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Treebeard's Stumper
12 April 2002

A Plumbing Story

I went to Oregon last week to solve a plumbing stumper at my parents' cabin in the woods. Gravity should carry water from the spring down to their water tank, but the buried pipe is a mile long, and the tank was empty. We cut the pipe 10 feet below the overflowing spring. It was dry, but we saw it was plugged with tree roots, so we cleared it all out. We wrapped the cut pipe with "duck tape" for a quick fix, figuring there's no pressure so close to the spring. Dang it, there was still no water at the house! Time to sit and think. What could be wrong, and what's our next step?

That's the condensed version. Here are a few more details.
  • I originally dug the trench for the water line about 25 years ago. It's not deep, but it's completely overgrown and the woods have grown. We can't remember how it runs.

  • The pipeline runs downhill from the springbox to a low place and then uphill to the tank. From there it's all downhill to the house. There's a "T" section at the lowest place on the line that we have to open occasionally to clear an air lock in the line.

  • The first section of pipe runs about 100 yards down from the spring through a forest of maples and woodwardia ferns down to a power line easement another 100 yards across. A crew did some work here last fall cutting trees along the clearing. We suspected a break there, but there was no obvious leak. Beyond the easement, we don't know the path of the pipe runs down to the low "T" section.

  • This all happened last October. I went back to Oregon with my Dad last week to either fix it or call a plumber who would probably just replace the whole line at great expense.

  • The first thing we did was to go back to the spring and dig lots of holes to follow the line down to the easement clearing. We finally cut the pipe at the easement. It was dry. Then we went half-way back to the spring and cut it again. Still dry, and no sign of a leak. Then we went back to our first cut pipe near the spring and undid the duck tape holding the pipe together. There was lots of water! The cut pipe is only a few inches lower than the springbox so there's not much pressure, but I noticed great suction on the downhill/tank side.
Water going in, but nothing coming out, and no visible leak. That was the right time to sit and think! What's our next step, and what could be wrong?

The pipeline goes through here somewhere!


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Copyright © 2002 by Marc Kummel /