Be Ready For Infrastructure Collapse – Part 1, by J330

I feel a pressing need to share with you some things I have learned about the industry in which I am employed.

I am very blessed to have grown up on a working farm in a close-knit rural community in the south. I come from a long line of vegetable gardeners, lunchroom ladies and short-order cooks, and the main order of business has always been to get food on the table and all that this entails. I still live on the same 100-acre property that I grew up on. We grow chickens, pigs, cattle, hay and vegetables. We have abundant wildlife, wooded mountain acreage, a fruit orchard and wild blackberries. The property has three ponds, a natural spring, and a well.

My husband is a jack of all trades and always seems to know how to make anything useful and efficient with a little welding and mechanic work. We are financially stable enough to have food stocks, medicine and seeds stored away. I have like-minded able-bodied friends and family. I feel somewhat secure that I can feed my family as long as I still have control over my own land. If I don’t, then my family and I are already dead anyway. Bugging out has never been an option that I could live with. I know I am in a much better place and position than most. I never had a huge realization (like some of the writers that I enjoy reading on this blog) that I needed to be prepared, it was just always there, a normal way of life.

I work part-time at a small local utility. I mainly answer the office phone, file paperwork, and take payments. The utility provides water to less than 2,500 customers. It is an easy job with excellent benefits and I am very thankful to have it.

I am, however, often dismayed at the instability of the utility structures in the area that I live in. I am not knowledgeable enough about the electric and natural gas and propane industries enough to discuss much about them, but I will say that the entire industry of utilities is interwoven. The water utility that I work for is extremely reliant on electricity to pump water where we need it to go and to keep wastewater from going where we don’t want it to go. When the power goes out, we go scrambling to find a generator big enough to run the pump station. The office is dead in the water – no phones, no computers, no internet. That means that we can’t effectively communicate with our customers about the status of our system or their individual service connections – both of which are important in an emergency.

Water and Power

I realize that commonsense will tell you all this. But the point I want to emphasize to the general public is that you cannot depend on public utilities at all for being able to quickly operate at normal level during any type of disaster scenario. We often have tornadoes in this area. And because tornadoes are so hit and miss, the chances of everyone being out of power at the same time are pretty low. But we have had some close calls. In one example, the entire area was out of power for two weeks because the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) equipment one hundred miles away was damaged in a tornado and the parts to repair it had to be ordered from another part of the world. How would that turn out now, with Covid-19 having such an effect on international manufacturing and shipping?

Why don’t utilities have adequate generators on hand? And plenty of extra parts and materials stored on site? And extra trained laborers always available to work whenever disaster strikes? An alternate source of water, gas, or power supply in case their primary supplier can’t functionally supply their demand?

These are all good questions. And, as you probably already know, the answer is money. Most utilities are not there to make a profit, only to provide a service to the public. Some utilities are private, some are public corporations owned by members, and some are government entities governed by a city or county. But they almost never actually make a profit. Utilities rely on grants and loans and raising rates on the customers when it becomes necessary to upgrade the system, and sometimes just to make the balance sheet work. Larger utilities probably have better disaster plans in place, but I am only familiar with smaller systems in my area.

Some Concerns

I would like to list some of the concerns that I, as an insider, have about how small utilities run, that may or may not have ever crossed the mind of the average person. I realize that these issues may not be a problem everywhere. And please understand that trying to discuss any of these issues with the person who answers the phones at your local utility provider is impossible. They will say anything to reassure you and get off the phone, and would be putting their job in jeopardy to agree with anything that would cause a community panic. I am struggling to get my point across in this article and remain anonymous, and therefore stay employed.

  • Lack of readily-available parts and supplies – Besides financial issues, most utilities do not have the storage space to have enough of everything that they would need to rebuild a system and get it back up and running in a catastrophic disaster. We are audited every year and have to account for every foot of pipe. If the final inventory figures seem different from last year, it looks suspicious. So, most utilities order what they need when they need it and keep only often used parts on hand. There is a constant cycle of making quick pinpoint repairs to get the system back online and service restored to impatient customers. Meanwhile, the frustrated workers know that the infrastructure of the system is old and outdated and needs to be completely replaced, but have no authority to make the financial decision to do so. And the financial decision-makers don’t like complainers.
  • State and Federal oversight – This is mostly a matter of filling in the blanks of an environmental management program template, and ‘sign on this line’ that you will be the one responsible when something goes really bad. The government agencies seem to be organized more as protection for the environment than the consumer. There was a concerted effort to ramp up the documentation of emergency planning, locational security, and online security of utilities after 9/11, but that has dwindled in the years since. The certification testing for operators is also overseen by these state programs, and is very broad and vague. What they have to learn to pass the test has very little to do with a person’s actual day to day duties and responsibilities. I personally know people that passed the test by memorizing the review questions, but could not work unsupervised or be trusted to make any spot decisions. Likewise, I know people that can be trusted to solve problems and fix any situations that may arise, but just can’t manage to pass the test because it has nothing to do with what they have been trained to do. And the example of the first worker will be the one to get promoted, because they are certified by the state.
  • Chain of Command Issues – Most utilities have a general manager, a shop manager, sometimes an in-house engineer, an office manager, and crew bosses for different tasks. There is usually a board that is appointed by the county or the city with several members. And in small-town situations, as you would imagine, an appointment to the board (and employment at the utility) is based on how well known and well connected that you are. So you have a board full of successful local businessmen, who have little spare time and sometimes little knowledge of the utility, trying to balance the budget and keep things running.
  • Employment Issues  – Job requirements are often not education-based, because of the nature of the work. It can be very physically demanding, with long hours, and in harsh conditions. This pretty much creates a sort of good ol’ boy network. I admit that I am a fan of the red-blooded American good ol’ boy, but sometimes too many of them in one place is a problem. It can often translate into too many chiefs and not enough braves. This makes for chaos in a disaster when everyone being on the same page is imperative. I know several people who are in leadership positions in a utility that are in way over their heads and will panic in an emergency. Also, there is a strong possibility that in a true long-term disaster scenario, quite a few of these trained good ol’ boys may (understandably) duck out, and choose to secure the safety of their own homes, farms and families, leaving crews short-handed.

I could go on, but I am finding it hard to not be specific enough that I won’t run out of town on a rail. I just want people to have their eyes open about the many things that can interrupt the supply of power, gas, and water that most of us are unaccustomed to ever being without. And I guess the main thing I want to reiterate is – plan your preps around independence from any public utility.

I have been researching hydroponics and aquaponics but am afraid to take the plunge when I know the pumps need electricity. I would love to have an incubator, but again – electricity. Not to mention that I have freezers that I can keep running with generators in the short term, but would be useless in a long-term grid-down situation. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to keep my canned foods and dry goods viable very long in the weather we have without air conditioning. I’m preaching to myself, as well as the readers.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)




70 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this article; in this day and political situation you are a courageous person to speak up!

    I live in hillbilly land also, so I understand your statement: “I admit that I am a fan of the red-blooded American good ol’ boy, but sometimes too many of them in one place is a problem.”

    Looking forward to the rest of the article.

  2. I’ve also noticed that our utilities seem to be breaking down more often. Leaving in the pre-dawn morning, I see plenty of blinking yellow and blue lights flashing, indicating utility crews are scurrying about fixing them. It is like our road crews – patches in the street are not only more numerous but the repairs don’t last nearly half as long as they did before. The patch material may be less expensive but far less durable.

    Maybe that is the intent – to create future needed work to stay busy ?

  3. J330,

    Thank you for providing an honest insider’s assessment. Several years ago our local water authority was doing a major overhaul of the water system for a community of over 150,000. This authority is Mikey enough to have a second back up facility but it can NOT meet the daily demand of the community in the summer months. Before the authority started the project they filled all their reservoirs and tanks to the top. In the fall and winter months the back up facility could keep up ITV the demand. The project was supposed to be completed in April but in June it was still not done and each day the water being put back into the system was less than what being taken out. The authority said nothing. It was leaked by a concerned worker to county government. When asked why they didn’t alert anyone the answer was they didn’t want to cause panic. My point is what you are saying isn’t isolated. Look at Flint Michigan.

    Another community in the same county was without water for over 4 days and was under a boil water for another 3 days.

    One of the main reasons Rome collapsed is they could not keep their infrastructure repaired and working. As it crumbled so did they.

  4. J330,

    You are absolutely correct about our over-reliance on public utilities, something which concerns many here on SB. IMO, public utilities will be the weak link in the chain when a SHTF event occurs, for exactly the reasons you state.

    My approach is to split my proverbial eggs into several baskets. Electricity is one of those, and at my ranch we can generate electricity until the diesel runs out. We are in the process of adding solar power to small areas (like pumping water), ramping up to keeping freezers and fridges cold, etc. I would encourage you to check into it.

    Small solar systems are really not that difficult. Start small, with a kit. Build a small (say, 200 watt) system to recharge a quality 100ah battery to run the water pumps for your hydroponic garden. Once you gain experience and confidence, expand your system. If you can grow a sizeable garden and can your produce, you can build a solar power system. Yes, there are things to learn, but it really isn’t that difficult.

    Godspeed,

    FLT

  5. Most of the original infrastructure in our country was engineered to the best specifications possible at the time it was built.

    Bridges, tunnels, dams, roads, highways, pipelines, waterworks, etc.

    This was true up into the building of the interstate highway system starting in the 1950’s. The original highways lasted for decades because they were designed to take the weight of jumbo jets, not diesel trucks.

    Immigrant labor, willing to work for a smaller wage than Americans that had only been in the USA a decade longer, is the reason all of that original infrastructure was able to be completed at such low costs.

    No unions, no protective labor laws, these things kept costs low.

    With the advent of unions, laws, higher wages, the post-WWll economy, women in the work force; all these things led to MUCH higher costs to build, and repair our nation’s infrastructure.

    By the late 1970’s, virtually all of the original bridges, waterworks, electrical systems, steamworks, gasworks, roads, etc., were in desperate need of repair/replacement.

    Ordinary human graft, and corruption, coupled with thousands of new, and conflicting, environmental laws, meant that utilities were faced with unreasonable, sometimes ridiculous, costs to update, or replace ageing infrastructure.

    Like the author of this article has stated, the watchword of the day became, “Patch it!, Patch it!, Patch it!, Before you replace it!”

    In essence, the utilities of this country became just like a slumlord.

    I don’t think they deliberately set out to institute a policy of creating more work, just so they could stay busy. I believe things just evolved that way, and everyone has gotten comfortable with the status quo.

    1. “Immigrant labor, willing to work for a smaller wage than Americans that had only been in the USA a decade longer, is the reason all of that original infrastructure was able to be completed at such low costs. ”

      “Like the author of this article has stated, the watchword of the day became, “Patch it!, Patch it!, Patch it!, Before you replace it!””

      Curious, what do these two statements have in common?

  6. Good article maybe villages, towns, and city staff should read this article and spend time studying it as well.
    I live in small village about 2500 including dogs and cats. I was elected to serve on water board about 35 yrs ago. the board was planning on having back-up systems of power and water storage but mayor and council were of different politics and didnt want to spend money so they abolished the board after two of their political friends got elected and wanted to fire all the working staff to add their friends to the work force. Since I farm next to the village which has asked me to donate (free) land so they can build a sewage treatment plant. I informed them I want commercial land price for the acreage. They offered less than half of what farm ground was selling for per acre for several acres which was 6,000.00 for several acres and 500 ac was sold for 9,000.00 per ac approx, 2 miles away which floods every year. The village admin makes 31 to 76 K per yr plus 5 K for applying for grants and percentage of the total grant . The former police chief made 31 K with no grants applied for. But village admin son is now the new police chief and makes 41 K plus extra benefits (he has less training than older chief too ) and has applied for several grants do to mom.
    The water plant has had major issues in last several months filter gone bad and major leaks from a system that was built in the mid-fifties. The village has purchased a back-up generator that could run some or part of the pumps ( no filter fire protection only ) for approx 2-3 hrs. Last winter the village had water main break that last 48 hrs and people got scared and village admin didnt know what to do ( couldnt think outside the box ) and if one suggests anything your degraded or chastised in the village and C-19 made most people nuts in the area.
    I think outside the box most of the time and when things happened lots of people asked me what to do I suggested they get things in order and prepare for long term but was laughed at so I wished them good luck and asked them to leave me alone. With C-19 being around they have asked if I was ready for it and I replied I was prepared in case I got it or some close friends too. With winter approaching some are asking me and I told them the gate was open and the livestock has run off. Several have stopped me and said they should have listened and prepared instead of laughing at me. Remember that one is none 2 is better but I prefer 3 or more for being ready. BE SAFE and THINK ahead BUT most of all LET GOD dirrect YOU ….

  7. From the old BisonPrepper blog (paraphrased):
    * The key indicator TheMalignantOverlords / TheRulingElites are abandoning an area after they ‘locusted’ everything of value and are moving on — the infrastructure gets more patches instead of replacement.

  8. Very good article. And timely. I am retired now but worked for a large electrical power utility and large municipal water & sewer system in Colorado. Our water & sewer utility had massive generators and enough diesel fuel stores to power them for only a week. Another huge issue with potable water treatment plants is that if a regional or national power outage occurs, of course no fuel can be pumped which means they water treatment chemicals required for water treatment can’t be delivered. A plant can only store so much in treatment chemicals. So with no electrical power the water & wastewater treatment plants go down in one week or less. When I worked for a major electrical power generation plant, the Chief Engineer told me that the IT department caught Russian and Chinese hackers in the SCADA (computer control systems for the plant) systems of various plants. His opinion was they could have hacked into the SCADA and not been caught, but that they wanted is to know they could hack into the plants’ control systems. Cyberattacks on American electrical power generation plants is absolutely a real and imminent threat, in my humble opinion.

  9. Great Article and thank you for sharing. Last winter my husband and I decided to dive into hydroponics full force. That being said I wanted to share what I have learned. We grew lettuce on a rail system of PVC pipe and and small pump in a large container circulating nutrients and water across the roots and back again. Well they did great, however, the roots grew long and you could see them stopping up the rails system. The beto bucket system did clog up the hole used to grow tomatoes totally, cutting off the supply for food and eventually dying off. The beto bucket system used perlite and paint strainers liners, however again the roots totally choked off the vines. My personal opinion dirt is still KING. All of this was grown in a greenhouse we have. We live in the dessert mountains so the air is extremely dry and the sun extremely concentrated. I have since cleaned out the entire greenhouse and put the rectangle containers with potting soil in the greenhouse and sowed lettuce seeds, kale, spinach. I tried the broccoli seeds rinse method in a wide mouth canning jar. If the temperature gets too hot the water sours and the whole thing has to be thrown out. The least little bit of water can sour and boy talk about rank! Keep trying and keep experimenting to find out what works and what doesn’t. Happy trails,

  10. My wife and I have both worked for electric utilities for 30 years, I in power plants and she in office admin. We both have left that industry because of changes in laws. Used to be all utilities were tasked with providing reliable service for reasonable cost and because they operated as a monopoly in their operating area were heavily regulated. The Energy Act of 1993 deregulated the electric industry and other than co-ops (small, rural, usually don’t produce power just distribute it) and now it is entirely PROFIT oriented. Reliability of service is the minimum standard that regulations allow. Just in time is a prevalent as in retail. And the large transformers are built to order, no longer made in the US, and have 1-2 YEAR lead times. There are a few spares of medium and small transformers, but nobody keeps spares of the really big ones. The whole infrastructure is increasingly brittle, outdated, and poorly maintained (no profit in maintenance). The reliability of the grid is mostly due to heroic efforts of the guys working the plants and lines, but just how long can that last? I left the industry because I was starting to get burned out on a work week that usually was 60-72 hours long (stuff was always breaking due to deferred maintenance and poor design) and physically demanding and I was getting older and doubted my health would allow too many more years of that. Just saying in 5-10 years I think power outages outside of storms etc will become pretty common in many areas.

  11. Government, and especially local government, has always favored the politically connected and the bureaucratically savvy over the competent. Money has always been short for the important stuff and generous for the “important” people. Any reading of Ancient Greek plays or Roman speeches will confirm the above, yet societies have managed to survive and thrive. So, what’s the problem now?
    Well, three things. Firstly, globalisation has created such interconnectedness that problems created elsewhere can seriously affect the other side of the globe. Medical supplies and transformer manufacturing would be examples. Secondly, the drive for financial efficiency inevitably reduces contingency resourcing – rarely-expected events, no matter how serious, will not be provided for as the savings are instant profit. Together, these two points means a major crisis may be totally outside one’s control, and unable to be mitigated locally. The crisis situation is normally resolved by a small core of people who actually know what they are doing, respond well in a crisis, and can think outside the box. They are often ex-military, but can be anyone who routinely has to cope, like farmers, engineers, or ship’s officers. And now we come to the third problem, which is that all these competent people are either leaving mainstream work in disgust at the incompetence and corruption, and/or won’t get hired because anyone honest and competent is a liability to any company which knows it is corrupt or inefficient (and the vast majority are).
    In theory, any inefficient operation would eventually lose out to new start-up competitors. That’s why capitalism, with all its faults, works. However, real capitalism no longer exists. The Government now controls far more than it used to, and government allows no competition in those areas. Furthermore, regulation overload and political corruption makes it very easy to suppress start-up competitors and leads to inefficent cartels – telecomms is a great example here.
    And if I’m right, and all my personal experience and those of my friends and ex-colleagues tells me I am, then we keep bouncing from one crisis to the next, each of them making the next one both more likely and worse, until the whole lot collapses. Whilst the crises seem unpredictable, they aren’t. If you look for the most inefficient areas of world organisation, then you will be on the right track. For example, I have been checking the WHO pandemic diseases section daily for the last 2 years, because it was pretty clear to me that this was a major risk area for bad crisis handling. I thought Ebola would be the biggest risk, but it has turned out to be a SARS-like virus. Other top areas for crises are, I think, international finance and migrant-led city disintegration.
    I give it till 2025 maximum, and I’ve been saying that since 2000. I’m ready, hope you are.

  12. Thank you, J330! This is an excellent article, and we look forward to Part 2 tomorrow! The sharing of your insights is greatly appreciated. In fact, I was just mentioning the tremendous value in this kind of sharing just yesterday in my reply to another post on the SB.

    We share your concerns, and are working in the direction of “low tech everything”. We continue to rely on utilities, but we are very definitely headed in a different direction because we understand what you’re saying, and we agree whole heartedly.

    The project on which we’re currently working is the design and development of a solar convection heating system for our greenhouse which has other built-in low-tech features that help to protect it from winter freezes. We have not yet place a wood stove in the greenhouse, but that may be coming as well. What we know is that we must be able to plant early and maintain seedlings, and to transplant in-ground outside for the post-freeze spring and summer growing season. We also benefit greatly from everything we can produce in the greenhouse during the colder months.

    This is just one example of many ideas in the works, some still on the design board, others already applied. There is tremendous work yet to be accomplished.

    Your article reinforces our belief that our efforts must continue in earnest, and hope it also encourages others.

    For those who are wholly dependent on utilities, do not despair — but do get to the tasks of decoupling yourselves from those. Begin with supplies you can store in-home and technologies you can engage that will help build a bridge should utilities fail. Transition to more independent living arrangements as it’s possible to do so.

    For those who are already on the path to independence, or are settled into utility-free living — teach others. Your hands-on and real-world experience is invaluable.

    In the present, and while we have utilities (in our case electricity because we supply our own water, have a large propane tank and a smaller supplement tank, substantially use wood heat, and supply our own water), we are continuing to use those services while we developer ever lower tech options for every aspect of life we can cover. The utilities we have now provide the gift of time (and relative comfort) during which we can learn and practice skills, use tools to build things, etc.

    Essentially… We are using our higher tech present to help us prepare for a lower tech future.

    Remain steady. Be safe. Stay well, everyone!

  13. Yep. A TX town has been on a boil water advisory for a week now!

    Showers, restaurants, schools, etc….all affected. Residents limited to buying one case of water a day.

    Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in a Texas county after a deadly brain-eating amoeba was detected in a city’s water supply and tied to the death of 6-year-old boy this month.

  14. I think that while the grid, sewer and water supply infrastructure are fragile and prone to short or long-term failure, I don’t suggest, as do some when faced with this info, that the answer is your own off-grid PV system. I lived with an off-grid system for many years so I’m pretty well experienced with them. I don’t have any complaints about doing so. I don’t however, want to count on such a thing working or working for long-term should the grid go down. I think we are best served by making sure that we have the tools and knowledge needed to survive(and thrive) without external sources of power.

    1. Ani,
      I agree with you 100%. I lived off-grid with solar as well and the negative psychological effect it has on you while trying to maintain a level of normalcy with freezers and modern appliances is tremendous. Constantly watching the voltage meter, waiting for that alarm to go off that you know is coming after a few days of clouds… You effectively become a slave to the machine. I am certainly not saying that you should not have one as a backup, but to rely on it totally in an effort to cling to the luxuries of modern life is an invitation to madness.

      1. @DD

        All true. I sometimes thought that I’d have been far better off sticking with the original outhouse and using a hand pump for water than with the “modern” indoor plumbing and septic system I had installed. Spent so much time dealing with frozen pipes until I finally got the system well buried and insulated. But even still it was so vulnerable in our extreme winter cold. And then of course the water depended on the solar/wind system functioning properly.

        1. My single biggest question to the anti-solar crowd is how exactly are you going to get water out of the ground post-TEOTWAWKI?

          The laws of physics say you can only suck water out of the ground, via something like a pitcher pump, if it is 33 feet or less underground. I’ve only lived one place where it was that shallow, in the Land of 10,000 lakes, and every other place I’ve lived it’s been 100+ feet. It’s that way in probably 95% of the country. Even in my current location where we get 40+ inches of rain per year, some of my neighbors have wells 500 feet deep. Anything over 33 feet deep you to pump (push) the water out of the ground or use a well bucket, which you can’t use until you pull the old pump and pipes out first. And if your well is 100+ feet deep, a well bucket is going to take a long time to fill up a barrel. So how exactly are you going to get water after your fossil fuels are gone? You’d rather collect rain and then go through all the hassle of making it safe to drink instead of spending $500 on solar panels that will pump well water for 25 years? If your worried about hail, vandals, or marauders, then put them on wheels on the ground so you can roll them into the barn when you need to.

          Kind regards, and please answer DD, Ani, and Lily. I’m at a total loss to understand.

          1. St.Funogas,

            I’m not Anti-Solar. But the fact of the matter is, that they are good only while they last. The day that TEOTWAWKI occurs, chances are really good that you won’t be able to get new ones or their parts when the break. So if they were the only thing that brought up water from your well, and you don’t have another power source to bring up the water or another source of water nearby, you’re in trouble.

            We have a river and a hand well. Some folks are blessed to have streams and springs.

            Ready access to water is where choosing your Bugout property, wisely is an imperative.

            By the way, we are trying to have our ranch set up like Laura Ingals Wilder’s book, “Farmer boy”. We are not off-grid. They didn’t have any electricity. They used outhouses, had a well pump next to the house, stored their produce in their cellar, had an ice house, etc. I love those books.

            Blessings,

            Lily

          2. @ St Funogas

            There are many ways to obtain water without using power. Even for deep wells, one can use a hand pump such as the Bison or Simple Pump which can pump water without any fuel or power source down to a depth of between 200-350 feet static head. See link.

            https://www.resilientdesign.org/hand-pumps-an-option-for-back-up-water-pumping/

            As well, when choosing a property, it’s a good idea to have multiple water sources(creek, river, spring, pond etc). And yes, a catchment system for rainwater coming off the roof could work well too. Or multiple systems; use the well hand pump for potable water and the creek, pond, rainwater system for other water needs.

            I lived completely off-grid for nearly 2 decades so I do have a fair amount of experience with this. As much as I do think it’s a viable way to live, I also know that had we been dealing with a TEOTWAWKI situation, my system would have been dead in the water after 2 lightning strikes, a wind gen failure etc. So without the ability to repair and replace system components, they will only last so long, As well, I went through a number of battery change-outs during this period. I don’t think it’s viable to assume one will be able to store all of the batteries one will ever need, the parts and pieces for the system to keep it operable etc.

            I guess that my approach now is to enjoy the use of grid power while I have it but not get hopelessly dependent on it. So yes, I have a small freezer packed full of my fruit and veggies. I’m loving my new dehydrator. But I keep reminding myself that at any point I will need to cease relying on the grid and need to have the tools and skills to preserve food, heat the house, have lighting etc completely without grid(or generator)power. So that’s my personal take on it.

          3. The key to using solar for well-pumping, etc, is to design redundancy into the system. My own system uses two banks of 4 batteries, two smaller inverters, two banks of 3 solar panels, etc. This means I can accept up to half of each kind of component failing and still have a workable system. The system is sized so that the most essential components will run off half the system. The well pump feeds a pressurised plumbing system, as normal, but I have a couple of spare barrels and connections which will allow me to turn it into an unpressurised system if power becomes intermittent (say, by all batteries failing).
            So, the key is to design for redundancy. You will find that the material costs are almost the same (typically about 10% more) as a system with single, large components. The only problem is that most commercial installers aren’t set up to install this way, and the labor costs will be greater even if you can find one to do it, so you will need to find a ‘tame’ engineer or electrician to help you design it, if you are not one yourself. You may have to do your own installing, but this is a good idea as, years down the road from TEOTWAWKI, it will be you who is maintaining it. It would also help to find people who are used to dealing with ‘And what if that fails too?’ situations, such as ocean yacht sailors or antarctic research station personnel. They can ask you lots of annoying but helpful questions. I work on having 4 levels of redundancy for essential systems like water, i.e. a back-up to the back-up to the back-up to the main system. Usually these would be:
            Main system: full power, automatic
            Back-up 1: reduced power, maybe some manual controls
            Back-up 2: essential power only, intermittent, manual control
            Back-up 3: essential power only, wholly manual
            I have so far, worst case (anywhere from the top of an icecap to the middle of the Atlantic), ended up with some systems running on the back-up to the back-up to the main system, with one back-up left, as the worse case. This would tend to be an intermittent powered system with a wholly manual back-up remaining. It is always good for peace of mind to still have one back-up, however rudimentary, which I why I recommend 4 levels. My final water back-up is a rainwater system, using the barrels mentioned ealier but feed separately from the downpipes off the roof.
            A final point worth mentioning is standardisation. If you make all the components for all your projects the same, you can always swap them around as parts break. My veggie patch watering system uses the same kind of barrels as my house water back-up system, and they all fit through all the doors in between!

          4. I have no answer for you, but am not as accepting of having adequate sunshine in the northern latitudes. This is a great topic. Maybe we’ll get some answers. Good question that I’ve been pondering as well. I just am blessed to not live in the desert. I hate heat!

          5. @ Rick

            Yes, but your back-up systems have never been tested yet in a condition where the supply chain is broken and parts are no longer available has it?

            If one uses a hose and water barrels, one can easily stockpile stuff to mend them. The more complex the system, the more moving parts one needs to concern themselves with.

          6. @PJGT

            So if you’re referring to being concerned about having enough sunlight in the northern latitudes for a PV system, I can tell you that for most of the year it works reasonably well. Here in VT my PV system struggled some in November and February but mostly it was fine. I did have awesome southern exposure rated at about 95% with the panels on a roof designed for solar. My issues/concerns with using/relying on off-grid systems in case of a long-term grid-down situation aren’t about making enough power but relate more to the reliability and parts issues of these systems long-term if the supply-chain is broken.

      2. Hi DD, with all due respect, the whole point of moving off grid is to NOT “maintain a level of normalcy with freezers and modern appliances.”

        “Constantly watching the voltage meter, waiting for that alarm to go off that you know is coming after a few days of clouds… You effectively become a slave to the machine.” As opposed to a slave to the system and having to work 360 days a year to support it all?

        “…but to rely on it totally in an effort to cling to the luxuries of modern life is an invitation to madness.” I totally agree with that statement but anyone trying to cling to the luxuries of modern life is going to have a very rough transition to a TEOTWAWKI situation and the vast majority of them them are going to be in the door-nail stage within three months.

        I’d love to see a monthly column in SB where a survey question is asked and people could respond. The very first one I’d like to see is, “What does TEOTWAWKI mean to you?” I am apparently way out in left field, again, with what it means to me. The second one could be, “What exactly are you prepping for?” I’m curious as to what those both mean to people who are closer to home plate.

        1. A couple of thoughts to add to this conversation…

          First… It’s interesting to consider how life as a continuum… Life with access to all the tech available in the present. Life between tech-access and no-tech while we are trying to live with feet in both experiences. Life in a world without access to technology.

          One of the challenges we experience is that we must continue to live and work within the world as it exists presently while simultaneously preparing for a world which is radically different. We make good progress in both arenas, but admit that it’s quite the endeavor! In some ways, and since the onset of the pandemic, we’re making even more progress on the survival side of life. Even with all the years we’ve been preparing, there was still so much to do — and there is still a lot more on the preparedness list!

          …and next! The idea of a column: What does TEOTWAWKI mean to you? A GREAT IDEA INDEED!

          1. @ T of A

            Your comment does highlight the need for people to use their preps and not just their storage food. Know how to and practice obtaining water from other than grid-power supplied sources. Cook without electricity. Heat without electricity or fossil fuel. Light your house without grid power. And so on. Otherwise if TSHTF, you’ll(we’ll) be scrambling, trying to read the owner’s guide to all sorts of stuff we acquired but never used. I know I need to try to figure out the baofeng radios I got but have never braved trying to understand. (Tunnel Rabbit; I need you!!! 😉 )And I have some sort of thingie in my BOB to start fires that doesn’t require matches or a lighter but have never tried to use it. Better to figure it out now and not if I’m in dire straits and need to depend on it!

        2. We have 3 wells on our property, 2 are on electricity, they are over 350 deep, both also have a simple pump that is installed, (our static water level is about 60’), the simple pumps are down to > 150’, one of the simple pumps has been in ground for 20 years, and works fine. If we were to permanently loose electricity, we can put a gauge on the well and pump directly into our pressure tanks, that will bring water into the houses. We also have 3 well buckets for another back up, and materials to make more well buckets for our neighbors. The 3rd well is currently capped, but is new. Plus most people have ponds on their property.

          1. TXnurse… Smart thinking! We’ve got two wells with one fitted for a hand pump, multiple spring heads, a creek and a pond. Our location is very near a major river (no risk of flooding because of elevation). These are features worth considering for anyone scouting for retreat property.

            Currently we’re making decisions about rain collection. Our initial efforts are related to modest rain collection, but we’re also looking at larger scale catchment that could sustain our garden plants over a longer term drought.

            Lots to consider!

    2. I totally agree that we should be able to live without external sources of power which is why I choose not turn on the generator when we lose power. I transfer frozen foods to other freezers and cover them with sleeping bags and comforters to hold in the cold for longer time periods. In the winter we can put some items outside in coolers. At this point most of our meat has been canned, thus leaving room in the propane freezer to transfer frozen fruit and veggies into if we were to lose power for more than a week. We have a large supply of Kerosene/parafin/vegetable oil/battery lanterns, candles, flashlights, and batteries for light We have a wood stove, propane stove/oven and camping stoves, fire pit and grates for heating, cooking and heating water for washing, bathing, etc. We have multiple chain saws and hand saws, hatchets, mauls for cutting wood. And so on. We have water filters, and bleach to sterilize water and wood heat to boil it, and river that flows year round to supply the water. Solar panels can be damaged by wind, hail, rocks, bullets. Batteries die. Yep, in our book, old school is better.

      1. Reminds me that, when I lived in the Arctic Circle (with electric), most people had their freezers on their porches and just unplugged them for the winter. -50 to -72 below zero (F) is pretty good at keeping food frozen.

        Critical thinking at its best @AL

        1. Yep. If the power goes out here for an extended period of time it would be best(for me) if it did this in the winter so I can put my only freezer out on the porch. Temps in the mountains of Northern VT in the winter should be sufficiently cold! 😉 And the bears are still snoozing then!

  15. In reality, rural is about good enough. Rural does not want to conquer, own, expand, etc.(urban ideals) This mindset is what has to be owned by participants to be comfortable in this lifestyle.

    When one wakes up to the heavy reliance on public utilities, good enough gets questioned.

    I pursued this based on my own set of criteria/location and have reduced significantly my reliance.

    Looking forward to how you found a sense of closure.

    1. SCGal!
      From your post: “This mindset is what has to be owned by participants to be comfortable in this lifestyle. ”

      Great message… True! True! True! Perspective is extraordinarily important.

  16. I formerly worked in key roles in the regulated and deregulated areas of power and natural gas systems (interstate and intrastate) in the Southwest US from 1991-2010.

    In a word, our systems are brittle. The old regulated utility model allowed for substantial back up capacity in the “rate base”. It wasn’t efficient but it was reliable. No longer. Failed deregulation rules, combined with financial incentives to make a profit through any manner leaves us highly vulnerable to spot or regional failures.

    That’s one reason why I installed PV solar with a battery bank & generator to power 1/2 of my residence in a medium size urban city in the SW. Installed in 2013 with big rebates it paid itself off in 7 years. The price to cover 100% of my peak demand was too high and uneconomic.

    If we go through an economic reset, which seems likely, expect minor to major utility disruptions in most urban areas.

    The corrective action to prevent failures would cost trillions of dollars and take two decades to fix. Don’t bet on that happening. In CA, they seem to be purposefully trying to crash their own systems, both NatGas and electric. Go to the CAL ISO website to learn more about the “duck” curve and what PV solar has done to electric utilities there.

    Anything you can do to prepare for minor to severe utility interruptions is a wise precaution. Better yet, move to a more rural area and have multiple back up systems.

  17. There is a fun kid-friendly dystopian movie out there along these lines called ‘City of Ember’ 2008 based off a book of the same title, showing the body politic, interesting characters, and a crisis. It’s an easy way to introduce the yonge ones to the need to prepare for things.

    Here is the pitch: For generations a massive generator has sustained the needs of the underground city of Ember. But the generator was built to last only 200 years, and as its lights start to flicker and fade, it remains to two youths, Lina Mayfleet (Saoirse Ronan) and Doon Harrow (Harry Treadaway), to follow a cryptic series of clues that will restore light to to the place.

  18. There was talk of adding a National Planning Scenario (NPS) for a Solar Flare but I haven’t seen anything in writing yet. The NPS drive mitigation planning thru the city/county level Emergency Manager and his/her All-Hazards Mitigation Plan which is updated every five to ten years.

    Proactive EM directors have included a Grid Down scenario in their exercise plan. I suggest starting with a two-week down scenario, then a two-month down one and finally a six month down version.

    As most preppers know, just about every critical infrastructure component relies on the Electrical Generation and Distribution component. That component is vulnerable to EMP and Solar Flares and now Cyber attacks.

    If your power generation or distribution capability is damaged or destroyed, fuel stops flowing, water stops being treated and sewage accumulates.

    Grid down plans can be developed as a supplement to the All Hazards Mitigation Plan for your county, and should include a prioritization scheme for distribution of fuels and prioritization for restoration of power. For example. Police, Fire and Ambulance services might get top priority for gasoline, while Hospitals, Jails and Emergency Operations Centers might get first priority for electricity.

    If any of these terms are unfamiliar to you, suggest you check you County or City Emergency Management Department website and read the All Hazards Mitigation Plan and then consider what would need to be added to mitigate the risks of an extended power outage.

    1. Old Paratrooper-
      You provide some wise counsel here. However having looked at my far share of EM plans and programs I still find that our emergency plans suffer from what the 9-11 report referred to politely as a lack of imagination. Most plans detail “normal disasters” those emergency planners who try to plan for the low probability high impact don’t seem to last long. I know there are a few that truly plan for catastrophic events. There was a county in Idaho (sorry can’t recall the name) that did a great plan. The basis of that counties plan was really telling the residents to be prepared but went way beyond the normal Red Cross/FEMA 3 day supply. They had seed saving information and low tech sanitation information. Basically info on how to survive living in a Third World environment.
      If EMA programs wrote and prepared as they should then politicians pet projects couldn’t be funded. The county I used to live in would be appalled by anyone wanting to spend money in emergency preparedness but if the library didn’t get what they wanted it was a crisis.

      1. Old Paratrooper and 3AD Scout… Thought provoking commentary and counsel.

        The point about “lack of imagination” in the planning is especially important. Plans often lack understanding of the potential breadth, depth, scope, and complexity of any given disaster.

        I think this is significantly related to the psychological implications of disaster. Most people can only take “catastrophe thinking” so far (and definitely not far enough).

        For those of us who live 4+ standard deviations from the mean, life is different. …and we understand what it means to be subjected to what seems statistically impossible.

        I’m quite certain it’s not necessary for most people to endure these kinds of crazy odds in life (at least not routinely), but… We would do well as a civilization to do a whole lot more to teach imagination, critical thinking, and solution-oriented survival skills of all kinds.

      2. I think the best level of preparedness is not the government, but the people in general. Might be a better idea to provide grants to individuals for equipment rather than spend oodles on central emergency planning. I recall a briefing by the mayor of Slave Lake, Canada, where just about the first building to burn down in the 2011 wildfire was…the emergency control center. They put it in the right place based on studies of previous fires, but..well, that’s why they call them WILDfires 😉
        Last major icestorm round here, over 50,000 people were without grid power for an average of a week (some for three weeks). The government and Red Cross opened the emergency warming /accomodation locations, yet the total number of bed-nights used was…11. Everyone was taken in or helped out by relatives or neighbors. So, help the people help themselves.

        1. @ Rick

          OMG Rick! Give the people themselves grants to buy preparedness equipment! But what if they bought ammo! Or guns! Oh the horror! People can’t be trusted to know what’s good for them! That’s why we need the government to spend these funds and waste most of them; they know what they’re doing. 😉

          1. Quite.
            And re your earlier point, there are no supply chains in the middle of the Atlantic. All my suggestions and personal systems assume zero replacement is possible. This is the reason, suggested earlier, for building up systems from multiple identical smaller components. Repair is also an option. Certain components are candidates for repair if one has the spares, tools and skills. It is always worth reading reviews and complaints of an item considered for purchase, since one may be able to establish what usually breaks, and why.

  19. I know nothing about water utilities. As a result, I am only tossing this question out as a point for discussion.

    The author wrote, “Meanwhile, the frustrated workers know that the infrastructure of the system is old and outdated and needs to be completely replaced, but have no authority to make the financial decision to do so.”

    How much of the “patch it, patch it, patch it” mentality is driven by consumers’ demands that utility bills be kept low? There is a certain “curmudgeon class” that complains about every bill they receive from a government entity for any service. I personally know of an individual who threatened online to kill the mayor of his town because his garbage bill was increased by $2.00 a month.

    If the author’s area is filled with people who grab pitchforks and torches every time a rate increase is mentioned, then I am reminded of the saying, “Voters deserve the politicians they elect.” In like manner, the utility’s customers deserve the water service they have, even if it is unreliable and vulnerable, as long as they fully understand what they have.

    Perhaps an anonymous letter to the editor of the local paper might call public attention to the problem without exposing the author to retribution. On the other hand, having written this article here, and with such a small number of “suspects” it may be quite easy for the powers that be to put 2 and 2 together and to figure out who the author is.

    The vulnerabilities of the water delivery system described here ought to help make crystal clear the need for everyone to store water (which is always described as being the most important prep) and Big Berkey or Sawyer water filters for difficult times.

  20. Some years ago a local village had an algae bloom in one of its reservoirs. Systems were installed to eliminate and prevent future issues. The state however demanded they drill wells for whatever reason. Since then they have had problems with brown water. The state then told them to upgrade their filter system. The New filter system has broken down several times requiring the order of parts, one came from out of the country. Still have brown water issues, so now they are miles of new water mains to try to solve the problem.

  21. Well written article, J330, informative, easy to read, and worth learning. Thank you. I, too, am looking forward to Part 2. Also, I promise to not dig into where you live and work.

  22. J330,
    Just a couple of comments on your personal situation. First, I believe that hydroponics is a great system but there are major drawbacks, need for electrical power, of coarse water and renewable source of fish (unless you are raising your own). That being said, you can overcome those situations. You may wish to consider Permaculture. Once established it maintains it’s self and you have a perpetual food source.

    Second. One of the most important things to consider in a grid down situation is hygiene. Although the ‘powers that be’ try to convince us that Vaccines are what has protect our health over the past 100 years or so, it is really the improvement of hygiene. Efficient removal of waste, both trash and sewage, and just washing ourselves and being more in tune with cleanliness. Using a septic system is hygienal but at a significant cost in water and loss of usable nutrients that could be very beneficial in an extended grid down situation. My I suggest a toilet system based on composting. No loss of water and the ability to save all the nutrients that would otherwise go to waste. The best book I have ever seen on the subject is Dan Jenkins ‘The Humanuer Handook’.

    Third. Rainwater retention. There is no reason to let all that water go to waste. There are many references on the internet as to how to save and retain rainwater. Another must in grid down situation.

    Best of luck in all you do, may the hand of providence be with us all.

  23. There is a Bridge that is a mile from my house which was built in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Here are my take- a-way’s:
    1) The great work ethic and craftsmanship of my Grandfathers’ generation (The “greatest generation”) speaks volumes about them, our government’s ability to marshal talented young men, provide them with three hots and a cot and a real job skill(s).
    2) Lack of government oversight on the infrastructure that was fabricated back then is disturbing. If these organizations still existed I would judge that they folks are running on good intentions.

    In 1997 we had a MASSIVE rapid melt off of the Snowpack in the East Sierra, this caused a flood that ruined a US Highway and washed out the two younger bridges that spanned our river, the 1938 bridge flooded but did not wash away and was the only crossing point for several months. (Readers of this blog who have Military experience will identify this fact as a critical vulnerability because it’s a choke point of navigation) The Bridge is one of three in my area that connects the east side of my valley with the west side where the main avenue of ingress and egress from our valley exists. This Highway is the one and only artery that links us here in the East Sierra with virtually the whole rest of America. The fact is also the folks who live on the “eastside” should have concerns. The folks who run this county at least did a vulnerability assessment after the flood and identified the need to build a fully functioning (volunteer) fire station in a good spot on this east side.

    I have often wondered about Corporations funding of the nation’s crumbling infrastructure projects. I see this new stadium in Las Vegas for the Raiders, it’s called Allegiant Stadium, if this mega Corporations have funds to build, from scratch, these massive stadiums which only get used once a week for twenty two weeks, why doesn’t the Government give them big tax breaks so they will lay new water pipes or sewer pipes or even build scores of new bridges in urban, sub-urban and rural areas? Makes sense to me, they could name the bridges after their own corporations for a period of say ten years, and then commit to maintenance for one hundred years. It would be a Public image win for any corporation participating in this dollar’s for donuts project, it could POSSIBLY assuage the growing left wing politicos who demand that America n politicians re-distribute wealth (I call it theft!)

    Encouraging/allowing corporations dedicate funds to community infrastructure re-tooling or overhauling or even ground up fabrication could present a possible future lessening of the public tax burden, re-invigorate the economy, force “Uncle Sugar” to re-tool the Army Corps of Engineers to create programs for veterans to exit the service and teach them builders skills that they would parlay into good jobs after participation in a program where we do “Nation Building” here in the Good ole U-S of A!!!

  24. Hi J330, excellent article and looking forward to Part 2.

    Your article is one more reminder that I’m glad I live where there are no public water systems, sewers, and the only utility is the power co-op.

  25. I spent 37 years working in a large Gulf Coast refinery and I would like to share these insights, I was a Maintenence Technician, not management.
    The tax system that exists is this country is partially to blame for the issue of companies not keeping spare parts on hand and not upgrading to newer, more efficient and reliable equipment. Say you have an old 1950’s compressor that is the size of a large truck, and it has become more unreliable and parts are no longer available and have to be custom made by a machine shop. If you spend close to a million dollars replacing it with a modern, more efficient one, you are then rewarded by the tax man with higher taxes because you have made a Capital Upgrade. If you spend the same million dollars bandaiding the old one, that is allowed to be written off your taxes as necessary maintainence. Every year, Mgmt. would sweep through the plant, looking to see what parts and materials that were in excess of the minimal needed to keep on hand, they and the Tax Man do not believe in the “One is none and two is one” concept, that was how we did it in the old days and managed to keep things going quite well. Nowdays, our suppliers all agree, on paper, that they can supply most things in 24-48 hours”wink, wink”. So at the end of the year, large dumpsters of materials would be gathered up and sold for pennies on the dollar to scrap yards, to get them off of the property to lower the tax burden. I have seen dumpsters with 200K worth of new stainless valves and fittings go to the scrapyard more times than I can count! When we reform our tax laws to reward companies for being prepared instead of punishing them with higher taxes, we would see more reliability and reinvestment in the infrastructure. Whether it is a Refinery or a commercially operated Utility, the same rules apply.

  26. I attend a monthly breakfast meeting of like minded folks. Some of them say ” if something isn’t done about (an issue) it’s going to be the ruin of the country.”

    I told them in 2015 that this country has already collapsed and is only lumbering forward on momentum.

    I have gotten many “deer in head lights ” looks after saying that.

    The present administration may have prevented the day of reckoning for a time, in spite of being strongly opposed.

    I’ve enjoyed reading Part 1 & the great comments.

  27. More stringent Federal drinking water standards have enormously increased the cost of building and operating water treatment plants. Small towns are being forced to build new plants they can’t afford.

  28. Very good article and timely.

    If you think federal facilities are in better shape than utilities, you are sadly mistaken.

    We were not allowed to keep spare utility poles or transformers at a military installation. So we set up some dummy work orders for damaged poles and transformers and bought new ones and kept them in storage.

    Then the Inspector General conducted an inspection forcing us to divest ourselves of them. We did by transferring them to other bases. 3 months later we had amazing damage to utiilty poles and transformers, the “spares” were placed in yards for use during an emergency.

    None of the military services spend enough on facilities and maintenance or “spares”.

  29. Low tech, or no tech is best, but a few solar panels are good to have for radios and water pumping. Storage batteries can be optional, but are good to have enough for radio work.

  30. When I was chief of staff at our local hospital, I asked how long the back up generator would run on what fuel that was on hand and no one knew, it turned out that it was 3 days.
    I would prepare with the tech level of the 1800s. With a 10×10 foot tarp you can get about 62 gallons of water per in. of rain. I would prepare not only for self, but also for the unexpected guest(s), this would also give you some surplus in your preps for the unexpected.

  31. A Water Filtration System is one of the best Survival Preps.
    People need to have a Water Filter before their next glass of Water, cup of Coffee, Tea, or a mixed drink (Such as Bourbon and Branch Water). … The advertisers on SurvivalBlog sell good Water Filters at good prices. … A ‘bug out’ Life Straw type of filter is also needed for emergencies.

    Currently, all utilities providing ‘tap water’ are legally required to report the amount of ‘regulated contaminates’ in the provided water. …Searching on the Website for your Water Utility will reveal the amount of ‘regulated contaminates’ in your Tap Water. Most of the time, the Water Utility will also list the ~>unregulated contaminates too.

    [Years ago ~my (GGHD) Tap Water provider STOPPED listing the ~>unregulated pollutants. … I guess, there are too many chemical pollutants. … The Utility does still list the amount of regulated asbestos fibers in the Tap Water. We’re all assured the asbestos fibers are at a safe level, along with the other regulated chemicals.]

    And yes, I have a gravity type of water filter, which I keep in my refrigerator.

    At ~ epa(dot)gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/emergency-disinfection-drinking-water~ there is information about disinfecting drinking water during emergencies and how to do.

    “In an emergency situation where regular water service has been interrupted – like a hurricane, flood, or water pipe breakage – local authorities may recommend using only bottled water, boiled water, or disinfected water until regular water service is restored. The instructions below show you how to boil and disinfect water to kill most disease-causing microorganisms that may be present in the water. However, boiling or disinfection will not destroy other contaminants, such as heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals.”

    An option to print a hardcopy of the information on the EPA site is available.
    ******

    I have and use a Gravity Water Filtration product, which I keep in my refrigerator. + I carry in my car, a Life Straw personal filter , which also has the ability to directly transfer Water from a source into a container. (I can fill a water-bottle or canteen.)

  32. I worked and have retired from a fortune 500 manufacturing company. I saw this coming about 40 years ago when everybody started going to JIT or just in time for both receiving and shipping. No more inventory in warehouses. You are correct that the root of the problem is money. By eliminating the warehouses they saved a ton of money. As long as there were no problems it worked but one little glitch and the entire chain stopped working. Take a look at all your needs and how to avoid being victims of a JIT supply chain.

  33. We have a 40 ft. well, with a 30ft. Windmill directly above it. We use electricity to pump the water to the house. However, if we lose power, we use the windmill to pump the water up to the house, then turn a valve that allows the water to go up the hill behind the house into a 1500 gallon cement cistern, which feeds down to the house from gravity. It allows us to have water in the house, but not much pressure. You can still take a shower and flush toilets, but does take some getting used to! The problem we are having now, is the cement is starting to degrade, so, eventually, we’ll have to replace it. We also have a 5 acre pond fed by 3 natural springs to water the livestock, but it’s a mile trek to the back 40 to get it ! We recently purchased a Berkeley to be able to utilize the spring water. It works very well! Water is life, especially if you have livestock!

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