Water is a precious resource anywhere, and we are acutely aware of that fact here in NW Montana, especially on the reservation. The entire state is currently in the midst of determining just how water rights have worked, do work, and will work for the future through the Water Rights Court. I don’t know how all that will end up, but I’m glad the state is being proactive in figuring the whole deal out so we don’t end up in absolute-crisis-mode like some of our neighbors to the west and south
As I began the process of finding a site on which to build here at Hillhouse, access to water was absolutely a priority. Hillhouse and the Cabin (and the tack barn, seasonally) are fed by a pretty amazing hand-dug well that dates to the 20s-40s. It is about 35-40 feet deep (can you imagine digging that!?!?) and was originally lined with a redwood casing. Previous owners of the spread took a look in the late 80s-early 90s and determined that the casing was rotting away so they replaced it with a 3ft wide culvert and then concreted the whole thing in place and installed a sanitary cap 6 feet below the (now also concreted) floor of the “pump house.” It is a bit of a marvel, considering the 5ft frost depths and the hundreds-of-yards-long water lines here that we have water at all! Some of the lines are original galvanized steel….and are doing great, thanks for asking.
We’ve had…issues…in the past with the water system, although I can’t really assign any fault to the original design. Several frost-free faucets, buried 5 feet in the ground, failed when the ground heaved and cheap plastic fittings snapped. It took a lot of work just to find the leaks, and a backhoe and somehow chilly man-hours to get everything working again. But that may be a story for another day. Suffice to say, we spent a few Christmases patching pipe.
So for a lot of reasons- practical, legal, financial, and otherwise- I wanted to have a new well for my new place, totally separate from the family system. The very first thing I did to get construction started on my new place was to get a well drilled right before Christmas way back in 2012.
I called in a driller and he showed up in this six wheel drive mechanical monster. I didn’t have the new road in yet, but it had no problems with the ice and snow. At the time, I thought I was putting the casing way out of the way and sort of back in the trees. Unfortunately a lot of the trees came down as the building process went on…but they’re aspen…they’ll grow back.
It was a wonderful sensation when the first bit of water, powered by compressed air, starting spewing out of the rig. Like most of the drilled wells around here, we struck the aquifer around 80 feet down.
I marveled at the beautiful blues, greens, and reds of the sedimentary rock that came spewing up from the depths of the earth. Duck Lake is a “glacial pothole” and our elevation here is about on par with Many Glacier Hotel, so the rocks just 80 feet down look quite familiar!
We finally ended up with this: an ugly six inch steel pipe sticking out of the ground, but its appearance belied its importance to my future! It was hard going to get ‘er all done as the temperatures were WAY below freezing and parts of the drilling rig itself kept freezing up as the night crept on. It got pretty dark, which made welding each casing to the next a bit of a chore as well! Glad that wasn’t my job. I mostly just kept a supply of hot coffee on hand and watched the water spewing out of the back of the truck freeze quickly on contact with the 10 degree gound.
I didn’t get started building for quite a while after putting in the well, but I ended plenty of walks around Hillhouse here at the casing, trying to envision that building that would soon sprout up near it. Eventually I’d dig down below the frost level to six feet or so to install the pitless adapter and piping, as well as the pump itself and all the wiring…but not in December! The water system isn’t perfect- still working on the perfect solution to mitigating the heavy iron and manganese content in the aquifer- but we’ve got all the water we need…and nothing has frozen or broken….yet!