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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Plentiful Water, Right at Your Feet, by Matt H. in Washington State

I want to bring up a topic that should be critical to those trying to prepare. I am one of the folks that wants to survive in place in a suburban environment. The serious weak link in any survival program is that of water. We have all read the endless articles about finding and preparing potable (drinkable) water. The endless stories of filtering, boiling, bleach-treating. I believe one area has been overlooked. Proviso: The following is presented for educational purposes only, and should only be considered in life and death situations!

Can I tell you all a little about my background? I was one of the many starving college kids in the 1970s while trying to make my way through college to earn a degree in engineering I took many jobs. One of the jobs I took was that of a "Street flushers helper". What a street flusher does is go out in the small hours of the morning and flush the streets in a large truck filled with water. The irony of all this is that it was in Seattle, where we normally get 40 inches of rainfall a year. I know, I know it sounds crazy but they were willing to pay for it and I needed the money. So where does a street flusher get all that water? That’s where the story gets interesting.

The lowly hydrant, you know those red, white and yellow things you can’t park in front of. They are everywhere and no one gives a thought about them. If you are a street flusher they were very dear indeed. I had my favorites, because it was part of my job to keep the truck full of water. I always wanted to find the high flowing hydrants. That’s when I was taught the laws of gravity for the very first time. We had a hydrant that we used over and over again because it was the lowest hydrant on the system. And boy did it put out water, I could fill a 1,500 gallon water truck in just under 12 minutes. We had at least 115 Pounds per Square Inch (PSI). On those very cold nights you want to be out of the truck just as short as time as possible.

So how do you get access to all that water at the hydrant? Remember folks we are talking about grid down and people are suffering from dehydration and you need water now. Well, that’s where the hydrant wrench comes in. Please don't confuse this with a pipe wrench a plumber would use. The nuts on a hydrant are Pentagon shape so you need a special wrench. If you use a pipe wrench you will permanently mar the nuts and I want to strongly discourage that. This is a special wrench that you can buy online, they are not cheap. A new wrench would run you about $50. I bought mine through eBay many years ago for 24 dollars. I prefer the stout two piece wrench I do recommend the heavier wrenches, the lowest hydrant on your system may not have been opened in years. The cheap heads can break and need to be replaced. I also recommend getting a [wrench handle extension] "cheater" pipe. We used a six-foot piece of one inch galvanized pipe we called "The Staff". Any hydrant will yield with a long enough lever arm. This is specially important for the female preppers (The longer the lever arm the less physical strength needed). If the cost of the wrench seems a bit steep remember the cost of all that bottled water stashed in your garage.

When I would go out and crack open the hydrant at o-dark-thirty in the morning, I would appreciate having a stout hydrant wrench in my hands. Between rust and way too many coats of paint some hydrants will still refuse to yield. One trick I would do would try to close the nut slightly tighter to try and break the rust free. If any hydrant gave us too much grief we would notify the water purveyor that they had a problem hydrant.
You could be a real lifesaver with this resource. Remember Charlton Heston playing Moses in a Cecil B DeMille movie, where he struck the rock with his staff and out poured the water? Well, with your wrench and your staff you too could save hundreds of lives if you pre-locate the lowest hydrant on your system. This could bring a whole new meaning to finding your favorite watering hole.

Grid up or grid down water will always seek the lowest point in the system. If you’re local water tower is empty so what? There are still millions of gallons of fresh water in the system. All you need to know is how to find it. Here is a bonus that most folks forget: Most meters do not have a backflow valve (A one way check valve). So as long as some one in any house or apartment leaves a tap open that water loses its vacuum and returns to the main line and the lowest hydrant on the system. In undulating country side there will be pockets of trapped water everywhere. So you live in a dead flat area? Well, the water is still there--all you have to do is go and get it. Most hydrants are held down with 8 to 12 3/4 quarter inch diameter bolts. Some are meant to break away in case of a crash but most are not. It will take some work and you will be breaching a closed system, so you had better not do this on a whim. Remember folks: do this in life and death situations only! It would subsequently take a chlorine shock to restore the integrity of the line. [And of course ithe hydrant would have to be re-assembled for the system to ever be capable of being used in its normally intended manner.]

So just how much water are we talking about? Well if we do some rough math together you can find millions of gallons of unused water. If you’re concerned about stealing the water please make a five dollar donation now to your water supplier, that would allow you to take 1,000 gallons of fresh water with a clear conscience. Most water lines are 8 to 12 inches in diameter. An 8 inch line holds about 2 gallons per lineal foot. A 12 inch line holds 6 gallons per lineal foot. So if each hydrant is a 1,000 feet apart plus you have all the secondary lines flowing back into the main line you have thousands of gallons of fresh water ready for harvesting.
Back to the math, if you have a water tower 100 feet in the air the head pressure will give you 44 PSI at ground level. Do you need 44 PSI to wet your whistle? No, you need 3 PSI like you get from a drinking fountain. So you need about 18 feet of head pressure on the line. Hence the search for the lowest hydrant on the system. And yes I did account for the water line being below the frost line at 4 feet and the outlet being 2 feet off the ground. This means water in the system will flow even in sub freezing Conditions.

I used to love the hydrants in industrial areas. These hummers were on 12 to 18 inch lines, talk about volume. If you live in an industrial area you are in luck. First who in their right mind would seek out water in an industrial park? Second the volumes are there. One word of hydrant caution if the hydrant is purple or the piping or the meter is purple that is industrial water and can never be used for human consumption. Sometimes the hydrant would have a sign on it “non potable water“. Steer clear of all things purple. Another source is some old buildings had water towers on the roof. These towers were used to flood the stand pipes and sprinklers in case of fire. This could be a valuable resource.

The hydrant itself is just a large cast iron spigot with its frost free valve below the frost line. The older ones did not have the enamel coating on the inside so your first drink will be a bit rusty tasting. Worried about Fido and his aim? First Fido aims for the base of the hydrant not the top. Second if your concerned about it spray the hydrant down with a 5% bleach solution before you start. I dare say that hydrant being out in the direct sun is far cleaner than the company water cooler.

So you don't have a 1,500 gallon water truck to locate and transport the water back to your location? I can think of some ways on harvesting the water. I used a four mile radius on Google Earth around my house. Once I found my location I asked for a terrain map. Just 2,000 feet south of me is a low spot in the terrain. After a short walk I found that there was a hydrant there. This is certainly not the lowest on the system but it is close by. I do know that the hydrant will still have water long after all the neighboring houses have gone dry. When that hydrant goes dry I will have to increase my search radius to another lower hydrant. So you found your low hydrant and you have hydrant wrench. Remember you only need the cheater pipe on very stubborn rusty hydrants. To capture the water I would bring two 5-gallon food grade buckets. You might be able to stash these buckets in a near by location. I would fill one bucket at a time by drizzling water in than I would transfer the water into 10 one gallon milk jugs. I plan on riding my bicycle down to the hydrant then walking it back by wiring the 70 pounds of water to its frame. Is it the most safe and efficient means of transporting water? Probably not but this will work for me.

In closing 5,000 people die each day because of water-related illnesses. I watched thousands of Hurricane Katrina victims walk right past hydrants in their search for water. While many in desperation will drink from the city duck pond, all the while millions of gallons of fresh water will go unharvested right beneath their feet. You and your family should never be the one straining muck through your teeth hoping the diarrhea that follows won’t kill you. There must be a small group of leaders that will show the people the way. I hope and pray that you will be one of them. Again, the preceding is for life and death situations only!