Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Anyone know a good rain dance?

How long can man live without water? Well reports are from 3 days to 5 days to one week. One quote says: "3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food." Since a human is made up of about 50-65% water, I would lean toward the 3 day theory.

Finally I ran across the following answer:
“A human being can live without food for several weeks because the body uses its fat and protein stores to help it in this process. A fat person is likely to survive for a longer time than a thin man because of the quantity of fat stores. Yet a lot depends on the person and it is certain to leave a person with a lot of tiredness and lack of energy. But water is an entirely different case. A person would most certainly die if he has to go without water for three or four days at a stretch. The size of the person is of no consequence in a situation when there is no water. Thus it has to be concluded that water is more important than food as lack of water leads to dehydration and ultimate death. The water content in the body has to be regularly maintained.”

So, with that in mind I begin my tale of woe.

Since we live on an isolated location on the island of Guanaja, we are self-sufficient regarding water, electricity, fire patrol, garbage handling, and all those little things that make life, well, livable! For our electrical need we decided on solar energy. We have 14 solar panels, plus one that we leave on a spare battery to recharge it to run a water pump that we use to pump water from the stream in the back of the house (about 200 feet from the back of the house and pictured to the left) to water plants during the dry season. We have a 6,900+ gallon cistern which has two holding tanks to collect the water from the roof; one on each side of the house. These tanks have fine, wire mesh filters on the outlet pipe going into the cistern and hold a little over 5 gallons of water before it empties into the cistern. The purpose of the holding tanks is to let the dirt and/or debris settle to the bottom thus allowing the cleaner water to flow into the cistern. We have never been without water in the 9 1/2 years of living in the house, even during the driest times of the year. Of course, we are conservative and watch our consumption of both water and electricity.

We recently bought a new pump as the two we were using were giving out. The pump that we purchased was advertised to run silent. My husband installed it and even though the pumping capabilities were much improved, the noise level was not. It was even louder than the two we had replaced. And, to top it off, we were getting air in the line. My husband checked all the piping to find out why there was air. He could find nothing and then decided it had to be somewhere in the pipe that led into the tank that was located on the inside of the cistern.
The cover for our cistern is under our bookcase/computer desk so we had to pull everything away from the wall to gain access.

BIG SURPRISE. We should have had at least 3/4ths of a tank of water due to the heavy rains in January. Imagine our surprise when we saw only about 2" of water in the tank. No wonder the pump had been pulling air and was so noisey! You see, my husband's job is to keep the filters cleaned and the tanks scrubbed out when the silt builds up. Guess what, folks? He forgot and failed to clean the filters for several months and all that lovely rain in January could not get through the filters and flowed out onto the ground! Needless to say he is kicking himself over and over. I am just glad that it was not my job and I am not the one who was at fault! It would be just another roll of his eyes and a "that's a typical woman for you" if I had made the mistake!

First problem: Where to get water for drinking and how to maintain a steady supply of reasonably clean water for bathing, laundry, dishes and cooking?

Well, we first gathered up lots of containers and headed for our local gas station to fill them up at the water tap there. After explaining our problem. the owner said we could take all we wanted. We then checked with a friend who graciously loaned us two 30-gallon barrels which we would use to fill with water and place in the Bodega. We then ran a hose from the barrels to the pump in the bodega and pumped the water into the house through the water pipe system.

Now, to get potable water. The stream we have in back, as I said, was only used to pumped water for plants. Since it is located at the bottom of the mountain and there are cows and horses around, it is not something we want to drink and is full of silt. (The photo to the left shows how silty the water is.) My husband came up with the idea to use one of my big planter boxes we brought from the states. It already had a hole in the side about 2" from the bottom so we washed gravel and sand and then put in a layer of gravel, a sheet of a special, porous filter paper, the clean sand and another sheet of the filter paper. Of course we had to collect the gravel and sand and clean it.

After setting up the filter, we ran water through this and, at first, it came out only slightly silty.

We then ran water through a second time around the water was much cleaner looking. Can you tell which glass contains the "filtered" water?

We filled one 30-gallon barrel with drinking water that we brought from our friend and the other we filled with the filtered stream water. We initially started pumping from the "clean" water and then decided we would use the filtered water in both barrels since we were not going to drink it. We also decided that we did not want to put this "filtered" water into the cistern and maybe contaminate it, so we will wait for rain to fill it up. My husband ran a hose from the barrels up by the generator house, through the bodega window and up to the pump.

So far the process is working nicely. It is more work to obtain water and we have to conserve more than we did before. We only drink the water we get from our clean source and every time we go out, we take containers to fill up. Oh, if you are asking yourself, what about the increase in the water bill for the individual we are taking water from? No problem. Here on the island there are no water meters and everyone pays one set price no matter how much water is used.

I did run my washing machine (on super load) Monday and, as I told my husband, it used one whole 30-gallon barrel to wash and rinse the clothes. But, at least I do not have to wash clothes by hand. We also have two 55-gallon drums up by the generator house which collect rainwater. However, since there is no rain, we pump water up to the drums first, let it settle to collect any sediment and then, through a faucet in the bottom of both drums, we hook up the hose and gravity pump it to the bodega barrels.

Of course, to flush the toilets we keep a large container nearby to pour down the toilet rather than use up the filtered water. We use the unfiltered water for this task.

So, now we wait for rain......which will be long in coming and when it does it will not be much as we are approaching the dry season! So, if you have any rain dance that might work, do a jig for us!


  1. Low on water on an island where water is abundant...now that's a crying shame. And a real emergency, all joking aside! Must have been a real shockeroo to open the door to the cistern and see it empty. Did you actually hear the crickets chirping? It would have been classic double-take time. My first thought (sorry about this) would have been, "SOMEBODY STOLE OUR DANG WATER!"

    It does sound like Mike is very resourceful, what with all those hoses running to and fro. Think of it this way, when you throw a part now and people ask if they can bring anything, say, "Yes, WATER!"

    I asked the Boss if we could send our fire engine full of water down for you, but he said that at 6 mpg it would be cheaper to just build you one from scratch down there. Sorry.

    I'll pray for rain instead. Good luck.

  2. I'm late reading this, but hopefully you have since received some of that wonderful heavy rain that we have had in La Ceiba.