We lost power for some hours, a few days ago. When we lose power here, at Cottonwood Estate and Forgotten Hill B&B, it has serious implications. It means not only do we not have electricity for lighting or cooking, we also lose our cordless phones, computers and the internet. Indeed, all we are left with are things powered by batteries. Luckily, should the outage last longer than these devices’ batteries, cell phones, tablets and camping lanterns can be recharged with any or all of the USB ports in the Tesla.
Likewise, in a pinch, some cooking can be done on the barbecue, as long as there is propane. But our biggest problem, however, is water. The property isn’t supplied with “municipal water”; what we have is water that is pumped up from our wells. The lower parts of Naramata have a type of “municipal water” but it is drawn from Okanagan Lake by pumps that require electricity. Indeed, unless water arrives at a dwelling from an elevated source such as a watershed or a water tower, no power means no water as soon as the pressure drops.
Wells and Water
Over the years we have had to have a some wells drilled, with depths ranging from around 100 metres (around 300’) to 230 metres (approximately 750’). Drilling deep wells in this region is a time-consuming and expensive process as these wells have to be drilled through solid granite. The water that comes into the well either seeps in slowly or dribbles into the well shaft from fissures or cracks in the granite.
Depending on the depth of a well, either a single-phase or three-phase electrical pump is used to push the water up to the surface. In a single-phase electrical area like the one we are in, the more powerful and more expensive three-phase well pump necessary to push water up from a deep well requires a three-phase converter. This adds to the cost.
Similarly, aside from the cost of the pumps themselves, a large amount of thick copper wire is required to connect a pump hanging near the bottom of the well to the electrical supply above ground. Add to this the piping needed to send the water up to the surface and on to the house and very quickly a single well, the necessary equipment and labour has a total cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Water flow into a well can vary over the course the year. And, there is no guarantee water will not suddenly vanish, either for a period of time or forever. It happens. A well can dry up as fissures plug-up with sediment, or simply because something occurred further up, somewhere in the hills above, causing the water to take a new course. One way to deal with this supply uncertainty is to buffer the irregular or low flow of a well with a cistern.
Cisterns, by storing large quantities of water, can make it possible to use low-producing wells that could be difficult to use for everyday activities as the flow from the well would be too little to have sufficient pressure in a house. For example, a 7 or 8-litre per minute (approximately 2-gallon per min.) well will produce approximately 11,000 litres a day, or 3,000 gallons a day. That’s a lot of water when one considers that Canadians consume 320 to 350 litres per day, which is some 85 to 90 gallons per day.
Most cisterns are designed to hold between 3,780 litres (1,000 gallons) or 7,570 litres (2,000 gallons). Cisterns can be made from reinforced concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. The latter are the least expensive and all of them are designed to be buried below grade to avoid freezing. Large cisterns, such as the 37,000-litre (10,000 gallons) concrete cistern near the entrance of Cottonwood Estate hold such a large volume of water that they could, if full, winter over without freezing.
This recent power outage was a reminder that living on the edge of the wilderness and in spectacular location requires energy and that this energy is generally electricity. It is also a nudge that we should aim to become energy independent…