29 April 2013

Water water, everywhere (again)

Hooray!  The city water supply, AyA, is back up and running.  No more operating toilets with jugs of bottled water.  We can shower!  We can go down to the bodega and turn on the pump again.

Oh ... the bodega has water running out from under the door.

Oh, the water is pouring out of the top of the pump, all over my tools and equipment that never made it out of the boxes yet.  Oh, hell.

This all started two days ago.  We didn't know that it had even started at all until early Sunday morning.  Pat awakened me with, "John ... somethings wrong ... (adrenaline level spikes) ... there's no water and I think the pump has been running all night!

"Yikes.  I'm thinking that I'll find the pump running inside the bodega, emitting smoke because of running dry for hours.

I grabbed the keys and ran out the back door and down to the bodega. Threw open the door.  No smoke.  Phew!  I just shut off the breaker to the pump and closed the door.  Mistake.
It took awhile to check the water tank (empty) and the various water feeds (dry) and to verify that the water meters hadn't been stolen or removed by the water company in yet another "miscommunication" at the water company's offices.

On the second trip to the street, in an attempt to find out if anybody else had water, a neighbor mentioned that she hadn't had water for two days.  Nobody in the hood had water for two days because the AyA contractor, MECA, cut the main waterline and decided it was perfectly acceptable to knock off work at noon on Saturday, without fixing it.  We'd been running off of our big tank, blissfully unaware of the situation, and then the automatic nighttime water sprinklers came on and drained 'er dry.  Great.

Even with bathrooms all over the place, it only takes a short time for a long term lack of water to get to a crisis stage.  So, off we went to the grocery store to grab some 5 gallon water cooler jugs and a bunch of more user-friendly 6 liter babies.  Since it was Sunday -- meaning that there wasn't an icicles prayer of seeing a repair happen before Monday, if then -- we really loaded up on bottles.  We also alerted friends in other water jurisdictions that we might be over Monday on a water raid, filling up newly emptied jugs.

However, Monday dawned with the sweet sound of toilet tanks filling.


How are the toilet tanks filling if the pump is turned off?  Oh, yeah, there must be a backfeed somehow through the old casita feed and we're seeing city water main pressure.  I wonder how that works?  I thought ....

Down I tramped to the bodega.  There to my wondering eyes is a cascade of water pouring out of the top of the pump.

It happens that my failure to actually get down on the dark grubby floor and inspect the pump's plumbing after the all night run of Saturday/Sunday has lead to the current flood.  It seems that Mr. Pump had generated so much heat, while running dry, that he had melted the plastic pipe fittings coming off of his high pressure side.  Now those melted fittings were leaking at several joints, due to the mystery cross connection with city water pressure.  And running all over the floor and out the door.

Need to shut off the water and get busy.  That valve and that valve and that valve.  There.  Off ... not.  Well, maybe that valve.  Nope.  O.K., back out to the street and shut off the city's valves to both water meters.

Even with this there was an AMAZING amount of water pressure trapped in the web of stretched plastic pipe all over this stinking compound.  And, of course, the pump is the low point in all of this circuitry so when I finally broke the pipe unions at the pump, I felt like I was bailing the engine room of the Titanic.

A quick trip to the hardware store for replacement fittings; back to the bodega; grab some dripping wrenches; get to work.

Unions broken and ... wait ... what?  The undamaged pipe joints are loose at the backflow preventer valve.  Both ends.

Yep.  In an apparent attempt to save themselves a penny or two on each backflow valve, the fine engineers over in China had shortened the threaded ends of their valve so that the threads were way too short for a standard threaded plastic fitting to  engage completely and seal.  Soooooo ...

The pump "expert" who we hired for the original install of our pressure system had wacked off the ends of the plastic male pipe threads (with a machete, from the looks of things) and then wrapped those threads with a half mile of teflon tape.  It worked fine, for a year, until it all got a little over-heated.

Hey, I can play that game too.  Today, I shortened my new fittings, a bit more carefully, with a saw and file, taped the crap out of them and jammed to pump piping back together.

It might last for another year.

If the pump isn't damaged beyond use.

If there isn't an earthquake.

If there isn't some other source of heat or shaking or if Murphy doesn't show up.

Maybe I need to install a flood alarm.  And a low water level alarm.  And an automatic power cutoff for the pump if there's a flow interruption.

This could get expensive.  Heck with it.  I'm taking a nap.


  1. Wow.
    Lesson learned by me: always expect and look for the worse.

    I do have some big bottles of water stashed around the estate in case of earthquake emergency. And we can always flush with pool water!

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  3. That is absolutely unacceptable to knock off from work on a weekend and without even finishing up their job! Plumbers near Sydney are different. They are always available around the clock for normal plumbing or for emergency services. Hence, you need not worry about having any unfinished business even during the weekends or even at any time of the day.