We’ve been in the process of designing the water system at Tierra Del Sueno for over a year, consulting with a water engineer from the US with experience in designing community water projects for developing countries. There are two main options for setting up the system. The first is to dig a well down at the lower part of the property near the existing hand-dug well, then pump up the hill to a large storage tank that would then allow gravity fed water pressure to the lots. The other option is to dig at the top of the hill, allowing us to pump straight up and into a tank and then also supply all the lots with gravity fed water pressure. We believed that the upper well would have to be deeper than the lower well, but there would be savings in that less pipe and a less powerful pump would be needed to move water vertically versus at an angle from the bottom. Kim asked the engineer for his advice and he suggested we drill at the top of the hill. We assumed that as the community grew we might need to eventually drill a second well at the bottom also, but we’d deal with that issue when it arose.
So we started at the top. The drill encountered very hard (basalt) rock right away and all along the way (see video above). At 200′ there was not as much water as we had hoped. We couldn’t get an exact measurement but our driller – who has experience drilling in Canada, the US, and Mexico – assured us it was not enough for 16 houses. We kept going. At 250′ we saw a slight increase in the amount of water and he suggested we go further to improve it. Nearing 300’ we saw a change in the rock layer which he was able to identify as quartz (which can sometimes be associated with salt water) and he decided not to go any deeper.
Their method for determining the water production is to blow compressed air from their drill into the well and measure how much water comes out. It’s an inexact measurement and all the air blasting into the veins can actually prevent water from flowing out. Using this method we measured a flow rate of 2.7 gallons per minute. He assured us that with a submersible pump sucking water out the actual flow rate would be more like 5-6 gallons per minute. The price of a precise pump test is more than the cost of buying a pump ourselves so we decided to skip the test and will wait until we get a pump installed to know the exact rate of flow.
Unfortunately it was clear that even at 5 gallons per minute (or 300 gallons per hour, or 3600 gallons in 12 hours of pumping) we would not have enough water for 16 houses and drilling another well was necessary. Since the truck was already on the property we decided to go ahead and begin drilling the second well right away at the lowest part of the property. We had much higher hopes for this well and chose a location just uphill from an existing well that has not run dry even in the driest dry seasons unlike other wells in the area. Surprisingly there was even harder rock at this location. We expected to find water at 150′ but even at 200′ we didn’t find the fountain we’d hoped for. Based on a recommendation from the driller we went all the way to 275′ before we saw the change in the rock that would point to a possible vein of water. We stopped at 280′ and the flow rate test revealed about 2 gallons per minute. Again, without installing our own submersible pump we can’t know exactly how much water we’re getting, but should be double or 4-5 gallons per minute. Even with those two wells we decided we don’t have as much water as we want for 16 lots.
BUT, keep in mind that we are drilling at the absolute driest time of year. It’s the very end of the dry season and after 6 months without rain all the wells in the area are very low. This year the well at Hotel Chancletas went dry for the first time. The well at Hotel El Coco Loco has been too low to provide for all their needs for months and they’ve been supplementing by bringing in a tractor with a big tank of water weekly. All this will change next month when we get our first solid rains. The water table will rise considerably and hold its level through the end of the rainy season in October and into the first few dry months of November and December. The flow rates we’re seeing now are the worst-case scenario which we’ll hopefully only encounter in the last one to two months of the dry seasons.
Water shortages are a reality worldwide. It’s easy to forget that fact while living somewhere with a municipal water supply. You turn on the tap and water flows without a worry while the rivers run dry out of sight elsewhere. Taps in LA are draining Mono Lake hundreds of miles away in Nevada. Living somewhere like Nicaragua keeps one closer to the environment and much more aware of its situation. Trash doesn’t just disappear. Water doesn’t flow endlessly.
The solution is designing for and practicing water conservation. Kim and I will be installing composting toilets to not only save water but also create compost to enrich the soil. We’ll be setting up grey water systems to re-use our shower, sink, and laundry water to irrigate plants, and we’ll also be collecting rainwater. Water as precious as gold down here and we don’t want to waste a drop.
Once again taking advantage of the fact that the truck is already on the property Kim and I decided to drill another well on our lot to help take pressure off the community system. With the 2 community wells combined we expect to get at least 10 gallons per minute which is 7200 gallons in 12 hours which should be plenty. Once we install pumps into both wells and get accurate readings of flow rates we’ll be able to know exactly how many houses we can supply and whether or not we’ll need any more wells to service the 16 lots at Tierra Del Sueno.