The Soapbox

This page written circa 25 March, 1999.

Drilling for the Motherlode

As Noel Coward sang, "In America some of the men do it, others drill a hole and then do it"... he was referring to falling in love or such, of course. I refer to watering the garden.

Water here is not unduly expensive. This is not surprising, as Santa Rosa is annually drenched, and occasionally faces flooding in low-lying fields. One knows the cost of water because the water bill that one receives is itemised. The hands-down most expensive part in this bill is the sewage charge. I forget the details, but it is many times more costly, per gallon, to take the water away again and clean it, than it was to buy it in the first place. The snag is that they assume you put as much water down the drain as you draw from the taps, because there is a meter on the water arriving, but not one on it leaving, so that has to be the measure.

Even a puny intellect quickly spots that this arrangement makes watering the garden into an utterly outrageous expense!

Just outside SR there are a lot of farms... this was once a strong farming area, hence the orchard-like land hereabouts. Farmers use wells, bore water in Australian dialect, and the hardware stores have all the equipment on sale. A well pump, reservoir, etc., is likely to cost US$500 to US$1000, and it is thus possible to work out pretty easily how economical it will be to use well water. We have not yet had the Summer, but there is liklely to be 6 months with little rain, and we have this huge garden. A back-of-envelope calculation suggests that 2-4 years will pay for the well equipment excluding the hole.

In fact the hole is the expensive bit... I have not priced it, but it is generally accepted that this is the expensive part, in the order of $100 per foot. In addition, one cannot simply go out and hire well diggers (man or machine) in case you are tempted to do so illicitly, as switching to well water is verboten without permission from various authorities, the council and the EPA, etc., if one is inside the city limits... very Californian, regulate everything.

If I can dig the well myself, I have an easy saving of a lot of $. We live maybe 60 feet from a creek... surely the water table will be high. At Marion's place, they have a well (they are just outside the city limit, which is a circle of about 10 miles diameter), it is 60 feet deep, and they are on a hill. I cannot estimate how deep the water table will be, because there are no wells nearby, and because I do not know how the table falls off as one moves away from surface water such as the creek. But, guessing, the creek bed is 10-20 feet lower than the garden, and about 60 feet distant, so maybe 30 feet? It will not be 60 feet down, because M&K are higher up and have no creek within 100 feet. I have working in my favour the fact that I do not need the well depth to be much more than the table. Most wells are dug deeper than the water table by a significant margin, as the well hole fills relatively slowly, acts as a small reservoir, and supply must not be interrupted even in the dryest moments, if it is your sole source of water.

This looks like a good bet to me... besides, I've never dug a really deep hole before, and the thought of defeating the system is irresistable. With this in mind, I eschewed the purchase of a post-hole digger along with the posts for the fence we are erecting around the orchard. Instead I purchased suitable metalwork, and Tony and I fashioned our own post-hole digger, suitably extendable for very extreme posts, as it were.

Stay tuned. Engineers love projects, and this is a real adventure. Am I alone in finding the thought of digging a well by hand, with a home-made tool, fascinating? I enjoyed repairing the Benz; I like tilling the garden with the crazy new tilling machine; shopping for and installing the garage door openers was great; fixing the valve intercom was historical and satisfying; even the remodelling and replumbing of the main bathroom is interesting if a bit tiresome (I have done a bathroom before). It is only with the greatest strength of will that I restrain myself from building the dolls-house-come-bookcase I plan for Meri's room. Maybe that will be held off until she can appreciate it.

I cannot wait for Meri to grow up enough for me to share all this with her. (I am sure, Meron, that you will have no trouble visualising me standing over her, waving my arms in the air, exhorting her to grow faster.) I constantly wish Amelia was here, not so much to help, which would be a great way for us to get closer, but so that she would see that all these things are there to be done. I hope she will come here (and stay for a decent spell), not just to meet Meri, but to have the chance to do some of this sort of stuff with me. I believe the soul benefits from projects.

PS: After writing the above, Jim G tells me that he lived on the other side of Doyle Park, and required only a 15' well to amply supply two households. He was about 11' lower, but twice as far from the creek, and the watertable falls as one approaches a creek (obvious with hindsight). He also relates digging a 50' well manually. The method is elegant and ingenious: place a 3' diameter cylinder, made of concrete and with 2" walls, on the ground, stand inside it, and dig. Eventually it falls into the hole. Add another ring, continue. Stop when you cannot bail fast enough to dig. The hard part, says Jim, is finding enough friends to lift out the dirt you dig. I'd volunteer, Jim.

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