A Home-Sized Water Wheel

If you're stuck trying to get some water from point "A" to point "B", you may just find that a water wheel is the easiest practical situation to build.

| September/October 1981

071 water wheel - wheel pumping

As the liquid rushing out this open spigot—located on the outlet drinking line—demonstrates, our small water wheel can pump a lot of water!


"Water taken in moderation cannot hurt anybody."—Mark Twain  

There's no doubt that MOTHER EARTH NEWS' gardeners, Kerry and Barbara Sullivan, were pleased when we hooked up a Jacobs windplant their yurt with electricity. But the truth is that the two horticulturists were even happier with a more recent gift from our research department: running water!

Now most of us take the availability of that precious liquid so much for granted that we far exceed Mr. Twain's recommended temperance in water usage. Barbara and Kerry, though, have learned to be downright miserly with the vital fluid because they've had to hand-tote all their drinking and washing water ever since they took over the Eco-Village gardens a couple of years ago. Mind you, that state of affairs wasn't due to any lack of effort. MOTHER EARTH NEWS' crew of researchers have, on more than one occasion, experimented with systems for feeding water into the circular building. But to tell the truth, none of the sophisticated attempts our staffers devised worked very well in that specific application. Amazingly enough, though, the situation was (finally) remedied last spring when Dennis Burkholder and Robyn Bryan went back to the drawing board—and looked back to the past—to devise a simple, easy-to-build, and trouble-free ...

Water Wheel!

That's right, Dennis and Robyn have solved the problem of pumping the precious liquid by using an adaptation of the familiar paddle wheel, and a miniature one at that. The 48"-diameter device—made out of 3/4" marine plywood and pressure-treated 1 X 6 board—drives a recycled shallow-well pump which, in turn, forces water up a hill to the 1,000-gallon cistern above the yurt. The mini-wheel is small but effective: It pushes one gallon of water a minute into the holding tank. At that rate the setup delivers over 1,000 gallons a day (far more than most families use), so there's always plenty of water in the cistern. And since the storage tank stands 35 feet above the yurt, there's always plenty of pressure at the building's new plumbing fixtures, too.

Can Pure Water Spring from a Muddy Fountain?

The key to our system is the fact that it uses water from one source to pump water from another source ...or, as Dennis Burkholder puts it, "We're moving clean water with dirty water." The little stream that now powers the waterwheel, while only a few yards away from the yurt, is an open waterway, and the local building codes wouldn't allow anyone to draw drinking liquid from such an easily contaminated source. So the clean water supply had to come from a capped spring 740 feet away! One-inch plastic pipe draws water from this trickling source down to the waterwheel's pump, which—pushed by the force provided by the open, "dirty" stream—lifts the pure liquid 50 feet up from the wheel to the storage tank. (This feat isn't quite as impressive as it sounds, because the original spring is 35 feet lower than the cistern, so the lifted liquid has a 15-foot "falling" head start!)

The water wheel is built in the classic "overshot" style (that is, a flume shoots water to the top of the wheel, where the fluid falls into built-in "buckets" ...thus forcing the rig to turn). To get the power providing liquid into "overshot position," Dennis and Robyn ran a pair of 1 1/2 "-inch plastic pipelines 50 feet up the stream. Those conduits capture water at an altitude slightly above the top of the wheel and dump it—at a rate of approximately 45 gallons per minute (the flow, of course, varies with rainfall)—right at the top of the bucketed double disk.

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