Gather round and let me tell you a story about magic. And water. Hard to believe they can be associated. I’m going to give you all the details on digging our water well on our new off-grid homestead. And a bit of dowsing magic too!
We’ve spent an enormous amount of effort scoping out our Nova Scotia property, clearing and cutting a large area for the new homestead, clearing and building an access road then moving in a 40 foot sea can for storage. But one critical ingredient was missing from the list… water. The burning question has been where will we get our water and will it be of good quality? That’s where the magic comes in.
Me? Dowse For Water??
We are both pretty skeptical people so when the excavator contractor asked if I could dowse for water, I said nah, not me. Back 37 years ago, when I was building the Maine homestead, a local older gentleman offered to witch for water on the Maine property and based on his recommendation, we drilled in the spot he indicated and had all kinds of water. I wrote about this water source in Homestead Water Supply-Part 1 I’ve always felt we could have bored anywhere on that property and hit water. But none the less, we had a high quality water source for our Maine homestead.
Eighteen years ago we had no worries about fresh water when we began homesteading on a lake in Northern Saskatchewan. You can read about this water source In Homestead Water Supply- Part 3 as well as in my book Off Grid and Free-My Path to the Wilderness. But fast forward to now and we were again faced with the prospect of finding fresh water for our home site. The contractor said to take a bent coat hanger or a forked willow or alder stick, hold it a certain way which he demonstrated and walk slowly back and forth over the area. He seemed quite knowledgeable but then he added that he was never able to witch for water. Hmm, not exactly inspirational.
Nevertheless, I cut a couple of properly forked limbs and began walking around. I walked and walked without registering any hits. Those sticks are now somewhere out in the woods having been given the heave ho by yours truly.
Sometime later I mentioned my dilemma to the man we have made friends with and he said he could witch for water and we could too. He cut a coat hanger apart and formed two divining rods. Then we went out to his front lawn. As he walked around, his rods were crossing as he passed over various locations, indicating water. I took a turn and they seemed to cross a few times for me but I wondered was the process really working or was it the breeze moving the rods? I didn’t have a lot of faith. Johanna took a turn and she had a few indications too.
The next day we returned to our property for more work. I took my coat hanger rods out and gave them a try where I hoped we could have a well. After several minutes of walking a grid pattern, I had only one place where the rods crossed and I was not very hopeful. I placed a small branch among all the other debris on the ground to secretly mark the spot and then Johanna gave it a try. After a few minutes I returned and she was getting a cross of the rods in the same area as me. She placed a marker 2 feet from where I had placed mine. Maybe this had promise after all.
Eureka! We Found Water!!
The big excavator came over and we decided to dig a test hole. Three feet down, then five, then seven. Dry gravel and sand coming out of the hole by the bucketful. Now 9 feet deep. Still dry as a bone. This was discouraging. All I could envision was a dry hole and the homestead with no water. A couple more feet down and the soil started to look a little damp but maybe it was wishful thinking. More shovels and still nothing. Then the excavator stopped and we saw the operator pointing into the hole. My gawd, water was flowing up and filling the hole! What a wonderful sight! He filled the hole partially back in for the night so the walls wouldn’t collapse.
Digging Our Well
The next morning the digging began in earnest. A large hole needed to be dug that would easily accommodate the well crocks. Well crocks are rings that fit together when stacked atop each other in the well. They form the well casing and come in a few standard sizes. The ones the contractor ordered were 30″ high X 36 ” wide. They are made of a reinforced concrete and have an interlocking lip that keeps them aligned as a crock is placed on top of the previous one. If a tight seal is desired, a sealing putty can be placed around the circumference of the crock to create a water tight seal. The seal is very important on the last crocks so that surface water doesn’t leach into our clean water. Surface water is undesirable because it can contain contaminants and bacteria.
The excavator operator dug the hole as deep as he could go. That was essentially 17 feet down when he encountered bedrock. At that point, we had a strong flow of water coming in from all directions. It was clear and clean. Next a dump truck of clean roughly 1 inch stone was brought in and bucketfuls of the material were carefully placed in the bottom of the hole by the excavator. Then he lowered a crock to the bottom and a level was used to make sure the crock was level. He carefully placed more stone around the crock. The purpose of the stone is to act as a course buffer and reservoir to allow water to easily collect and thereby fill the crock column. At this stage of the process, if one were to back fill with the material taken out of the hole you would be sealing off your well from the majority of the water source which defeats the purpose. Instead let that water infiltrate and become a reservoir around all that loose stone.
The excavator operator repeated the process several times, lowering in a crock and then placing clean 1 inch stone around the exterior of the crock. Once we had 3 crocks in place surrounded by clean stone, the dump truck and excavator went to our new quarry to fetch a load of clean bank run gravel to complete the remainder of the well. As each remaining crock was lowered into place, bank run gravel was used to backfill, thus sealing off the well from unwanted surface water. We could have used the material that came out of the hole to backfill, but we were concerned there might be contamination from the top forest duff layer and felt it was better to err on the side of caution. This was our drinking water after all. After carefully backfilling the hole, the area around the finished well was graded so that surface water would run away from the well.
Disinfect and Testing Well Water
The last step of the process is to disinfect the well and have the water tested before drinking any of it. We have no problem using it for bathing, laundry or washing dishes once the water is boiled. Boiling takes care of any bacterial concerns but it does nothing if there is a chemical problem such as arsenic. Hence, we will test before drinking.
We could have opted to drill a well. The price was pretty comparable depending on how deep the drilling would need to go. We chose to go with the dug well for a couple of reasons. First, the nature of the coastal geology is such that arsenic is a potential problem. It is even more prevalent in gold bearing areas which we are in. The deeper the well, the greater the chance of arsenic contamination. And second, the deeper we go with a drilled well, the more we take a chance on having a problem with salt water intrusion. Of course, your area may have its own chemical concerns and pollutants to deal with.
Although there may be differences in regulations between municipalities in Canada and the United States, you might find the following information of value. They are documents published by Nova Scotia for well construction and disinfection.
One of the PDF’s I included goes into detail on how to disinfect a well. In our case, we will pump it, bleach it, and pump it out again. Finally we will send a sample to the lab for evaluation. We expect no problems.
I have to say I’m a bit shocked at how well the dowsing business worked. Quite magical. Although I am so relieved and pleased to see water, I will grow weary of hearing Johanna crow about how she wields great powers now that she knows she can witch for water!
Until next time, keep the dream alive! We wish you a great day!
Ron and Johanna
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