Back to basics

We get our water from the local stream almost half a mile from us.  The water comes down a 1″ plastic pipe and flows through the forest and along a few sea-side cliffs to eventually exit at our place.  We have a cistern which collects the flow and, most of the time the cistern is full. The stream still runs even in late August with a hot summer behind us.  It runs low.  But it runs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWinter, of course, is different.  You can (and we do) have frozen pipes sometimes. Usually in the dead of January.  We have broken or kinked pipes, too, when the volume is so great that the flow ‘messes’ with the pipe.  The big rainfall a few days ago was considerable and the stream was engorged to capacity the day after.  It dropped a few trees on itself and it crumpled up the pipe as well as filling the pick-up valve with pine needles.  Not for the first time this year, but for the first time this winter, water stopped flowing downhill and Sal went up to fix it.

That was day one.

Sal hiked up the hill after taking her small boat into the bay and wading ashore.  She climbed the steep, muddy, overgrown trail that skirted the stream and sometimes disappeared into the water for a few yards until she had gained about 120 feet of elevation. She looked into the raging cauldron of water where the little collection pool exists and the pick-up valve sits weighted to the bottom under a few rocks.  The only way to clear the pick-up was to stand on the lowest side of the pool (itself under two feet of extra water at that time) and then kneel down and reach into the pool and pull out the pipe and pick-up for examination.  In this case the exercise would require virtual submersion into a fast flowing stream.  Sal prepared to do that by first taking off the top half of her wet-weather clothing, warm-layer fleece underneath and finally all but her bra.  Standing water proof from the waist down and Amazonian from the waist up, she reached underwater, grabbed the pipe and wrenched it free from the bottom.  Imagine the cold!

After clearing the pipe of needles and replacing it in the pool, she donned her gear and came home.  Sadly, the water still did not not flow.  So, day two saw us heading up together and our neighbours came along to see the set-up and give a hand.

Here’s the deal: it is basically impossible to remain dry regardless of your preparations when working with a stream in full flow and doing so in the wilds on collapsing banks while climbing very steep sides over deadfall and attempting to clear a partially buried pipe.  So, after filling our boots – literally – it was just one big water fest as we all tumbled, stumbled, clawed, crawled and scrambled up and down the stream for a couple of hours looking for the problem.  Average age of the four of us: 66-68.


But we found two possible sites that proved to be the culprits.  One was a where a deadfall had crushed the pipe and dragged it under water pinching it closed in the process. And the other was a pinch where the flow was so strong at some point that it had folded the pipe back on itself.  We waded in.  We had tools.  We cut out the crimps.  We fixed them with new connectors and we went back down to check out the system where we had some valves installed midway down for that very purpose.  We were successful.  The water was flowing.  And we were heading home.

When we got to the beach, the tide was out and the buffet of oysters was in, so both couples collected dinner before heading for the warmth of our wood stoves.  It was a good day.  A bit wet.  But good..

You should have been there.  .

8 thoughts on “Back to basics

  1. Neat story.
    Kinda reminds me of a friend of mine.
    He became the “head of maintenance” for a resort hotel in Palau in the Philippines back in the 1980’s. Water is a premium on the Island.
    Same type of water source for the entire hotel. A buried pipe running from a stream to a reservoir next to the hotel.
    His 1st week on the job and he decides to check out the pipe with a Japanese assistant that could barely speak english.
    Off they go into the snake and leech infested jungle, (40 deg celcius heat and extreme humidity) wandering to and fro. Eventually they are lost.
    How “lost” can you be on an Island you ask?. Well they decided to bushwack down the streams to the beach. The forgot about cliffs. Backtracked, now even more lost, plant leaves cutting them to ribbons, mosquitos, leeches,…..
    My friend stops at one point and looks back…… japanese assistant? Back he goes to find him. 30 minutes later after shouting his name with zero response he finds him. Lying on his back staring up at nothing……..
    He asks him if he’s ok. “I die now. You go! I die now.” ,was the response.
    So NOW he’s carrying his assistant………
    Several hours later they make it back to the hotel. Very much worse for wear. Much to the amusement of the other staff.
    He had the reservoir tripled in size and never did find the stream that was the source…….


    • Great story! We were not that close to confronting death, just his second cousins, misery and discomfort. Not the same thing at all. But I gotta admit 40 Celsius in the middle of bugs is enough for me to surrender, too.


      • Yeah that Japanese assistant didnt last too much longer. They had to replace the bearings on a 40hp motor. Bearings changed, reassembled it, wired it up, test run. Everything ok.
        THEN the assistant sticks a screwdriver onto a live 480 volt lug!
        FLASH! BOOM! The guy flies backwards like a ragdoll across the mechanical room, hits the wall and crumples in a smouldering heap. My friend rushes over and asks him if he’s ok. The assistant opens his eyes and exclaims, ” “BAD MOTOR!”.
        My buddy got him a job in groundskeeping, didnt need a dead assistant on his conscience.


      • I know guys like that. One disaster away from expiry and the disasters just keep coming. They are the ones that keep the actuaries busy. Great subject matter for a sit-com, tho?


  2. Sounds like a great day to me too.. When the problem is solved and you can sit back by the fire and know you really accomplished something interesting in a day…
    ……….. and they ask us what do we do all day??? Haha… batten down the hatches.. big storm tonight…..


    • Yeah…Sal and I have a kind-of mantra..’let us get one thing done a day.’ If we can just get one thing accomplished daily that’s 365 things done a year and, at that pace, we just might get somewhere. The irony is that ‘getting somewhere’ means: ‘let us not go anywhere but here.’


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