Author Topic: Well water and whole house water filter  (Read 708 times)

GreenSheep

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 522
Well water and whole house water filter
« on: August 28, 2017, 08:23:43 AM »
Hoping a more experienced Mustachian can help me out here. The answer may just be, "Your well is dry, you idiot," but I want to make sure we're not missing something else.

We have a well that is shared with a downhill neighbor. We also have a whole-house water reverse osmosis filter that holds several hundred gallons of water. (The neighbor does not have a filter.) We just moved here a couple of months ago, and although it's typically a rainy place, we haven't had rain since we arrived. But that's pretty normal for summer in this area.

Yesterday our well-sharing neighbor drove up to ask if we were having water pressure problems. We had noticed that the pressure was a little low when two things were running at once, but we hadn't thought much of it. Just thought it was a quirk of our new-to-us house. He turned off the well water to both houses for a couple of hours, and during that time the pressure rose to nearly 50psi (not sure what it was before, but he said normal is in the 30s -- not sure if that's normal during a drought, though). We went out for a hike with some friends, and when we returned, he had turned on the water to his house and said it was running well. We turned ours on and had only a trickle.

Then we remembered the huge tank connected to our water filter and went out to look at it. We figured we probably had only a trickle because we had a big tank to fill, whereas our neighbor's water was going directly from the well to his house. There's a SCALA2 pressure boosting pump connected to the tank/filter, and its warning lights were on for low tank and high pressure (yeah, high...?). We couldn't tell by listening whether there was water flowing from the well into the tank, and although levels are marked on the side for 100, 200, etc. gallons, the tank is black, so those marks aren't very helpful. I read something online about how the pressure won't reset itself if there's a dry well issue, so we pressed the reset button on the SCALA2, and it made some happy whirring sounds and the warning lights went away. Back inside, we had good pressure in our sinks, with clear water.

However... I flushed the toilet this morning, and there's clearly not enough water to refill the toilet tank. Some muddy water did come in, but also a lot of air. So... it appears that our big RO tank is empty. (Although there's still water coming out of the sinks, but maybe that's just water that was sitting in the line. I didn't let it run long enough to find out.) I also just went out to look at the well pressure, and it's damn near 0psi. Maybe 1-2psi. The pressure did come back up yesterday when we had the water off to both houses for a couple of hours, but that obviously wasn't long enough to fill our tank. I assume our neighbor and his girlfriend have been sleeping all night, like us, so I can't imagine they've been using a huge amount of water.

Oh, one more wrinkle. My husband noticed yesterday that there were two PVC pipe ends that he apparently cut off with a brush mower last weekend. Once the well pressure got high enough, there was water flowing out of them, which is how he noticed them, but we don't know if they were trickling water all week and emptying our tank, or if the pressure has been so low that no water was coming out of them. So he capped them off again. We think those pipes are coming from the RO filter/tank because the former owner was planning to build a workshop in that area. We thought that might be the source of the water issue, but fixing it hasn't seemed to help anything.

So... I think we have primarily a well problem, namely not enough water in the well thanks to the drought, which may have been exacerbated by the cut PVC pipes and might be resolved if we let it sit for a while without any water use, if there's enough groundwater to slowly refill our well/pressure tank. We also have an empty RO tank which needs to be refilled by our dry well. Any thoughts from someone who's dealt with this sort of thing would be very helpful. Mostly just hoping to figure out whether this is an issue that will resolve with time and rain, or whether we're going to need to pay someone to come out and do something to the system for us. Thank you!

BudgetSlasher

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 326
Re: Well water and whole house water filter
« Reply #1 on: August 28, 2017, 05:17:27 PM »
Disclaimer: I have no experience with RO filtration and have avoided having to deal with a shared well.

Do you know anything about the well? The diameter, depth, water depth, or GPM replenishment rate? Sometime the some of this information is written on the underside of the well cap or recorded with a state or local agency. Basically a deep well with a low replenishment rate acts as it own storage tank; for example when the water softener broke in my house and got stuck in recharge mode for over a day it managed to run my well dry, because it pumped water faster than my recharge rate and exhausted the water in the well. On the other hand my buddy has a well that produces 50 GPM and would be darn near impossible to exhaust. Now on to this . . .

Around here deeper wells into bedrock are much less impacted by an occasional draught, but the hydrogeology could be radically different in your area.

[quote author=GreenSheep link=topic=78342.msg1674989#msg1674989 date=1503930223
Oh, one more wrinkle. My husband noticed yesterday that there were two PVC pipe ends that he apparently cut off with a brush mower last weekend. Once the well pressure got high enough, there was water flowing out of them, which is how he noticed them, but we don't know if they were trickling water all week and emptying our tank, or if the pressure has been so low that no water was coming out of them. So he capped them off again. We think those pipes are coming from the RO filter/tank because the former owner was planning to build a workshop in that area. We thought that might be the source of the water issue, but fixing it hasn't seemed to help anything.
[/quote]

Boy does this jump out at me big time . . . it is possible that you have been hemorrhaging water from that pipe all week at a rate faster than the well can recharge and have run the well dry. I would see if the conditions improve over the next serval days. If this was the issue, as the well recharges it will again act as its own buffer tank during periods of high demand.

I hate to mention it, but running a well dry, and thus the pump, can damage the pump (if you have a submerged pump in a deep well, not sure about a jet pump for a shallow well).

Quote
Then we remembered the huge tank connected to our water filter and went out to look at it. We figured we probably had only a trickle because we had a big tank to fill, whereas our neighbor's water was going directly from the well to his house. There's a SCALA2 pressure boosting pump connected to the tank/filter, and its warning lights were on for low tank and high pressure (yeah, high...?). We couldn't tell by listening whether there was water flowing from the well into the tank, and although levels are marked on the side for 100, 200, etc. gallons, the tank is black, so those marks aren't very helpful. I read something online about how the pressure won't reset itself if there's a dry well issue, so we pressed the reset button on the SCALA2, and it made some happy whirring sounds and the warning lights went away. Back inside, we had good pressure in our sinks, with clear water.

It sounds to me like the pump labeled as a "pressure boosting pump" is actually providing pressure to your house from the tank (not boosting it) and the well pump is only providing pressure from the well to the filter, though I suppose it could be pressurizing the tank depending on they type of tank. Do you have any fixtures that are directly off of the well and not the RO you could check (possibly an outdoor hose connection) next time you are having issues inside the house?

Quote
So... I think we have primarily a well problem, namely not enough water in the well thanks to the drought, which may have been exacerbated by the cut PVC pipes and might be resolved if we let it sit for a while without any water use, if there's enough groundwater to slowly refill our well/pressure tank. We also have an empty RO tank which needs to be refilled by our dry well. Any thoughts from someone who's dealt with this sort of thing would be very helpful. Mostly just hoping to figure out whether this is an issue that will resolve with time and rain, or whether we're going to need to pay someone to come out and do something to the system for us. Thank you!

It is possible that the draught lowered the water table, thus the volume of water in your well, and possibly the recharge rate of the well. Leaving it susceptible to being over drawn by a continuously spilling broken pipe.

Do you have any idea how many GPM you RO system filters? From the size of the storage tank, I would presume it is relatively slowly and thus the storage tank acts as a buffer. If it filters slower than you well recharges, it should not be a problem to start it running once the well has recovered.

Before having someone out I would have a look at the well pressure switch the contacts could be wearing out or otherwise stuck.


GreenSheep

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 522
Re: Well water and whole house water filter
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2017, 06:19:46 PM »
Thanks so much for your insight!

Do you know anything about the well? The diameter, depth, water depth, or GPM replenishment rate?

Unfortunately, I don't. There is a GPM meter by the well, and it's blank at the moment, but this morning it was reading 18, if I recall correctly. (Well, it was blank. I just went out there and looked under the little door of the electrical supply for the submerged pump. When I closed the door again, it started running, and the GPM meter is reading 133, but I find that hard to believe. The same opening of the door started the pump running this morning, but then it stopped. I think it may be sensing a dry well.)

The neighbor we spoke with is actually the son of the neighbor. The son has been living there for the past year, helping out. The father, as it turns out, just died suddenly a few days ago. He would have known how all this stuff runs, as he owned our land before he sold this parcel about 10 years ago, and he was the one who had the well dug and kept it running.

I did read that about damaging the pump by running a well dry. (We do have a submerged pump.) The well seemed to be running, at least somewhat, this morning, and the pressure is still at about 12-13, but I don't hear any water in the pipes out there. The RO tank was very slowly filling all day, with a tiny trickle of water going into it, and it has gone from just over 100 gallons to just under 200 gallons. (We weren't able to figure it out in the dark last night, but this morning my husband realized you can remove the top and look inside.) It has stopped trickling sometime this afternoon, though.

It sounds to me like the pump labeled as a "pressure boosting pump" is actually providing pressure to your house from the tank (not boosting it) and the well pump is only providing pressure from the well to the filter

Yes, I think you're correct about this.

Do you have any fixtures that are directly off of the well and not the RO you could check (possibly an outdoor hose connection) next time you are having issues inside the house?

Yes, there is a spigot out there that looks like a hose connection, and it did produce water when we checked it yesterday.

Do you have any idea how many GPM you RO system filters?

Unfortunately, no. The former owners of the house were kind enough to leave us the manual, but it doesn't give that information.

Before having someone out I would have a look at the well pressure switch the contacts could be wearing out or otherwise stuck.

That's a good idea. I'll take a look with my husband when he has a minute, since he knows where his tools are!

Thanks so much for your help. We'll keep working on it and, completely uncharacteristically for me (!), hoping for rain.

Radagast

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 592
  • Location: West of the Mountains, East of the Sea
Re: Well water and whole house water filter
« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2017, 12:15:27 AM »
I am curious about the mud you say you saw. There should never be mud associated with an RO, especially downstream of it.

If you are not mistaken, then either you do not have any water filtration at all, or it is totally garbage, or you have a large leak in a buried pipe 'twixt tank and toilet. I am leaning towards pipe leak because it would also explain the rest, but you could also be mistaken about the mud and have a well problem. At that point though lots of things could be the cause and you may need someone to look at it.
« Last Edit: August 31, 2017, 12:21:39 AM by Radagast »

GreenSheep

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 522
Re: Well water and whole house water filter
« Reply #4 on: August 31, 2017, 09:22:02 PM »
Update: It appears that we have a dry well. We turned off the water to both houses overnight two nights ago, and it started bringing up water in the morning when we turned it back on... but we got a grand total of 15 gallons before it stopped pumping. Today, though, there were dark clouds in the distance, and we got 100 gallons from the well, so I think it rained elsewhere and trickled down to our well.

I think the muddy substance I saw was probably sludge from our horrifically dirty holding tank connected to the RO filter. The previous owner moved in a year ago, and we moved in two months ago. The previous owner had the RO filter and tank installed, and it's so slimy and furry in there that I'm sure no one has ever cleaned the tank or the filter. The water is clear now, but it smells terrible. It smelled like dirt when we first moved in (same now but stronger), so we ordered a test kit from Amazon and tested it for all of the usual suspects, but it came up clean, so we figured we just weren't used to the taste. But now, having seen the inside of the tank... we certainly won't be drinking anything that comes out of it until the tank and filter get a thorough cleaning. Time to get out the water filter we use for camping, perhaps. It pains me to spend $1/gallon at the grocery store.

Unfortunately, we have a bit of a catch-22 going on because cleaning the tank requires water, of course. So we're waiting for the well to start producing good amounts of water again. Meanwhile, thank goodness there's a marina 2 miles away that has hot showers, and a river even closer than that where we can collect large bottles of water to use for toilet flushing. The hot water in the showers is coin-operated, so we're spending 50-75 cents per shower, which feels very un-Mustachian, but I'd rather take a facepunch than a cold shower, and it's still cheaper than what we were paying for city water before we moved.

I appreciate your insights, Radagast and BudgetSlasher. This was a long post about a boring topic!

paddedhat

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1968
Re: Well water and whole house water filter
« Reply #5 on: September 01, 2017, 05:53:11 AM »
At one point we were seriously considering relocating to a part of South Dakota where rural properties often had extremely low production wells, as in a fraction of a gallon a minute. This was quite a shock, since I had only been familiar with wells in the northern Appalachians, where we are usually pretty disappointed when a well only produces 5-10 GPM.  During my research I learned that there is a whole range of techniques and equipment in use for successfully living with a very low volume well, including restrictor valves to limit flow from the pump, storage tanks that slowly and automatically fill, then shut off, and various electronic devices that prevent pumps from burning up from being run dry.  All of this is helpful if you are stuck in a low volume situation. Unfortunately, this extreme conservation, harvesting and storage is of little use however, if you are on a shared well, and other user(s) are unwilling to conserve.

I don't know all the details, but if I was in your shoes, my very first move would be to get a few well drillers out to the property and get an idea of what is exactly is involved, financially and logistically, to drill your own well, and get away from any sharing. It has been discussed at length here, and recently there was a member who took quite a bit of convincing to steer away from another shared responsibility situation, involving a house he and his wife desperately wanted, but shared utilities and responsibilities in rural living often do not end well.  The quicker you get away from sharing any utility, road, driveway, etc , the better of you will be.  JMHO, absent any extreme circumstances,  at no point would I be willing to spend any money on improving a well ( re-drilling the same bore, fracking, etc) that I didn't have control over, and was not located on my property.


GreenSheep

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 522
Re: Well water and whole house water filter
« Reply #6 on: September 01, 2017, 08:41:22 AM »
At one point we were seriously considering relocating to a part of South Dakota where rural properties often had extremely low production wells, as in a fraction of a gallon a minute. This was quite a shock, since I had only been familiar with wells in the northern Appalachians, where we are usually pretty disappointed when a well only produces 5-10 GPM.  During my research I learned that there is a whole range of techniques and equipment in use for successfully living with a very low volume well, including restrictor valves to limit flow from the pump, storage tanks that slowly and automatically fill, then shut off, and various electronic devices that prevent pumps from burning up from being run dry.  All of this is helpful if you are stuck in a low volume situation. Unfortunately, this extreme conservation, harvesting and storage is of little use however, if you are on a shared well, and other user(s) are unwilling to conserve.

I don't know all the details, but if I was in your shoes, my very first move would be to get a few well drillers out to the property and get an idea of what is exactly is involved, financially and logistically, to drill your own well, and get away from any sharing. It has been discussed at length here, and recently there was a member who took quite a bit of convincing to steer away from another shared responsibility situation, involving a house he and his wife desperately wanted, but shared utilities and responsibilities in rural living often do not end well.  The quicker you get away from sharing any utility, road, driveway, etc , the better of you will be.  JMHO, absent any extreme circumstances,  at no point would I be willing to spend any money on improving a well ( re-drilling the same bore, fracking, etc) that I didn't have control over, and was not located on my property.

I've been thinking about these things, and you make some good points. The well is on our property, for better or worse, and it's never run dry in the past. We've had a very, very dry summer, plus the issue of my husband running over the PVC piping (so really, WE are the bad neighbors!), so I think we'll see how it goes over the next few years. There's also the question of what will happen with the neighbor's house now that the owner has died. The son mentioned perhaps renting it. If they rent it to a family of 10 who like to shower 3x/day and wash their 5 cars every week, then we may have a problem. We'll look into having another well drilled if/when it becomes a problem. I agree that it's extremely frustrating to conserve water when you have no idea how much your neighbors might be wasting. We're also going to set up a rain collection system to feed into the RO tank to supplement the well. Just like finances, sometimes it's easier to increase your income than to decrease your spending.

paddedhat

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1968
Re: Well water and whole house water filter
« Reply #7 on: September 01, 2017, 10:41:43 AM »
Interesting. Do you have an written legal agreement regarding sharing the well?  If not, I would serve notice that you are done providing water to the other property, if junior is going to become a landlord or is going to sell the house.  It's a pretty unusual move to subdivide your property, including giving the well up, like the original owner did. Seems to me if junior is going to be renting the place out, you are going to have nothing but issues coming up.

GreenSheep

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 522
Re: Well water and whole house water filter
« Reply #8 on: September 01, 2017, 11:34:28 AM »
Interesting. Do you have an written legal agreement regarding sharing the well?  If not, I would serve notice that you are done providing water to the other property, if junior is going to become a landlord or is going to sell the house.  It's a pretty unusual move to subdivide your property, including giving the well up, like the original owner did. Seems to me if junior is going to be renting the place out, you are going to have nothing but issues coming up.

Hmm, not that I'm aware of, but that really doesn't mean much. If there is one, where would I find it? (We're in Washington state, if it matters.) I worry about starting a feud with the neighbor, especially since we live in a $415,000 home and he lives in a trailer. I'm sure I can guess how he would see this. In some ways, I kind of wish the well would just permanently die and give us an excuse to have our own well dug, leaving the neighbor to dig his own, on his own property. But anyway, legally, how does one go about doing this? Surely we have to give significant advance notice in all sorts of proper legal ways if we're going to turn off the water. I suppose a lawyer would have to be involved... sigh...

paddedhat

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1968
Re: Well water and whole house water filter
« Reply #9 on: September 01, 2017, 12:03:28 PM »
Interesting. Do you have an written legal agreement regarding sharing the well?  If not, I would serve notice that you are done providing water to the other property, if junior is going to become a landlord or is going to sell the house.  It's a pretty unusual move to subdivide your property, including giving the well up, like the original owner did. Seems to me if junior is going to be renting the place out, you are going to have nothing but issues coming up.

Hmm, not that I'm aware of, but that really doesn't mean much. If there is one, where would I find it? (We're in Washington state, if it matters.) I worry about starting a feud with the neighbor, especially since we live in a $415,000 home and he lives in a trailer. I'm sure I can guess how he would see this. In some ways, I kind of wish the well would just permanently die and give us an excuse to have our own well dug, leaving the neighbor to dig his own, on his own property. But anyway, legally, how does one go about doing this? Surely we have to give significant advance notice in all sorts of proper legal ways if we're going to turn off the water. I suppose a lawyer would have to be involved... sigh...

You probably want a lawyer.  Water rights are pretty tricky. OTOH,  if the well is failing, and it sure looks like it is, the situation might just resolve itself.  Drill a new well,  in another location on your lot, and install your own water system. At some point junior will run your well dry, and he is out of luck. It's not reasonable for you to pay for his lack of water, or all him to do work to your well, so he can improve it. Whatever you do, I would make it clear that you were happy to help dad and junior, but you are NOT the default water company for his trailer tenants, and if junior is ever going to sell the place, he is going to have to find his own water.