Water Works / by Jay Lewis

“The water is in the creek – and it doesn’t want to come out.”  My friend Jim was sitting exhausted on the steep side of a dry grass bank slanting down to the creek.  He was a student of Zen and the water had spoken.  That he was dehydrated and hyperthermic after spending the past two hours climbing up and down the blazing hot mountainside in the dry British Columbia interior, may have had something to do with the voice in his head.  He simply wanted to have cool creek water come down the 25mm polyethylene hose and into our cabin where he was staying.  Using all the tricks we had developed over the years to start a siphon, he could not make the water flow.  Then he happened to see a small dead sapling that has fallen across the hose.  The pipe goes over and under many deadfalls on the way from the creek to the house. When he lifted the small tree, a broken branch, the size of his thumb had pierced the center of the hose and blocked the flow.  A few minutes later, with a hose patch, the cool, fresh water flowed to the shower where Jim was recuperating.

 We take water for granted in the northern climes.  It is generally plentiful and reasonable clean.  We have a history with our creek that flows down the mountainside and plunges over the waterfall across the glade from our log cabin.  The details of a water works is alien to most people.  We are used to turning a tap and water comes out.  It is not so easy in our part of the world.  There is no water utility.  We have a license to take 5,700 litres of water from our creek per day.  For the past thirty-five years, we have been determined to use as little of that allotment as possible.

At the end of our 25mm pipe is a screened intake consisting of a 150mm diameter piece of PVC pipe with many holes drilled in it.  The pipe climbs gradually out of the creek canyon and winds its way about 600m down the hillside to a 28,000 litre water storage cistern. To start the whole system running I use a small boat pump at the head to get the siphon working.  When the intake threatens to suck your hand into it, the system is functional  - no motors or pumps – just gravity.  There is still some Zen involved on days when there is low summer flow or spring torrents.

On the demand side, the faucets and the shower head at the house are all low flow with quick cut-offs.  We have a Clivus Multrum composting toilet so there is no flushing. A family of three can get along quite nicely on 20 litres of water per day domestically.  We largely do xeriscape (dry land) landscaping around the house using native grasses, flowers and trees.  We have a garden and fruit trees, which are watered at the base using traditional irrigation trenches served by distribution garden hoses.  Water sprayed into the air during blazing summer days does not come back down to where it is needed.

The only missing link at this point would be a small Pelton wheel generator at the garden base of the system to generate electricity from the kinetic energy in the water falling from the intake head 100m above.

This type of water works is replicated in various ways all over the world.  Without fresh water, we cannot live.  We have to be sure that our use of this resource is super efficient.  Every drop that we don’t use is free to run down through the lakes and rivers in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and into the Pacific.  We share with other people, animals and fish along that route.  We are nowhere as adept with water as the people of the Kalahari, but we are working on it.  Unless we are all more careful with our use of water, the day will arrive when it will refuse to come from the creek – ever again.