The Homestead Water Supply – Hand Dug Well

In the previous three posts, I’ve explained how I’ve set up our homestead water supply over the last 37 years garnering water from a drilled well and from a clear, cold lake. In this final installment, I’ll tell you how we modified our wilderness water system so we’re able to draw water from a hand dug well.

Living as remote as we do, safety is always paramount, especially when there are two times of the year when flying in help is almost impossible. They are freeze up and spring thaw. At those times of the year, float planes are unavailable. They cannot land safely on the lake.

Digging Our Well

Although we thoroughly filtered our water from the lake before we ever drank it, we knew we would have more peace of mind if we could eliminate the possibility of any waterborne disease or bug. So we decided to dig a well. This meant we would have a safer water supply. As an additional advantage, since the well would be closer to the house, we could save considerable power because the heater cable would be shorter. For the well’s location, I selected a flat site 100 feet closer to the house which eliminated half the distance of our suction line.

Our Hand Dug Well

Our Hand Dug Well

The following is an excerpt from my book Off-Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness describing the ordeal of digging our well.

Before I could start the well, the first thing I needed to do was to dig up the original water line to expose the pipe. Since the plan was to cut our water line distance in half, I needed to shorten and pull some of the tubing up and out of the trench. Because I could easily see where we had originally dug the trench for the water line so many years ago, it didn’t take me long to dig up the last 100 feet, which went down to the lake. I now had our trench reopened and the insulated water line exposed.

Lying flat on my stomach, my plan was to reach down into the trench and pull up the pipe to ground level. I was aware I was lying on a small rock around the area of my chest but was focused on the task at hand and chose to ignore it.

After all, it was just a little, itsy bitsy rock. Maybe one inch in diameter. From a prone position, I tried to lift the pipe. Snap, crackle, and pop. Broke a rib just like that. I couldn’t believe a little rock did that to me. Of course it hurt, and I knew I had tweaked my rib, but I was in denial it had actually broken.

At this point, the house had no running water and wouldn’t have any running water until we dug the new well, installed the well-casing, and reattached the line. There wasn’t much choice but to grimace, bear it, and keep on working.

So in spite of a broken rib and the threat of a nearby fire, this is how we managed to dig our well. We had a plastic PVC culvert 30 inches in diameter and a little over 6 feet in length, which would be our well casing. That length needed to be buried in the ground, which required a hole in the sand at least 6 feet deep and 4-feet wide. I dug what I could until I hit water, about 3 feet down. Now the walls started caving in, so we stood the culvert on its end and set it in the hole. Then I got inside the 30-inch culvert and bucketed out sand and water for hours, broken rib and all.

Every time I bent down, my rib let me know it. I handed one bucket at a time to Johanna, who was stationed at the edge of the hole; she dumped it out then returned the empty bucket to me for another load. We kept this up until I couldn’t stand the pain from my ribs any longer; my hands were numb from the cold water, and I needed a break. We were a true bucket brigade.

After several rounds of the bucket detail, I eventually couldn’t dig down any further. At this point, I ran a rope around the top of the culvert and hung heavy sand bags around the perimeter. I fired up the gas-powered water pump we use for our sprinklers and attached a pressure nozzle. By running a high-pressure jet of water around the inside base of my pipe, I was able, with the aid of all the attached weight, to slowly sink the culvert into place. Now we have a safer water supply since we aren’t drawing from the lake, and we have the freezing problem essentially solved. We were without running water for 11 days, but it was worth it.”

3 Important Points

Three additional points to make.

1. We did not want to contaminate our well by pumping the high pressure jet of water from the lake since we would then be essentially filling our well with lake water. Although it’s a cold, clear lake, there are always bacteria and parasites lurking. So we drew from the well itself.

Our Insulated Water Well

Insulated Well Pipe and Casing

2. The well casing is heavily insulated on the outside with Styrofoam blue board. The well casing itself has a lid. On top of the lid I put a thick layer of blue board, covered this with plastic and then a layer of chipper mulch. Each fall, I also cut evergreen brush and pile on a thick blanket of this which acts as a trap for snow. The snow provides additional insulation. We’ve never had our well freeze thanks to these protective measures.

3. Don’t ignore itsy bitsy rocks when lying prone on the ground. They will break a rib under the right circumstances.

It’s great to have a source of water but if it’s not safe potable water, it’s a problem. In my next post, I’ll discuss our water filtration system.

Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna

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