One of the most interesting features of my home here in the foothills of southeastern Tulare County is the spring providing all of our domestic water, all of the irrigation to our lawn and a little water for animals. Even during the driest part of the summer, it still provides an adequate supply.
Unless you were raised in the hills and are used to drinking from a pipe emptying water into a trough for cattle or horses, you may see our water supply system as both primitive, crude and not very sanitary.
Whatever your opinion, it has provided our hilltop with drinking water since the early 1900’s when Jerry Becker settled on this hilltop.
A spring on the hillside may only run a stream roughly the size of a pencil. That flow alone, cannot be piped to the house, and be expected to provide sufficient water for showers and the toilets — even a small stream of water running 24/7/365. If it is allowed to run into some form of storage, a shower won’t have to be taken in a trickle. When no water is being used in the house, the storage tank slowly fills.
Our water used to be stored in an eight foot metal storage tank on the hillside near the spring. The wooden lid was a series of sturdy two-by-12 lumber planks completely covering the open top of the tank.
At least when the lumber was new it completely covered the opening. My first memory of that tank and wooden lid was probably around 1955 or so, and as I remember it was a little tired even then.
The lumber was a bit weathered, but the boards were relatively tight together. There were cracks between the old boards in only a few places. The nearby oak trees put leaves on the wooden cover every fall, and a few always filtered through. When the water became tinted light brown, a broom swept the leaves away. A little screen scooped any that fell through during the cleaning, and a draining of the tank resulted in clean water.
As I got into high school, the wood cover continued to age. Once my dad and I fished out a dead wood rat. One more draining of the old tank made the water taste a whole lot better. Even though it was not the best system, nor the cleanest, we never got sick.
The final straw came when the water started looking really bad. My mother refused to use it, sending Dad and me up the hill. The worst thing that could happen, had. We had to destroy the old tank to let a dead cow roll out. That was the last straw. My mother insisted a new storage tank be built, and when she put her foot down things happened.
First, a concrete pad was poured, 8 feet wide by 16 feet long. When that was cured, a stone mason was called in to lay concrete block walls 6 feet tall. Then we went inside the walls and built a very stout support and covered that with plywood, fitting it tightly to the walls. Rebar from the pad on the floor, up through the concrete block walls, and was bent over the plywood.
A concrete truck was pulled up the hill, and a very wet mix was poured into the walls, then out over the plywood, sealing the container. A galvanized wash tub was placed on the plywood, and makes a perfectly fitted plug. When the concrete had time to cure, we removed the tub, sawed a hole to allow us to get in and cut out the wood supports. The interior cavity is capable of holding over 4,500 gallons, and it is safe to say it is a whole lot cleaner than the old metal tank with the wooden lid.
The best spring is the one highest up the hill. A slot was dug back into the hill many years ago, with a stone cavity at the end. A 2-inch pipe brings water out of the cavity to a tee. One-inch pipe takes water further down the hill and ultimately into the concrete cistern.
The current problems are limited to an occasional plug in the pipe by roots from the nearby live oak trees. When we have water problems, it relates to insufficient supply.
This sometimes comes at very inconvenient times. One morning I was due in Sacramento at 10 a.m., so was up at 4 a.m. With insufficient water pressure to even take a shower, there was nothing to do but jump on the quad and dash up the hill. A dive into the twenty-four inch standpipe part way down the hill to remove roots from the pipe in the bottom put a rush of water into the cistern.
I never have a water bill, and I have fifteen pounds of water pressure as a result of gravity. Only when the roots plug the pipe coming out of the slot at the main spring, or when they plug the pipe in the standpipe.
Once a few years ago one of the horses got their head under the pipe coming down the hill from the upper spring, and pulled it out of the standpipe. That was an easy fix.
Otherwise, fresh water, much cleaner than it was when I was a kid, flows from our faucets, and waters our lawns at no expense to us.
Brent Gill lives in Springville. His “Daunt to Dillonwood” column appears regularly in The Porterville Recorder. If you enjoyed this column, follow my blog at: http://foothillwriter.blogspot.com.