Water - The journey from sandpoint, dugouts and water tanks to a well

Living in a rural setting the water and sewer is your responsibility.  There are many ways to get that supply to your home such as a sand point, dugouts and water tanks to a well.  But we can also throw rainwater catchment, cistern's and rural water into the considerations.  A lot of choices to be sure and I have done quite a few of them and considered them all.

What is a sandpoint?

A sandpoint is a groundwater source that is created by driving a small diameter screen into a shallow layer of sand that contains water. That screen is connected to a pipe that runs up through the ground and ultimately connects to a single stage jet pump. The pump is then plumbed into the home or irrigation system.  To better understand what a sandpoint is, check out this link.

The actual sandpoint itself can be made of metal with stainless steel screening  or it can be constructed of hard plastic.  You can either obtain ones you drive into the ground or you can get ones that you can wash into the ground with an outside water source.

What is a dugout?

A dugout is a hole that is dug, usually with a backhoe or a cat, that allows for the storage of water.  Depth and size can vary depending on placing and requirements.  Water is obtained from surface run off and sometimes a water vein will be hit that aids in filling.Photo of water in a dugout with trees

What is a water tank?

It is a large vessel, usually plastic, that has a fill hole on the top with a discharge on the bottom. Size can vary from a couple hundred gallons to thousands of gallons.  It is typically used to haul water for home use and/or livestock and is delivered using a ball valve and a discharge hose.  Depending on your needs, you can get water tanks that are made with food grade plastic and ones that are not.  Photo of food grade plastic tank with hose on the ground

What is rain water catchment?

Rainwater harvesting is collecting the run-off from a structure or other impervious surface in order to store it for later use. Traditionally, this involves harvesting the rain from a roof. The rain will collect in gutters that channel the water into downspouts and then into some sort of storage vessel. Rainwater collection systems can be as simple as collecting rain in a rain barrel or as elaborate as harvesting rainwater into large cisterns to supply your entire household demand.  To learn more check out this link.

What is a cistern?

A cistern is a waterproof container that stores water for distribution for household or homestead use.  In days of old, cisterns were typically made under the house and were constructed of concrete blocks that were treated so they did not leak.  In modern times, cisterns destined for below ground use are typically made from fiberglass.  Above ground cisterns can be constructed of fiberglass but can also be made of plastics and are sometimes referred to as holding tanks.  Your climate will affect which system works best.  Cisterns are typically filled with rainwater or by hauling in water from outside sources. If you are thinking of a cistern or want to know more, click here.

What is rural water?

Some areas of the world offer water that is piped from a water treatment plant in a major location. My location refers to it as rural water. Typically, the water is delivered to your house at a predetermined gallons per minute and you must have a holding tank to store the water. You pay a base fee to join, you pay their fees to pipe the water to your holding tank and you pay a monthly water usage fee.  Once it is in your home, it is your responsibility to deliver it to the house and homestead.

My journey from sandpoint, dugouts and water tanks to a well

When I bought this place 30+ years ago, there was an established sandpoint in my sand cellar that was providing less that potable water due to the iron content.  They had tried to fix it by adding some in line filter systems, but the filters would only last a couple days at most, so I took it out.  My cellar is about 6 feet deep and the sandpoint structure goes through the dirt floor of the cellar.  The sandpoint is attached to 12 feet of iron pipe to allow for water movement from the ground to the pump.  How deep the sandpoint is will be dependent on the depth to water in your area.  On the top of the metal pipe would be a foot valve which would then go to shallow well pump to distribute the water.Photo of metal pipe in plastic tube in the groundHaving the sandpoint in the cellar was a good idea I felt as it allowed me to work on it in the warm of the house vs having it outside in a pump house type set up.  And working on the sandpoint proved to be something I needed to do yearly.  With the high iron content and the hardness of the water, the sandpoint had to be pulled and cleaned with a muriatic acid solution to ensure supply.  Once cleaned, the sandpoint would have to be driven or washed down the hole back into the water vein. And if you did not get the joins properly sealed, they would suck air and you would need to do the process over.  It was usually a three day job every time I pulled the sandpoint.  After a few years of doing this, it got harder and harder to to drive the sandpoint the 16' into the ground, so I had someone come in and drill a 4 inch hole in which they placed a ABS plastic pipe to act as a sleeve.  Although it worked great and made setting the sandpoint that much easier, it was not uncommon to hook it with the sandpoint and over time pulling it out.  Through its lifespan, when properly cleaned, the sandpoint would provide about 3 - 4 gallons of water per minute. 

Although the 3 - 4 gallons per minute were sufficient for the house and the homestead, it was not sufficient for any type of treatment I wanted to perform to clear the water.  After a couple consultations and at their recommendations I installed an oversized water softener (80,000 grain water softener) to soften and filter the water.  A water sample revealed that although it did not remove all the impurities it was safe for baby consumption.Photo of blue water softener and blue tank

After about 10 years into living here and dealing with the sandpoint, I thought I would dig a dugout from which I could pump the water to where it was needed.  So I contracted a large backhoe and cat to dig the dugout in the slough bottom that was directly to the south of my home.  After all, it seasonably holds water so why not a great place for the dugout.  Because of the wetness of the soil they had to do the digging once things started to freeze.  And it worked well. By the time he was done digging, I had a dugout that was approximately 14' wide, 14' deep and 60' long.  But the problem was that the soil he removed was too wet for the cat to work and so it had to drain for the next year so that he could spread the berm pile, the very large berm pile. 

The other problem with the saturated soil is that it likes to collapse easily, which was proven when we tried to drop a cribbing down from which to pump water to the house.  It collapsed and crushed the cribbing, so I made the decision to fill in the cribbing hole. 

Although it was not going to work for the house, I am glad every day that I dug the dugout. The bonus was that we hit an underground vein and it filled during the winter and 2021 was the first time I had seen the sides since its original digging 20 years ago.Photo of water reeds and dirt

I drop pumps into the dugout all summer long for watering the animals instead of hauling water with my water tank and the water from the dugout is absolutely wonderful for the garden.  During the winter, I have even chopped holes in the ice to pump water to the animals.  But that rates right up there with hauling water in the winter.  It is not fun!  However, besides the summer benefits for the homestead, it brings much tranquility as the water fowl and all of nature's critters enjoy it. And I enjoy seeing them too!  Additionally it helped capture a lot of water from the flooding we experienced about 10 years ago.  All of these things were added bonus's to a project that did not address its intended original use.photo of pelican and geese in water with grass 

So with this learning opportunity behind me, I continued with the sandpoint for another 15 years or so, pulling it anually and treating the bed in the water softener.  However, it still continued to bleed iron on occasion and the water softener bed would not always clean properly.  The older it got, the worse it got until finally it quit working all together.  At the same time, my sandpoint was getting worse and worse and I did not want to go through the efforts of pulling it out again. So I made the decision to unhook it all, look at alternatives to water supply and in the meantime haul water into a storage container in my cellar to supply the house.Photo of blue barrel with black hose and dirt As I was hauling water for the animals using my water tank, it seemed like a logical thing to do to haul water by 5 gallon pail into the house.  Filling the 45 gallon barrel with the hauled water gave water for the house and had you not known, you would not have not known what was going on.  However, you had to be very intentional with your water usage.  But again, the hauling of water got old very quickly.  Well it took years actually.  

During those 5 years I hauled water, I was waffling over what to do.  I would spend a lot of time researching and learning about the pros and cons of water catchment, water storage, cisterns and wells.  Thought processes like, water catchment or above ground water storage would ensure good water all the time, but you had to rely on rain or someone to haul water;  or an inground cistern would mean digging a hole twice the size I needed to ensure I could get it below the frost line and then I still had to rely on rain or hauling water; or that a well was not guaranteed for good water quality or supply.  The one thing they all had in common was that they were all expensive, to varying degrees.  With the back and forth thought processes, talking to contractors and working out prices, before I knew it 5 years had gone by.  So I made a decision. 

The well

Digging a well is a huge, scary commitment and although I was fairly certain I would hit water, I was not certain on the quality given my past experiences with the sandpoint.  So why did I rule out the sandpoint, rainwater catchement, water storage, cistern and rural water?

When considering all the other water supply methods, I estimated that I would need to have a minimum of 4500 gallons of water to be stored at any given time to allow for backup should I not be able to haul it or the rains did not come.  Why did I rule out the other options:

  • I ruled out rural water right away because before rural water even started I had to give $18000 CDN and being they would have to directional drill under a river I knew the costs would sky rocket. 
  • The in ground cistern, although a likeable option, had to have a hole dug at least 16 - 20' across to be able to get it deep enough to get below the frost line of 8'.  Given the close proximity to the house and the fact that I have a sand cellar (no structural walls) with soil that likes to slump, this was not a viable option.  Additionally, hauling of water either through contract or on my own was a given.
  • Above ground rainwater catchment or water storage would involve the purchase of 3 - 1500 gallon holding tanks and then building an addition on to my house to store the water and/or catch it off the roof.  Given that rainwater catchment was dependent on setting up a first flush and that it rained, I knew that I would still have to haul water either through contract or on my own.  The cost of building on was also estimated to be around $10,000 CDN.
  • Pulling out the sandpoint and setting up another one in different location was considered.  But given there is relatively no one that can aid you in setting them up or that even has knowledge about them, I found I knew more about using a sandpoint than most people.  It was also getting increasingly more difficult to source a sandpoint. I knew that I had to pull it once a year no matter what I did and I knew that I did not want to do that any more so I ruled it out as well.

Factors considered, I decided to drill a well.  I wanted a large diameter well (36") vs a small diamter well (6 inches) due to the sheer volume of water that one can store.  And although water storage was my main concern, I also wanted the security of being able to bucket water out of the well if I needed too.  Price point on the two well sizes was comparable, so it did not factor in.  But it was still going to be expensive regardless.  It was estimated to be about $15,000 CDN to do the test hole and drill the well and about $4000 CDN to bring the water from the well to the house, depending on how far they had to go.  So I decided, after consideration of all factors, that the well was going to be my best option.  Digging a test hole was the first step.Photo of truck and trees with man

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