Letter Re: Backup Generators, Well Pump Power, Cisterns and Sandpoint Wells

Hi James,
In reviewing the post by “Redclay” I think he brings a point that many people struggle with. Especially those of us who are just starting to prepare, but can easily get overwhelmed financially and mentally with all there is to do to be prepared. I have read SurvivalBlog since the beginning and don’t recall any truly affordable options for powering a 220 volt AC well pump. Below are some ideas that I have. See what you think.
A brief journey back through time would shed some valuable lessons for all of us. The western settlers on up through most of our grandparents generation. Water has always been there, it was simply a matter of what you had to do to gather it. A large collection system is right there right above your head, it is your roof. Most of the piping is already there, (called your gutters). In the past, every farm I have visited had one of those “notorious” cisterns to collect water in (from the gutters). It is probably a health department violation to have one in town, as underground storage tanks are regulated, but nothing has been said about an above ground containment. Isn’t it a pain that gutters are so low to the ground, (like when you mow around them)? How about a few hundred well spent dollars on a poly-tank that could hold many hundreds if not thousands of gallons of water. It is a above ground cistern that won’t throw your back out digging it. Slide that baby close to the house, cut off your downspout high enough that you can divert water into the top of this tank, (maybe even add a splice that makes you ready to go when the time comes, but keeps your gutter down low until then. Throw in the proper amount of bleach or purification tablets, run the drinkable through a filter such as a Katadyn or Berkey, boil the cooking water and you have just utilized what God has provided to you.
Collection is preparation. Large tanks make use of the infrequency of rain. Come time for winter, you better be thinking ahead, but insulation in adequate amounts may get you well into winter without having to melt snow for moisture.
Rain water may never be enough based on your climate to amount to much, so you may think you don’t need a large collection basin. But think about how often you would have to run your generator to keep up with your daily needs. Talk about in-efficiency. You not only waste fuel, but you may very well give away your preparedness to some passer-by(by the constant running of your generator). My opinion is that you would be better served pumping 1,000 gallons at a time rather than 5 or 10. In a TEOTWAWKI situation, you would need lookouts to monitor any un welcomed two legged varmint while making the extra noise, but several hours of the generator running once a month is less predictable than 1/2hr every day in my opinion.
Back to the topic of backup well power. Since it is more common to have a 220V pump and the amps needed for startup are fairly large, one may be better off to scrap the pump idea and improvise. My well is about 200 feet deep. The [static] water level in my well is around 60 feet. how about three 20 foot lengths of 1-1/4″ PVC glued together and secured (as to not fall down the well) with an adaptor that would fasten to a standard sump pump, or pit pump, (not to be confused with an ejector pump or trash pump). Un-bolt the cap to your well, snap your sump pump on top of your PVC, plug it in to your 1,000 watt portable generator and let it hum away all day while filling your storage tank. If your casing was large enough or your water level shallow enough, you may be able to sub-merge the pump and leave it in place.
The idea may not be of merit as one would likely have to shop around for a unique pump that can either pull or push a greater distance than normal, but,… I am sure they are available. If a 1-1/4″ PVC has simply too much volume to pull water that far, consider adapting down to 1/2″ as that is all the larger the copper lines in your home are (as a standard anyway) that run to your shower or sink. My unfounded thoughts are that you could greatly increase the depth of your draw if the volume, (i.e.- weight) was considerably less. Someone with a hydraulics background could help shed some light on this for us.
In the latter scenario, I would venture a guess of $200 for a pump, (long lasting cast iron, much cheaper are available): $30 for PVC, $10 fittings, and $10 for an extension cord.
Some pumps actually attach to a garden hose which would make a quick and easy improvised water transfer pump. It may be worth while to soak the pump in bleach until use, or for several hours before use to cut down on contamination. Either way, this is a consideration for times of need, not for times of convenience.
For others in high water table regions, a sand point well, (a mesh formed into a cone attached to pipe driven into the ground by a hand held post driver or sledgehammer and block), you may not need much of anything to get to water.
As I mentioned, these are ideas that I have not tried, but may be an inexpensive way to draw water on a limited budget. Sparking a new thought process in someone before an emergency may save their life. The blog has sure helped me! – The Wanderer

JWR Replies: I think that you find that the practicable lifting limit for most sump type pumps is less than 30 feet. A small jet type pump (such as those used in spas and hot tubs) will lift water much higher, but of course they draw more current than a typical sump pump. OBTW, don’t skimp on pipe. Use at least schedule 40 PVC pipe. Both the lighter gauge white PVC pipe and the thin wall black pipe that you see for sale at your local Home Depot is intended for less demanding applications like garden sprinkler systems. A cracked sprinkler pipe is a mere inconvenience, but a cracked pipe inside your house, or for any part of your drinking water supply could have serious consequences.