HOME & HEART: Winterizing Water


When my husband Bob-O and I bought our little piece of paradise 27 years ago, one of the most exciting features was having a natural spring supplying our domestic water, and all of our homestead water, via gravity. The flow was a gallon per minute, but locals had assured us that the spring had never run dry.

Spring Time

Our whole valley and the surrounding hills had once been one large cattle ranch. Our house was the round-up cabin—used by ranch hands when they brought in the cattle for branding, tagging, medicating, or breeding. There was still a very stout cattle chute and corral beyond the nearby not-so-stout, open-sided hay barn. Being the historical water source for the cabin, the spring was deeded to our parcel when the cattle ranchland was divided into smaller pieces and sold. It is not on our parcel, but is our spring.

The spring is across a creek and up a steep hill about 1,000 feet from the road. Surrounded by brush and a few trees, it seeps from the ground into a 12-inch terra-cotta pipe section set upright in the ground. A heavy steel lid keeps the dirt and wildlife out. The water rises in the pipe up to a 3/4-inch pipe. The small pipe is buried, sometimes very shallow, down the hill to join a buried, 1,000-gallon concrete cistern. From the tank, a 1 1/2-inch buried pipe goes down the hill, under the road, and pops out of the creek bank about 5 vertical feet above the creek. From that juncture, the pipe crosses the creek, protected by a steel casing, and disappears on the other side of the bank into the dirt, where it passes under our driveway and connects to the house plumbing in a protected corner of the carport next to the house.

Cold Reality

During our first winter, the disadvantages of this water system were revealed to us. The pipe where it crosses the creek is exposed to freezing temperatures. That year, the water in the pipe was frozen solid for more than a month. As the pipe froze at the creek, the freezing spread up the pipe, underground. When the weather warmed, we had to wait for the underground pipe to thaw, too. Through it all, Bob-O proudly asserted we still had “running” water—he would run to the creek, break a hole in the ice, dip out a bucketful of water, and run back to the house.

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