Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Well Story

May, 2008.

When we first arrived home at Summer Hill from our winter months in Florida, I was very excited to get out of the motorhome, and stand for a long time under a hot shower. But, the shower I longed for was not to be! Our well pump had stopped working. There was no water coming out of our taps. We called our local plumber, and he and Jim began the search for our well head to try and retrieve and replace the old pump. Because the well had been dug many years before modern code requirements, the well head was not installed above ground. We had only a general idea about the possible location of the old well head. That afternoon, we were unable to locate the well and we had return to the motorhome to take showers and go to the bathroom.

The next day, we hired a backhoe & operator, and he dug a giant cavity six feet deep, about 20 feet by 20 feet square. The plumber finally found the old well head. But, unfortunately, during the attempt to extract the old pump, the interior sides of the well caved in! Uh oh.

Our next step was to call a well driller and get on a WAITING LIST. We waited ten days for him to show up. (Back to living in the motorhome again.) The driller started by drilling near the old well. He drilled 360 feet, only to reach a limestone cavern that caved in. OK, his next drill spot was about fifty feet across the driveway (are you getting the picture of our formerly beautiful driveway and lawn?)...He drilled 160 feet down and reached another cavern that was evidently connected to the first well and vapor came geysering out of the first hole! Very interesting geologically, but not good for us.

The drill operator took out his divining rod (I am NOT kidding) and started poking all around the yard, including in my flower and vegetable gardens. Un-f-ing-believable. He tried to give up and leave, telling us we had no well water under our property. WHAT?!? So, you're telling me we have to live in our motorhome forever and that our home is now worthless? I don't THINK so! The drill operator called in the Big Guy, his daddy. Daddy Driller relocated the rig to the opposite end of the driveway, enlarged the drill bit, and encased the hole the entire way down in welded steel pipes, to protect against cave-ins. At 167 feet, he struck a LOT of water, but it was full of ocher (red clay).

That day, I learned a new word: "turbulating." I'm not so sure the word would hold up in a scrabble game. But in the well business, to Turbulate means "To vigorously pump air deep into a well cavity, pushing the the water out of the well with great force causing significant turbidity, in order to clean out the loose debris and to create a clean well water storage cavity." The ocher had to be removed from the water before it would be potable.

You cannot imagine the volume of turbulated water, foamy & brownish orange (coincidentally, about the same color as raw sewage) that came gushing out of the top of that new well. The water was actually clean (except for iron and other minerals). Because the water came from a well that was so deep, it had no nutrients and no pollution, it was just reddish limestone silt, but it looked awful. ...

... OK, picture this: We live on a hillside above a wild and scenic, very famous river -- the Batten Kill. The world-renowned fly-fishing retailer, Orvis, started here, on the Batten Kill. People come from around the world to fish in this pristine place.

About fifty gallons of foamy brownish orange water per minute were rushing down the hill from our new well. Toward the Batten Kill. During this entire well ordeal, I had been trying to be calm and not act like the screaming Flatlander* environmentalist that we all know I am. (*Flatlander is the local term for non-native Vermonters who moved here from anywhere else.) I had tried to go along and get along with the locals, but I couldn't stand it anymore. I followed the orange rivulet down the hill as it rushed through the stormwater ditch, into a culvert, under our road, down our neighbor's hill, into another culvert, under River Road, and directly INTO THE BATTEN KILL! I had followed the flow about 800 feet down our very steep hill, and I was now freaking out at the bottom of the hill. There I was, overweight, out of shape, trying to run back up the hill to tell the driller to TURN OFF THE F-ING PUMP! By the time, huffing and puffing, I finally got back to our driveway, about a mile's worth of orange silty water had poured into the river from our property.

Can you imagine? I was mortified! The driller and his daddy tried to assure me that the water was perfectly clean, there was no problem. No worries, ma'am. !!! Yeah, right. I knew better. They finally turned off the turbulating pump. Since it was 5 p.m., the drillers went home for the day, leaving the evidence stream flowing all the way to the Hudson.

The next morning, at 6:00 a.m. (real Vermonters are Morning People) the entire body of Selectmen (AKA: City Councilmen) of Arlington and the head of the local highway department were in our driveway. Their phones had rung off their hooks the night before with complaints from citizens about polluted water flowing into the river coming in from direction of our house. It took some extremely apologetic fast-talking on my part and Jim's, and we somehow avoided a fine or jail sentence. The river, of course, was absolutely OK since the gush from our well really and truly was clean water. The quality of water from our well was actually better than runoff from a storm or snowmelt, but it looked just awful.

Anyway, several thousand dollars in well drilling and trenching expense and four weeks later, we have copious amounts of crystal clear spring water now pumping into the plumbing system of our house. What an ordeal. Fresh water will never be taken for granted by me again!

Three days ago, Jim finished hand shoveling 22 TONS of gravel on the driveway and 10 TONS of topsoil on the yard to repair the well drilling damage. He distributed several bags of grass seed to repair the lawn.

Two days after the re-seeding, we had a rare (global warming) hailstorm and all of the seed and most of the new topsoil washed away. Into the Batten Kill.

Other than that, everything's been great! ... Seriously, everything here is really, really beautiful, the weather has been mostly perfect -- warm days, cool nights, and flowers are blooming everywhere. Very, very scenic and wonderful. I just had to share our well experience with you.

Karen Lee
Summer Hill
June, 2008

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