Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mountain Living - Water Part II

Here we go with the next installment of the well water saga...

The well pro arrived today to acid treat the well. What's that, I hear you ask?

You may recall from an earlier post that there was a lot of iron and sulphur bacteria in the well. One way to kill that off - as well as to remove some kinds of mineral buildup inside the well and thus possibly increase water production - is to pour a lot of acid into the well. In this case he used 10 gallons of a solution that was labelled as containing two different kinds of acid. In addition, he put something like 40 pounds of dry ice down there too. That froths up the acid and water, moving things around, killing off more buggies, and removing more mineral gunk.

That acid micture sits down in the well for 24 hours doing it's job. Then the well pro comes back tomorrow, reinstalls the pump, and pumps out all (roughly) 200 gallons of water, acid and muck from the well. That stuff just gets dumped out on the ground. Then things are hooked back up as usual and the fresh water flowing into the well is pumped into my holding tanks.

The news from the well pro was pretty good. The old well pump tested out reasonably well. It's a bit less efficient than a new pump, but that's from a couple of years of use pumping water and slime up a pipe 380 feet long. So we don't need a new pump. What we have can be reinstalled, and a great cost savings.

Some things will change, though. First, the well pro tells me that it is possible the check valve built into the pump trapped an air bubble inside it. If that happened, the pump might have run and heated up without moving any water. That would not be good, since the moving water is the coolant for the pump. To get around that possibility, he's going to disable the check valve. If any bubbles get in there, they'll be able to rise up the pipe and thus get away from the pump to a place they can do no harm.

In addition, he's going to replace the bottom 40 feet of 1" PVC with 1.25" PVC. He will install a check valve between those two sections - to replace the disabled one in the pump - and a bell reducer above them to adapt back to the 1" PVC coming the rest of the way up the well. That should make for better flow out of the pump, and heavier (sturdier) pipe down at the bottom of the well.

With luck, all of that happens tomorrow while we're away. The well pro will call when he's done, and I'll update you on that later.

Assuming all of that happens as planned, it will get water flowing back into our holding tanks. But we still have to deal with all the filtration equipment issues, and they won't get worked again until mid to late August.

So look for Mountain Living - Water Part III in a few weeks. In the meantime, remember that we're travelling and I won't have much internet access, so take care and look for updates at longer intervals until we get back.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Go See "The Dark Knight"

I'll make this short & sweet: go see The Dark Knight.

This isn't your campy, 1960's Batman. This is dark, gritty, violent, and challenging. Bruce Wayne's choices are awful, and the Joker as portrayed by Heath Ledger is chaotic evil incarnate. I always felt that Jack Nicholson did an OK job as the joker, but not fantastic. This Joker is really disturbing. Really.

This is far and away the best comic book film adaptation I have ever seen. It's true to what Batman was supposed to be, and yet it's updated and very real. Very in the present. It's disturbingly possible.

Go. Watch the movie. I'll bet it haunts you the way it's haunting me.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mountain Living - Water Part I.V

Aside: I have no idea how the Romans would have noted 1.5. Would it have been I.V as I've done it? No clue. Anyway...

Just talked to the well pro and he (obviously) didn't get here today. As he kind of expected, the job today went long, and he didn't get back to my pump testing.

He promises he will have it fixed and installed before Wednesday, though, so the next water update is delayed until he gets the work done, and possibly longer. I've got a two week vacation coming up soon as well that may delay things. If I have a computer that works while I'm gone I might be able to post something, but if not, this will be a quiet blog until I get back. Many of you - if there are many of you reading this - will probably appreciate that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mountain Living - Water Part I

A couple of weeks ago we noted that our RO (reverse osmosis) drinking water system wasn't keeping up with usage. That seemed odd, as we don't use that much, so I checked it out and could find nothing obviously wrong.

So I called the (major) manufacturer - who will remain nameless to avoid lawsuits - and asked the cost of a replacement membrane. I'd changed out all the pre and post filters earlier this year, so it could only be the membrane, right? Actually, no. It was replaced only 6 months or so earlier, and it shouldn't need replacement either. Anyway, a new membrane is about $170. Ouch. Something that's supposed to last 4-5 years is dying in 18 months, and I need to spend that much to replace it?

Asking why it is dying so soon I get "this is an old unit and they have an expected lifespan of 10 - 15 years." Excuse me? I replace everything that can be replaced regularly and the only things left - mostly a plastic housing - still has a limited lifespan?

So I decide to let the (major) manufacturer send a sales guy out to look it over, see what he thinks, and make recommendations. That's free. Sending a service technician out costs well over $100 just to get him to the door.

The sales guy arrives, looks things over, tests the water for total dissolved solids and says "Wow. That's really bad." Turns out that the RO system is still emitting water with TDS readings of over 400. My regular kitchen tap is a bit over 500, so the RO unit is really trashed. The water isn't that hard either - no softener needed.

The upshot is that our turbidity filter is no longer working. It's made by the same company and needs to be replaced, and was installed when the RO unit was installed, back in 1993. Cost is $2400, but that's the "special deal" they're offering this month only. Grrr. I hate marketing crap like that. Fine, I tell him to let me look around, ponder and that I'll get back to you.

Next step: find a local vendor that sells filtration equipment from other manufacturers. I talk to a nice lady in a nearby town who wants to get samples of my water to test so they know what needs to be done to it. I can do that, and I do, but in the process I find I cannot get my well pump to produce water. That means I cannot give her a sample straight from the well itself, but more importantly it may mean the well pump isn't working for some reason, and that would be bad. The worst threat is the well could have run dry, but other - more mechanical - issues are easily possible as well. Eventually I put on my rose colored glasses and assume it's because the well had just stopped running and had to recover. (It's never that, but it sounds good, right?)

The nice lady calls me back a day or two later and says that I was right, our TDS is very high, and it's not very hard. Interestingly, her equipment vendor wants to test the water himself because he needs answers to questions she can't give him. That's fine, but I need more samples, including water straight from the well.

I try to get that sample again, but it's still not working. Now I have to debug things. The level in the tanks is down, but not far, so whatever is going on just started. I check power coming out of the contactor and it works. Power goes into the pump controller too. At that point I'm out of my depth. When it goes into solid state electronics, it's time to call the pro.

The pro arrived today and quickly discovered that the pump is actually running, but nothing is coming out. That means we have to pull the pump out of the well to find out what is going on. 380 feet of one inch PVC pipe later, we find this:

The top of the pump housing is at the bottom of the picture. The pipe comes out and immediately you see distortion and bending. Inside the black rubber torque arrestor farther up you'll see more of the same, but this time with a big hole in it.

Something heated up the pipe and water so much that the pipe got weak and the water blew a big hole in it. That's bad.

What might cause things to heat up like that? Well, one possibility is this:

That gooey stuff next to the well head seal is slime from the pipes. There was a lot of it, and my pump guy says it's mostly iron bacteria of some sort. It may have clogged the pump to the point that it was pumping less water and heating up the water in the well. If it got hot enough, the blown out PVC could result.

I'm really glad we noted this when we did. Had I not looked it could have continued running - since the pump was running continuously since the blowout - and driven our power bill through the roof. As it is, we have no idea how long the problem was going on. It might have been running for a week before we did anything about it.

And now, I have to pause the tale. Thus far, I don't know what happens beyond that point. The pump went back to the shop with the well pro, who will examine and clean it looking for the issue that heated things up. In addition, he will bench test it to see what kind of shape it's in. We'll probably acid treat the well to kill some of the bacteria living in it, and we'll need to replace that last 20 feet of pipe, of course. But the water sample from the well can't be taken until all that is done, so I still don't know what we need for water treatment equipment from my local supplier, and I have to get that done before I bother doing anything about fixing or replacing the RO unit.

Those of you getting city water, consider yourselves lucky. Someone else deals with all this for you, and you pay a few dollars a month. I'm pretty sure that amortized over all the years we've lived here, I pay a LOT more for a gallon of tap water than most city dwellers.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Some Overdue Fencing News

I went to Summer Nationals in San Jose on July 8, 2008. I fenced in the men's epee, age 40-49. Despite injuries, lack of practice, and lack of confidence, I finished 13th out of 55. Not bad. For those interested, here is the looooooong version of that story.

Photos from the car fire

My department chief posted some photos from the recent car fire over on the Loma Prieta Volunteer Fire & Rescue blog. I figured I'd mention that here just in case anyone was curious.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Car Fire

12;20am on 7/10/08 saw the volunteer fire department pager go off for a car fire a mile from my home. Since the page said flames were seen under the vehicle, I paused to grab my fire extinguisher on the way out the door. As it happens, that was an optimistic action on my part.

There were bystanders and a sheriff on scene when I arrived, but they were well back from the car because it was fully involved. Flames were four feet or more above the roof of the vehicle. Interestingly, there was no driver or owner present.

I put on my structure turnouts, grabbed my McCloud (a fire fighting hand tool, kind of like a metal rake on sterioids) and briefly worked around the vehicle, keeping the fire from spreading into the surrounding grass & brush, and trying to stay out of the thick smoke vehicle fires always produce. A couple of minutes later our department's water tender arrived. I pulled a hose, the chief fired up the pump, and I put out the fire. Just about the time I had it out our primary response engine arrived on scene to back us up.

This is probably one of those cases where I'll never learn what happened, but if someone deliberately set this fire they deserve more than whatever penalty the law can throw their way. If we'd had any winds at all it could have spread quickly and caused serious loss of property and injury, or even death. Again, assuming it was deliberate, I've got more than a few choice words for whoever did this.

Thankfully we got this one out quickly and kept things from getting too exciting. At some point I'll go back to sleep.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Big Sur Fire Image 2

Once again Alan Seales has sent me an image of the Big Sur fire - technically called the Basin Complex - taken from his deck. This time it was on the evening of July 2nd. Containment on this fire still seems to be a long way off given what I read in the news. Let's hope that changes.

Sudden Oak Death

We had a crew come and trim up a lot of trees around the house a couple of days ago. We'd been planning this well before the recent fires, but as you can imagine, all the tree folks are very busy up here right now given recent events.

One of the trees we had removed was sick with Sudden Oak Death. It was buried in a far corner of the lot and we didn't know it was ill, but when the tree guy spotted it, we knew it had to go. We'd never seen a tree with sudden oak death before, so we had no idea what to expect. As the photo below shows, though, one hint is if the tree appears to be bleeding.

That's thick, ugly, bright red sap that looks like blood. If you see this, the tree is probably a goner and should be removed to help reduce the spread of the disease.

We're also told that the local bay trees are a host of both sudden oak death and the blight that kills the madrone trees. If so, they're doubly nasty.