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Do wells survive earthquakes? If they don't, how do I ensure water for my family?  RSS feed

 
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We live in the Pacific Northwest, where the big 9.0 Cascadia fault earthquake is due to hit sometime between the next second and 200 years from now. We have a well. What I'd like to know is if the chances are good of the well--not the pump or pressure tank--surviving the earthquake. If so, getting one of flojak's "earthstraw" pumps might be a reasonable purchase (http://flojak.com/earthstraw-code-red-pumps/).

If the well itself is broken, I'm rather at a loss for what to do to prepare for a giant earthquake. We live rather rurally. There is a big, very tannic wetland/pond nearby, as well as our own pond that got very low during this summer, and a tiny stream that begins at the top of our hill and flows during our rainy months. But, cleaning and purifying that will be rather difficult, as my husband works at a hospital a good 5+hour walk away (30 minute drive) and will be stuck working at the hospital for days/weeks after an earthquake. So, it'll be me, with my two kids (who are currently 10 months and 3 years old). Hauling and purifying water from a really tannic pond about a block away does not seem like the best of circumstances, especially since I'm sure I'll be busy trying to wash diapers for an infant, deal with poop, and make shelter/live in our car if our manufactured home is in shambles. We have 60 gallons of water in our wells pressure tank, another 20 gallons in our hot water heater, and lots of 5 gallon jugs of water in our garage...but those might all get crushed and the water leak out by the house falling on them.

Anyway National Preparedness Month and the conditions in Puerto Rico have really got me thinking right now and I'd love some advice. Thanks!
 
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How deep is the well and does it have a casing some or all of the way?  I don't know how that will affect the answers you'll get but it could help direct the conversation.
 
gardener
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Earthquakes can most definitely affect wells, but the answer to your question is unfortunately "it depends". Earthquakes can collapse wells, bend pipes, and wreak havoc on everything in between the pump to the pressure tank. But earthquakes can also alter the aquifer. They can crack a hole through a previously impermeable layer, sending your water unknown depths further underground — and out of reach of your pump. They can also crack and shift other layers, raising the height of your aquifer or creating new springs. They can also cause tremendous uplift, pulling your pump up and out of the water. And they can release toxins into your aquifer, making your current water undrinkable.

And of course — they can have no effect at all. Which is the usual case.

I think the most important keys to water safety in case of an earthquake are water filtration and immediate water storage. Water filtration can be met by a backpacking water filter (also useful for backpacking!) or purification tablets. For storage, I like to keep 14 gallons of fresh water per person in plastic containers in the garage. If you can carry and filter water, you are in a great position. Since you're in the Pacific Northwest, rainwater is abundant. I'd probably lean toward investing in a rain catchment system instead of something like that earth straw.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Our well is drilled down to about 82 feet, and the static water level is about 21.5 feet. It has a welded casing that is 6 inches in diameter. I really know very little, and understand much less, about wells. Our house came with the well, which was drilled 20 years ago.
 
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In most circumstances, a diversity of solutions seem to work best. Top tier drinking water storage, potable water jugs in garage or wherever. Then, rainwater catchment, ponds and streams can be utilized, any water used in thermal mass containers could be a fall back.

As far as diapers, as much as possible, I let my little ones run around naked. It cut down on the diapers, and helped in potty training.
 
Nicole Alderman
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We actually do have a 55 gallon barrel attached to our metal roof, and during power outages have boiled that water for cleaning and flushing the toilet (we've had 3 day power outages, but have not had our pressure tank cease to supply our house with water--we only used tap water for drinking, however). I worry about our house full on collapsing in such a large earthquake, which I'm assuming would make rain water collection hard. Our house is a 20 year old manufactured home that is tied down. Not the least, nor the most, earthquake resistant structure out there, and a 9.0+ earthquake would likely destroy it. Those are strong earthquakes!

Thankfully, my three year old is potty trained, except for at night. During the summer, having my little one without a diaper most of the time wouldn't be a problem. But, winter weather and potentially having to sleep in the car due to the house being destroyed, would lend itself to diapers being kind of necessary. We do cloth diaper, and I'm kind of tempted to invest in a month's worth of disposable inserts for the diaper covers, just in case. We currently only have a three day supply of those...

Surviving an earthquake didn't seem like such a daunting prospect when I thought my husband would be with me. But, since he works at the hospital, chances are, I'll be by myself for at least three days, if not a week or more. Gah!

We also have various straw-type filters. But, I need to get another one of the Sawyer Minis for the house, as I think the one we have is in my husband's get-home bag, and trying to get young children to drink enough out of the straw type would be hard. The Sawyer one allows you to filter into a container, which is a lot more convenient!
 
Kyle Neath
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One of the more unintuitive aspects of earthquakes is that structures that seem the least structurally sound are often the safest. This is because earthquakes don't create force like a tidal wave, hurricane, or snow load — they create displacement, which has a resulting force due to the mass and distance from displacement (ground). As a result, structures like RVs, trailers, and manufactured homes are often the most resilient since they were designed to be put on a truck and moved (displaced!) from one location to the other. Manufactured homes in particular are often made of lighter materials (aluminum) and almost always single story. Now, compare that to a large concrete building that stands hundreds of feet in the air deeply tied to the ground… mass + distance = massive force resulting from displacement.

All that's to say — don't stress so hard! Earthquakes happen, and you're well on your way to being extremely well prepared. Even if the house does collapse, it's likely you could jury-rig some kind of water cachement system with the roof pieces.
 
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I saw an article on a water containment system that basically was a pit lined with a waterproof membrane surrounding an interior structure made up of interlocking hollow cubes similar to plastic milk crates. The whole thing was covered with a flagstone patio. Water was diverted into the underground “tank” from nearby roofs and via a drain that allowed ground water to enter while filtering debris. Seemed at the time a nice emergency water source.

Here is a vid of an enormous system that is basically the same concept scaled up.
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Stacy Witscher
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Having water catchment on multiple structures can help, like water for animals over their buildings. Water catchment on sheds, etc. It's less likely that everything will be destroyed.

Lots of people think of earthquake damage as even. Having lived in the bay area at the time of the Loma Prieta quake, I can assure you it isn't. The marina section of SF had lots of damage, most of it was built on land fill. The Cypress structure collapsed. But I was in Palo Alto and the only damage was chimney cracks. Most of the issues do seem to come from infrastructure, being less dependent on public infrastructure is going to be helpful.

Having dairy animals that you can give less than perfect water to and then milk, make cheese and drink and cook with whey is another option.

Also, the Independent Farmstead book has info on collecting water from seeps, it would be good to know where these seeps are prior to an emergency.

Again, I don't think any of these things are the solution, just a piece of the puzzle.
 
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