Digging a well by hand: suspend digging in wet weather.
This article describes the a consideration (wet weather and well digger safety) in process of digging a well to provide usable water and the steps taken to make the well safe and sanitary. We include both technical advice and a description of the practical problems that one must encounter and overcome in providing usable water in an area where public water supply is absent or limited.
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Alvin Starkman M.A., LL.B., Casa Machaya, Oaxaca Bed and Breakfast.
This article series offers advice for Hand Dug Water Wells and the sanitation and maintenance concerns with this water supply type.The article author, Alan Starkman is a retired Toronto attorney who operates the Casa Machaya bed and breakfast in Oaxaca Mexico. Mr. Starkman writes here about well digging from a lay person's perspective.
Photo at left courtesy of Carlos Soberman, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
[Click to enlarge any image]
To Every Time, There is a Season: A Season to Dig, A Season to Suspend
In order to get a true reading of the volume of water one can expect to extract from a well, at the worst of times, the digging should proceed and certainly conclude as close to the end of the dry season as possible.
That’s when the water table is the lowest. Digging during the rainy season is more difficult (though the ground is softer), and certainly concluding the digging during or after the rainy season does not provide an accurate measure of the water one can expect to be able to obtain from the well when times are tough – very dry.
We had become both jaded, and admittedly a bit lax about the whole thing, nevertheless feeling a greater sense of urgency as the months passed. Media reports and advisories from ADOSAPACO, the water commission, contributed to our increasing anxiety.
Photo (above-left) courtesy of Carlos Soberman, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
We lamented our unfortunate experience to a neighbor. Amador had done odd jobs around the house for us, such as watering plants while we were away, weeding our garden and planting corn, beans and squash. He was trustworthy, to the point where we had called upon his wife and daughter to baby sit for guests in the house with young children.
Amador was a teacher. However, given teachers’ salaries, he was always open to working on projects which would enable him to make extra cash. Amador agreed to continue digging the well, on his own, for 3,000 pesos per meter. Sometimes one of his sons would accompany him. He had no experience, except that he knew how to descend and ascend a ladder, and use a hammer and chisel. His son would lift the broken stone in the bucket using the pulley, and if he wasn’t available, Amador would do it all himself.
A friend finished digging a well a couple of years earlier, only to learn that he had not completed the work late enough in the dry season. He then had to dig a further three meters. Even after this additional work, he learned that there was not sufficient water for the needs of his family and workshop, even after having dug deeper.
It’s not uncommon for Oaxacans to have to dig down deeper every so often, as changes to the water table occur, for I would imagine a couple of main reasons; more wells having been dug close by, and climactic change. Another friend initially had a nine meter well, and now it’s 13 meters.
The 2009 rainy season was about to begin. Amador exclaimed at the conclusion of a weekend day that he felt humidity at one side of the well, now at about six meters. There had always been concerns: what if there isn’t water down there, or what if we have to go twenty meters. Amador assured us that what he felt wasn’t simply a consequence of the commencement of the rains. At the same time he asked us for more money, stating that it was becoming more difficult, and now dangerous, being down so deep, and with rain loosening the rock. I told him that I wasn’t prepared to pay more now, but when the project was finished I would bump up the pay retroactively from that point in time (number of meters), to 3,500 pesos.
We became more confident in Amador’s assessment that indeed there would be water, when one day he asked us to buy a pump, tubing and other accessories to get the water out of the well so as to enable him to continue digging. I ran out and bought everything Amador had requested, late that Saturday afternoon when the building material supply stores were getting ready to close.
So what if it cost another 4,000 pesos in equipment; we were in business; we had water, in our minds a gusher. And if the pump was only provisional in that eventually we would need a higher horsepower more efficient submersible apparatus, then so be it. And when Amador told us that the chisel points had been broken, of course we’d go back to the herrero, with pleasure, and have them forged again.
Amador worked into the beginning of the rainy season, until he stated he could no longer continue, but would return in three or four months to finish the job. We were at about eight meters, thrilled, and anxious to finish. Our thoughts began to turn to matters such as flow rate and ultimate depth we should go, water analysis, particulars of the pump we would have to install on a permanent basis, and electrical current for it, and several other issues which had been pointed out to us over the past couple of years.
By chance, about this time, either fortunately or unfortunately we were having some major electrical work done around the house. In Mexico, you’re allowed to have more than one hydro meter for a single family home, to reduce your electricity costs. Our builder neglected to tell us this, and more importantly that for a large home, with only one meter, the cost would be significant because one pays a premium for electricity after a certain level of consumption. Our electrician, Maestro Ricardo was changing the wiring so as to accommodate five meters instead of only one. It’s akin to income splitting with one’s spouse or child to reduce the top marginal tax rate, but perfectly legal.
Maestro Ricardo was working away at dividing our electrical current into different circuits, when I asked him about the advisability of having a meter dedicated to the well pump and a couple of other outlets on our party terrace near the bottom of the hill. He thought it was a wise idea. He suggested a 220 volt outlet rather than 110, and proceeded to do the wiring for our well pump.
Fermín, a Pozero Finishes Digging the Well in Loma Linda, Oaxaca
Amador never returned, even though he continues to be our neighbor. However a friend who had begun digging his own well recommended someone else for us, Fermín. He told me he would not need Fermín to finish his well until about May, 2010, and that we could use him until then, the driest part of the dry season.
That served us just fine. We met with Fermín and his son in early 2010, agreed to 3,500 pesos per meter, and a tentative start date. Fermín was the first actual “pozero,” or well digger, that we had used. He had dedicated himself to digging wells by hand for the past 17 years, and was teaching his son the trade.
“You’ll have to get these chisels sharpened again. They’re no good to me like they are. And don’t worry about the ladder. We don’t need it. I do need some thicker rope, though, and we might need more tubing if you’ll want to use the water we pump out to water all your fruit trees.”
The links below provide the details of how to dig and construct a hand dug water well.
Readers should also review Hand Dug Wells what are they, can they be sanitary and safe? Also see WATER TREATMENT EQUIPMENT CHOICES for alternative methods of assuring that water from a dug well remains sanitary and potable, and see WATER PUMP LIFE EXPECTANCY for choices on methods for moving water from a dug well to storage tanks or to the point of use.
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