Water Water Everywhere

“Nor any drop to drink”.   Samuel Coleridge from the “rime of the ancient mariner”.  Well that was the situation here at Possum Valley recently.  Showers or storms every day adding to the abundant flow in the creek.  As major parts of the globe fight politically or militarily for access to water here in North Queensland we enjoy the beautifully abundant season called “The Wet”.  Sure there are inconveniences, but having travelled the globe a bit, I can tell you that the lack of clean water, or in some places any water, is one of the worst catastrophes a society can face.  Even where it is available, distribution can be problematic and contentious.  Look at Israel/Palestine, or don’t, for those of you with delicate sensibilities.  The Israelis have appropriated the lion’s share of the water by force of arms.  

Meanwhile, back in Possum Valley, the “nor any drop to drink” was the imminent threat for Maple Cottage as the ram pump failed to deliver any water to the top tank.  There is no rainwater input to the top tank.  I had tried to set up a system using rusty old tin sheets from the tip, but found it had to be out in the open as under the canopy, it clogs with leaves on a weekly basis.  I suspected a leak in the delivery pipe to the top tank caused by rodents or melomys or such.  The delivery pipe goes about 600m some parts buried in the open spaces, and some parts through the rainforest on the surface.  It is not possible  to dig a trench in the rainforest as there is a mass of surface roots.  A ditchwitch would be jammed up in the first meter, and to use hand tools would be a project comparable to the pyramids with a workforce of one.  However, the rainforest does the job of burying the pipe for you if you leave it for a couple of decades.  Also for a couple of hundred meters the pipe is buried deep, 600mm deep where I convinced a Telstra worker that the trench for a telephone line he was installing would be really suitable for my water pipe.  

So I set about a search for the leak in the pipe on the exposed parts.  I found two minor leaks caused by animal/pipe predation, and was hopeful that fixing them would restore some water to the top tank (45m above the pump and a considerable friction head as well as only 19mm pipes).  No result.  I spent days doing tests to find the flow rates at various places.  I tried to flush the pipes with reverse flow by carrying water up to the top and running it back down the pipe to check for a blockage.  I installed an outlet at the top tank to back-flush the whole pipeline.  I spent days grovelling through the rainforest digging up the sections the rainforest had covered getting so wet and muddy in the rain.  I thought it could be the rubber non-return valve in the the pump so I refurbished it, then replaced it with a new one.  I honed the clapper valve with valve grinding paste using my pillar drill at slowest speed.  I replaced the top 50m of pipe with new pipe in case there was a blockage.  

For 10 days I got muddy and bloody from scratches and leeches before I reluctantly concluded it was my worst nightmare, an underground leak in the 250m of buried section where I could never find it.  So yesterday I resolved to totally replace the pipeline, and chose the shortest path that would require the least trench digging.  This would require much effort and expense.  I macheted a path through the rainforest so I could pace out the distance hence the length of pipe required.  About 550m I determined.  As I came near the end of  my survey, I noticed a patch of moss and boggy ground only a few meters square.  And a little spring in the middle.  I dug down and 200mm down found the pipe with a fountain of water blasting out.  You beaut!  I had left the pump going for the 10 days in the hope that it would give away the leak, and it finally paid off.  The pipe was nowhere near where I thought I had laid it 30 years ago.  After 10 days hard labour, it took 20 minutes to fix.  

I took my flowmeter (an old battered saucepan) up to the top tank and recorded 5580 litres of water per day.  Top performance.  

I love living at Possum Valley, but as anyone living out in the sticks will tell you there are moments of frustration and difficulty.  In the city you can can pick up the phone to get an expert to deal with utility problems, at some or considerable cost.  In my situation, I am the expert.  I have to fix it and there is nobody better equipped.  

Another way of looking at it is that I could have decided on day 5 that I couldn’t find the leak.  That would have been a reasonable decision.  But I didn’t, and got lucky saving heaps of effort and money.  It is curious how what people call luck, can take a lot of hard work.


  1. Satya says:

    Hi Paul,
    Hope you and the Cottages are all safe during Cyclone Debbie.
    Sending lots of thoughts and positive vibes.
    Love Satya and family xo

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