIntire
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Store the water inside your house and get two benefits (at least): freeze protection and heat storage. Place the water storage where winter sunlight will strike the tanks-- somewhere near the south-facing windows. This was popular in the 70's and 80's because water is the best thermal mass commonly available. It holds much more heat than concrete or wet sand. This is simple passive solar design. The difference is you need a way to keep the drinking water clean, and a way to pump it out for use. I can see two systems, a small one for drinking/cooking water and a larger one for bathing, laundry, and (optional) flushing (composting toilets would save you a tremendous amount of water). The latter would be less costly since the water would not have to be as pure.
 
Corey Schmidt
Posts: 155
Location: Kachemak Bay, Alaska (usda zone 6, ahs heat zone 1, lat 59 N, coastal, koppen Dfc)
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for Diana, it seems you will need ponds and swales linked together.  Let gravity do the work!

also to OP i saw on wikipedia that Manitoba is ranked by environment canada as being the sunniest province in winter and spring.  reliable winter sun means passive solar design is very feasible.  it seems water storage is the key for you,  either in a tank or in the ground accessed by a well.  to live without pumps will take careful design in any case, particularly in considering how to filter the water going into storage.  Also consider the moisture that will be added to the air by heated water storage that is not sealed.  Condensation of water in the air in hidden cold spots has led to many wooden building component failures; this is avoidable but must be designed for.
 
Alan Loy
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Jerry McIntire wrote:Store the water inside your house and get two benefits (at least): freeze protection and heat storage. Place the water storage where winter sunlight will strike the tanks-- somewhere near the south-facing windows. This was popular in the 70's and 80's because water is the best thermal mass commonly available. It holds much more heat than concrete or wet sand. This is simple passive solar design. The difference is you need a way to keep the drinking water clean, and a way to pump it out for use. I can see two systems, a small one for drinking/cooking water and a larger one for bathing, laundry, and (optional) flushing (composting toilets would save you a tremendous amount of water). The latter would be less costly since the water would not have to be as pure.


If you think of the water as (moveable) mass then having it inside could be quite an advantage.  You could use a thermosyphon from your stove to capture (waste) heat if the solar approach is insufficient. 

I think slimline tanks could work well inside, perhaps as a wall replacement.  http://www.premierplastics.com/products/waterchemical-tanks/slimline-tanks/
 
Tyler Ludens
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Corey Schmidt wrote: particularly in considering how to filter the water going into storage.


Personally I would not worry much about filtering before storage except to keep out leaves and other large debris.  Water in a tank will form a biological film on the inside of the tank.  This is generally considered harmless, but water for drinking without cooking needs to be filtered (or boiled) to prevent pathogens such as giardia and parasite cysts from bird droppings.

 
Josephine Howland
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We live in the White Mountains of NH, so we have about 7 months of winter here, so I am somewhat in the same boat as you.  We do have a dug well, but then we put a driven well point though the well down deeper.  Because our water level is so close to the surface, our pipe is still in ground that freezes. So we have heat tape around some of the pipe, and then that goes to a heated pump house.  I found the plans for the pump house online, I believe it is from the University of Wisconsin. I gave to plans to my father-in-law as a challenge and he did a marvelous job.  He a tinkerer so he loves a challenge.  We're in a mobile home so it was easy to run the water into the pump house then under and into the house.  The pump house is heated with a light bulb.  It will have to do for now, but a artesian well would be better, cleaner water.
 
vern lefever
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How much snow do you get? If you can get into ice producing maybe you can prove up a heating system that i have had in the back of my mind for years. The logging trucks used to come down the Sierras to the mill near me and in those days brakes needed all the help they could get, before jake brakes on the diesels they had a water tank behind the cab with "paddel wheels" inside chain driven off of the drive shaft.
When they arrived at my level there was only a steamy mist left of the tank of water. In a freezing situation with wind I think oil could be heated and pumped through a circulation loop that could provide controlled melting in cold times  for household use and  which might allow snow melt enough to make ice if you need it to go into summer. All depending on amount of snow available.
Sounds like you don't have much water winter or summer if so and there is a high spot out in the wind area you could set up an ice barn/shed with wind mills of appropriate type attached and use the heated oil [homegrown?] to melt the snow enough to make ice for storing and melt for house hold while saving enough ice for summer in the highly insulated ice barn all gravity feed.
Feel free to question parts of this as I am known to be oblique without seeing it.
 
Brian Karlsen
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Have you read about buble insulated greenhouses it uses a double wall of greenhouse plastick about 2ft apart with a soap buble generator in the top. When the sun is shining you let the bubles clear and the sun heets the greenhouse and when its not it fills with bubles giving excellent insulation ive heard of ppl growing tomatoes in then with no suplimental heat while there is 2ft of snow outside if you built one of these onto the south side of youre house your cistern should be prevented from freezing it would also warm the house a bit
 
Corey Schmidt
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Tyler Ludens wrote:
Corey Schmidt wrote: particularly in considering how to filter the water going into storage.


Personally I would not worry much about filtering before storage except to keep out leaves and other large debris.  Water in a tank will form a biological film on the inside of the tank.  This is generally considered harmless, but water for drinking without cooking needs to be filtered (or boiled) to prevent pathogens such as giardia and parasite cysts from bird droppings.



I have several different outdoor catchment tanks and from some of them i pump the water thru a filter to an indoor holding tank.   the tanks i use for indoor water are fed by roofs without trees overhead, but do get a lot of blown on debris (mostly birch) and bird visits.   I only have screens going in to those tanks and the water is almost always of good visible quality even before filtration.  There is a layer of black stuff on the bottom, but i pump from the middle.  The garden tanks are a different story at times.  One is fed by a roof with lots of alders hanging over it.  when the autumn rains began this year the summer's very small and soluble alder debris went into the tank and a kind of fermented brew formed that went rancid and was fizzy.  I think it was probably great for the garden but i wouldnt want it inside my house at all.... that tank has a screen that keeps out big pieces.  I had a similar thing happen when a bunch of spruce needles ended up in a tank (also screened, but the needles can go thru the screen with the right orientation) after an aphid infestation- rancid spruce beer.  The lesson at least for this locality is to keep trees away from collection roofs for home use, at a minimum don't let them be hanging over the roof.   That said, even in the rancid alder beer tank, the water will be lovely and clear in the winter, after lots of throughflow. : )
 
Tyler Ludens
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That's really interesting about the fermenting alder gunk - was the tank opaque?  That seems to make a big difference - if sunlight can get in, things can get weird.  We only have those big black tanks, and the water is always beautifully clear and fresh-seeming though I wouldn't drink it without boiling or special filtration.

 
Corey Schmidt
Posts: 155
Location: Kachemak Bay, Alaska (usda zone 6, ahs heat zone 1, lat 59 N, coastal, koppen Dfc)
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Tyler Ludens wrote:That's really interesting about the fermenting alder gunk - was the tank opaque?  That seems to make a big difference - if sunlight can get in, things can get weird.  We only have those big black tanks, and the water is always beautifully clear and fresh-seeming though I wouldn't drink it without boiling or special filtration.


the tank is a homemade one, opaque on the sides with a translucent top...
 
Cl Robinson
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Location: SW Alabama zone 8a & 8b
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Why not use compost to keep the tank and water from freezing?  If you sheltered it from the wind or built a small shed for housing the water it might work.  I did like the greenhouse idea and compost has been used to keep greenhouses and aquaponics systems from requiring heat in the winter.  Compost is free.  Free is good.
 
steffen bertelsen
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I live in Saskatchewan (next door to Manitoba) in an off-grid house with a cistern in the crawlspace which is kept above freezing from an annualized geo-solar system which takes hot air from the attic space and stores the heat under my house. I have a black metal roof and there is rarely snow that stays on the roof for more than a week. Although it will still be below freezing outside, the black metal gets warm enough to melt the snow. Having some heatline like this http://www.heatline.com/kompensator.php in the gutters and downspouts will allow the melted snow to be collected inside the house for storage. This can be run from an off-grid PV and battery system which will only turn on when the sun is shining and melting snow anyway. You would have to do some calculations of the precipitation vs water usage to determine the roof area needed to collect enough water. I would guess it would be a lot of roof area/person and a storage tank to get through the winter. Best option would be to diversify your water sources (well, rain/snow, water truck delivery) and use rain/snow as mush as possible to save costs and pumping power.
 
Robert Bodell
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Location: Kasilof Alaska
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Miles Flansburg wrote:Howdy Shawn, welcome to permies!

What about using solar? If you put an old window over a patch of snow will it melt?


I have two 10 quart bucket. Every time I go out I pack in snow real tight and set the bucket by the wood stove. If you pack it tight you get 50% water. Then I pour it through a gravity feed bio filter and into the water tank with a tad Clorox to keep the inside of the tank from molding. no energy
 
Mike Jay
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Shawn Koop wrote:
Dale Hodgins wrote:Is there a quality issue with well water ? I don't know of anywhere in Manitoba that is so dry that you would not find water in the ground.


I'm no expert on groundwater but I'd wager you're probably right. My (as of yet unresearched) concern would be that the herbicides, pesticides, etc. might have made it down there too, but I guess it could just as well end up in any surface storage. I'm also not very familiar with how well pump systems work, but would running a pump every time a tap is turned on not cost a fair amount of energy? Or is there some sort of buffer tank that gets used?


I'd second Shawn's suggestion to just use a well.  A sand point (driven) well is fairly easy to do if you have a high enough water table.  I was concerned with the energy usage of my well pump so I did some math.  At 18 cents per KWH, my well costs me 0.08 cents to pump a gallon of water.  Or in other words, it costs me a dollar to pump 1272 gallons of water.  As long as it's for domestic use (not irrigation), I'm thinking that is very reasonable.  I had grandiose plans to build a hand pump system to save energy but once I did the math it rearranged my priorities to other areas that were more worthwhile.

To answer your question about how wells work, there is a strong pump that kicks on to pump water out of the well.  If it's a drilled well (deep) the pump is usually at the bottom of the hole so it can push the water up.  If it's a driven well (shallow <25') the pump is above ground and pulls the water up.  In both cases, the water is pumped into a pressure tank that has a balloon in it.  As the water enters, the balloon compresses to give you the "water pressure" you need.  A common tank size is 5 gallons.  So the pump has to kick on after every 5 gallons of usage which makes it more efficient.  If the pump would kick on every time you open a tap the motor will burn out quite prematurely.

I may be installing a second driven well for a canning kitchen next summer.  I am budgeting $300 for the project (diy).  Hope that helps
 
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