Off-Grid Water Systems

John Vivian's three part series on off-grid water systems begins with a complete tour of homesteading water possibilities from catching rainwater in arid climates to digging deep wells to tapping freshwater springs.

| June/July 2000

MOTHER's three part series on off-grid water systems including how to build an old-fashioned springhouse. 

I'm going out to clean the pasture spring
I'll only stop to rake the leaves away

(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I shan't be gone long. — You come too

Robert Frost: The Pasture

Tapping a spring as Frost did is, like all of humankind's water-exploitation efforts, a temporary interruption in the planetary water-purification and recycling system: the global, solar-powered water cycle. Rain water or melted snow flows constantly downhill, some on top of the soil in rivers and lakes as easily contaminated "surface water," some trickling through the upper layers of soil and rock as "ground water" and some sinking gradually — often taking centuries to settle into the depths of the Earth's crust to reside in "deep-water" aquifers. Much of America's dry, western farmlands are being irrigated today with Pleistocene-era, 10,000-year-old "fossil water" from 1,500-foot-deep aquifers that took thousands of years to fill but are being emptied in a matter of decades. If left alone, they might refill by the next millennium. More probably it'll take 2,000 to 5,000 more years.

Waylaying a flowing spring and running it through a homestead is a minor hitch in the cycle compared to humankind's truly heroic efforts. We all know of world water misallocation and pollution problems (and must cheer such progress as the cleanup of the Cuyahoga, Hudson and many other formerly toxic water sources). But despite scattered improvements, our environmental transgressions over the years are beginning to have damaging effects on nature. Too often, surface and groundwater must flow through wars, famines, dumps and dunghills and be diverted to carry away the poison effluent of an increasingly industrialized, urbanized and overpopulated human society.

To do our bit, we need to provide working examples of action in progress by adopting water-conserving policies on our own country places when using off-grid water systems. These policies should be as stringent as any organic gardening practice aimed at conserving and rebuilding topsoil (feeding the land, for example, with composted plant materials, rather than feeding the plants with chemicals). We should determine to:

1. Tap into the water cycle as soon as possible in its trip from the clouds to the ocean deeps, leaving the deeper aquifers to farms, industries and urban centers not as fortunate as we to be able to tap in early.

3/30/2012 8:54:41 PM

What is the best way to filter well water ? Can you build a homemade filter system?

7/24/2009 12:14:04 PM

All my graywater is already diverted from my septic tank; right now it's watering my yard. I would like to remedy this situation as mowing is far down on my to-do list. Any suggestions where I can find plans to either construct a system to run it into my garden (aganist gravity) or simply build a catchment I could draw it from that will not create a mosquito hatchery???

7/22/2009 11:33:07 PM

try looking at some of the perma garden stuff. that generally has to do with a similar idea of utalizing the entire local environment in order to creat a microsystem that allows a beautiful garden to bear fruit better than the "traditional" agriculture method. a large part of this seems to be based on redirecting water into more useful places.

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