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.

Catching Up

I have had a 2 month visit from an old friend, Richard from the UK.  Leeds to be precise.  When I say old, we both have to admit to that, but also old in the sense that we haven’t seen each other in 45 years.  Like many people we rediscovered each other by web search and e-mail and have been in contact for the last few years.  6 months ago his wife of 30 years died after accident and medical mishaps piled up and a decision to end pointless life support had to be made.  Though on the other side of the planet, I could tell how hard it was for him and daughter to make that decision, even though the facts were clear and the answer plain.  After dealing with the formalities and other changes, Richard decided to come to Oz to see how things look from the other way up, take a break, and perhaps adjust perspectives.

Yes, I have been gassing on with Richard quite a bit as we catch up on a 45 year gap.  We did the same course at uni, lived in the same flats, drove to Turkey in an old Thames van donated by his parents, and I even dated his sister for a short while before she dumped me.  That was after I went in Richard’s mini to Italy with her and another girl.  That trip to Turkey was the furthest afield he had ever been before coming to OZ and we both remember it vividly, though mostly different bits.  I stayed in the vicarage with his parents in a delightful village in Suffolk.  Yes, plenty of reminiscing.  I had warned him of the possible dire weather possible in the wet season including incessant rain and scary cyclones, but the weather has made a liar of me.  It has been very good with just showers and storms rather than monsoon and tempest.  Today it was a chilly 14C in the morning but sunny all day warming up to 27C.  Before coming he did say that he would risk the ravages of the ‘wet’ as it would put a big hole in the British winter.  He has made a sound choice.  He arrived 19th Jan and leaves next Sun.  

I met him at Cairns Airport and we had exchange recent pics of ourselves to avoid the embarrassment of walking past each other at arrivals.  But we easily recognised each other.  And we agree we find the other to have much the same character as 45 years ago.  I guess you are pretty much stuck with who you are at uni age.

Before coming, Richard did offer his labour for any project I may have in mind.  For the cottages, it is by far the slackest time of year.  Feb/Mar mostly only weekend bookings.  So I didn’t need help with the servicing.  I did press him into chainsawing and block-splitting.  I wanted some firewood for the guests using the sauna and there was a tree overhanging the back paddock blocking the view from the kitchen window when washing up.  So I decided to cut down a tree so I could see …. well…. more trees, but further away.  So I felled the tree just missing the workshop, which was also threatened by this tree if allowed to grow any larger.  Then we both worked cutting it up (I gave him the baby chainsaw), then the splitting.  A block-splitter is a heavy long-handled axe with a blunt vee.  I use it as a sledgehammer on the flat side.  I knew the tree would be a bastard to split because of twisted grain.  I could see that from the shape of its trunk and limbs even before I felled it.  But I didn’t tell Richard.  I did a demonstration splitting of a block or two before handing the axe to Richard.  I also didn’t mention to him that with my educated eye of 40 years of splitting, I gave him a bastard of a block.  After that, the only splitting that happened was me collapsing with side-splitting laughter.  He flogged and pounded that block till both ends were a pulpy mash without getting a single stick of usable firewood and he was reduced to sweaty despair.  He is bigger, stronger and fitter than me, but you have to be able to hit the same place as last blow.  5mm away is a totally wasted blow.  Cruel I know, but a bloke has to get some mean psychological satisfaction out of 40 years of practice and hard labour.  Stand aside son, this is how it is done.  

I also introduced Richard to the gentle art of septic tank digging.  Having found that contractors take twice the time and charge an infinite multiple of the cost of doing myself, I have devised a method of removing the lid then dealing with the contents with first shovel and then a steel bucket on stick.  That is valuable information for those of you not adept at the art.  But I had to do most of it myself as Richard had failed to bring gum boots with him.  I mean what an oversight!  Surely gum boots should be first on the travel list to Australia.  Mine didn’t fit as he has feet suitable for water skiing.   

We have got on well.  Actually, I have just gone to recharge my red wine and told him we have got on well, as he is cooking dinner.  Also asked if I may put a blog up that takes the piss out of him as the newbie pom splitting blocks.  He agreed.  It has also been interesting to realise that we were both very much in the same situation when we graduated as mechanical engineers, but life is chaos, and like two skis released down a mogul field, or two leaves dropped in the same place in a creek, our lives and fortunes quickly diverged.  With father and grandfather both vicars, and 2 great grandfathers vicars, I think it fair to say he has a very strong moral streak with an ethos of serving.  With my background of staunch atheists, I think I can make the claim to have a strong streak of hedonism.  Slightly moderated by the realisation that if we don’t all treat each other well, life will turn to shit.  

This is by way of an apology for not writing a blog for so long.  



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