May 262012
 

Water is life, particularly after a Level 2/3 event.

Finding the ideal retreat location is a bit like finding the ideal spouse.  Almost impossible.

There are many different factors to consider in evaluating different retreat locations, including for most of us the key issue of affordability (although when it comes to Level 3 scenarios, it could be argued that a bad retreat location is only slightly better than no retreat location at all).

How to juggle the many different factors for a ‘perfect’ retreat (or, better to say, a ‘least imperfect’ one) involves trying to balance out the different issues, and accordingly different priorities to each issue.  For example, it may be helpful to be close to a railroad track (our guess is that in a Level 3 scenario, trains will start long distance freight and passenger service long before regular road vehicles).  But would you rather be close to a rail line or a river – both may offer transportation options, and a river has another possibly vital plus point too.

Which brings us to the content of this article.  The essential importance of a water supply at your retreat location.

Many Different Uses of Water

Now you probably already know that you need water, right?  You know, that thing about dehydration being fatal after three days with no water, and the rule of thumb about allowing a gallon of water a day for essential minimal uses.  But that’s not the end of the story.  It is barely the beginning of the story.

For a Level 3 scenario, you don’t just need a gallon of water a day – you might potentially need 1,000 gallons a day (to water crops and feed animals) or even more (to run a micro-hydro power station), as well as the modest quantity for yourself.

Let’s think about all the ways that water can help you :

Drinking water – Must be free of contamination, only needed in low quantities

Other Household water – For cooking/washing/flushing type purposes – of successively lower quality

Agricultural water – Some bio-contamination fine, but free of chemicals and poisons, needed in potentially large quantities

Power – Hydro-electric power requires freely flowing water running down a grade, watermills can work on lower flows and lesser drops; needs huge quantities of water

Food – Lakes, rivers and streams could be sources of fish, a more ambitious project is to consider aquaculture

Transportation – Some rivers and lakes are navigable, and water transport is energy-efficient (particularly sail powered)

Security – A water obstacle won’t necessarily make it impossible for attackers to reach you, but it will slow them down and make them more vulnerable while crossing it

Fire-fighting – If you should have a fire, you’ll need a plentiful supply of water to fight it

Money – Maybe you can sell water to others

Community – See our last point, below.  Becoming the community water source helps the community coalesce.

So water is a vital resource, and easy access to large amounts of it – large amounts that don’t require major energy costs to retrieve – is a very important part of choosing your retreat location.

You need to think beyond the simple ‘can I get my gallon of water a day’ concept and consider issues that might require tens of thousands of gallons of water a day, such as the ‘bonus’ of being able to use a water source for hydro-electric power generation.

A further bonus is the potential for catching fish and providing food.  With so many people talking about ‘I’ll go out and hunt deer’, we wonder just how scarce wild game may become; but if you have access to a reasonably private lake or river, maybe your fish supply will not be so threatened.  Maybe.

Many Different Sources of Water

So where can you get water from?  Many different places is the happy answer.

Rainwater – an unreliable seasonal source, better in some areas than others, possibly sufficient for basic household needs.  Almost always of very high quality.  Requires potentially extensive (and therefore expensive) storage capacity so as to keep it available for use in dry months.

Free-flowing springs – These are wonderful but rare.  If you can come up with a spring/well where the water comes out of the ground ‘all by itself’ you are extremely blessed.  Need to check the water quality, and confirm the reliability of the spring flow year-round, and from one year to the next to the next.  Assuming reliable and adequate flow rates, no need for storage.

Wells – These can be prodigious sources of water, but require energy to lift the water up from the level it is found in the well.  We discuss this in our article The Energy Cost of Pumping Water from a Well.  More likely to be reasonably pure, but need occasional testing.  Assuming reliable and adequate flow rates, no need for storage.

Rivers and streams – Possibly of varying reliability.  May freeze over in the winter and dry up in the summer.  Will probably require energy expenditure to transfer water from river/stream to retreat.  Of uncertain purity, and need ongoing testing to keep on top of changes in the water quality.  Assuming the water is available year round, no need for storage.

Restrictions on Water Use

The more arid the state, the greater the legislative focus on the ‘ownership’ of water.  And also the ‘greener’ the state (ie the more eco-focused) again the greater the focus on leaving water flows undisturbed.  The welfare of fish is considered more important than the welfare of the state’s citizens.

Restrictions may exist at a state-wide level or at a county level – possibly even at a city level.  Bearing in mind our strong suggestion that everything you do be fully compliant with all current laws, you need to be aware of possible restrictions on your use of water that flows through or near to your property.

City Water Supply

We hopefully don’t need to tell you this, but if you are at a location which provides city water, you should not base your retreat planning on the assumption that the city water supply will continue uninterrupted WTSHTF.

While there is a temptation to using the very inexpensive city water prior to a Level 2/3 event, we recommend you use your own water supply right from when you set up your retreat.  This will give you a chance to identify any problems and issues, and will give you the opportunity to resolve them while you still have all the wonderful resources of modern civilization at hand.

If you just sink a well then leave it, untouched, for years, while happily using the city water instead, you have no way of knowing if something has happened to the pump or maybe the water table has lowered and the well is no longer able to supply you with water.  It is probably better to use your well and pump on a regular basis than to leave it unused and have parts dry out or rust up or whatever else.

Selling Water – Building a Community

You should get a feeling for how other people in your general area get their water.  And think it through to ‘could they continue to get water from this source WTSHTF’.  If everyone has wells, the question becomes ‘Do they have storage tanks, and do they have some way of powering their pump’.

If you live a long way from your nearest neighbor, and if there are some hundred feet of altitude separating you from your neighbors too (especially if you are lower) then maybe you would not be a convenient source of water, especially if there was a good river running by closer to them.  But if water is in short supply, and if you have an abundant source of it, then maybe you can make money by selling water to your neighbors.

We’d suggest you not be greedy in such a case.  You obviously need to cover your energy costs, and the time/hassle factor.  Beyond that, though, being able to help your local community provides a common tie to unite you all – the need to protect your water source from outsiders.  That’s an obvious benefit to you, as is anything that helps a community work together and to establish their self-sufficiency.

How should you be paid for the water you sell?  That’s an entirely different topic, and it depends on the likelihood of the dollar staying as the currency of the country when life returns back to something close to normal.  It also depends on what you most need and what the people buying the water from you have the most of.

If you are using diesel to drive a generator to power the water pump, maybe you say ‘500 gallons of water for one gallon of diesel’.  That sounds very fair, but with your underlying ‘cost’ of diesel to pump the water being more like one gallon of diesel for 7,000 gallons of water, you’ve not only covered the cost of the water, but more than 7 of the 8 pints of diesel you received in exchange can be used for powering other things for other purposes, too.

If you become the community water supply, you could also become the community trading post for other things too – you could even allow (encourage) your neighbors to set up stalls selling and trading the foodstuffs and other items they have for sale in exchange for things they need.  It makes you a community leader, and helps encourage the community to in turn protect and assist you.

May 232012
 

Even if your house is as visually obscured as this one (unlikely) other things will still give it away.

Some preppers base the security of their retreat on hiding it so that it won’t be found.

They glow with pride about how carefully they’ve chosen their retreat location, and its remoteness from main roads and likely off-road flows of people too.  They mutter about ‘OPSEC’ meaningfully, and talk about keeping an ultra-low profile, and won’t even tell you what state it is located in.

This is all good stuff and great to talk about, but it won’t keep you hidden.

We don’t mean to discourage any of these things, but we do mean to alert you to the fact that it is not possible to keep your retreat 100% hidden, all the time, from everyone.  Maybe careful measures will extend the time it takes for the first adversary to stumble across your retreat, but maybe also your location will be discovered by chance rather than by careful searching.

Sooner or later, you will be found.  And once one person finds you, he will tell someone else, and before you know where you are, everyone in the area will know about your retreat and come visiting.

We discuss the subject of Opsec further in our article ‘The Ugly Flip-sides of Opsec‘ and in that article we recommend you should plan on a controlled release of information about your retreat, on your terms, rather than suffer an uncontrolled exposure at some unknown but certain time in the future.  You should read that article too; for the balance of this article, we focus primarily on the uncontrollable ways in which your retreat will be found.

Some Location Giveaways

Here are some types of unavoidable give-aways that will draw attention to you and your retreat.  Your concern isn’t just the people who stumble across your location by chance, it is also the people who are drawn to it due to some sort of indicator that calls attention to it, even from some distance away.

For example, what will you do for heat?  As soon as you start burning anything, you’re giving off odors that in a de-industrialized rural area will travel a long way.  One more smell in the city means nothing.  But in the countryside, anything out-of-place that doesn’t blend into the natural smells – and particularly a burning smell, something we are instinctively taught to notice and fear, will be much more prominent and will be noticed from a reasonable distance.

You’re not only giving off smells, you might be giving off smoke too, providing a visible indicator pointing to your location and visible for many miles around.

Talking about smells we instinctively react to, what will you eat?  Even if you only cook ‘low odor’ foods (rice and beans, perhaps) those odors will travel a long distance, particularly if the person smelling them has his sense of smell sharpened by hunger.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to ask what you do about bodily waste, but let’s just say there’s a reasonable chance there may be some smells associated with that, too!

What about energy?  Will you have a wind turbine?  If so, won’t that be very obvious, especially when the blades are turning, indicating that it is still operating and being maintained?

Solar cells neatly lined in rows on your roof and kept clean of debris also indicate that rather than being an abandoned old shack, your retreat is a cared for location with added value sophisticated contents.

It is true that generators can run incredibly silently, but it is also true that the outdoors itself can be very silent on occasion, making even the slightest out-of-place sound, like a generator running, draw attention to itself.

Will you ever leave your house?  In the winter, you’ll be making footprints in the snow.   Will you grow any food in the summer – any type of cultivation or other landscaping will of course be obvious.  Will you ever go hunting – the sound of each rifle shot might be heard for miles.

Will you have 24 hour blackout curtains on all the windows – heck, why not just build your retreat with no windows at all, then!  If not, your retreat will be a beacon of light at night.

The Unavoidable Paper Trail that Leads to Your Retreat

Think about everything that has happened from the moment you bought the property.  Your purchase of the property has of course been recorded in the county records.  If there were any existing buildings on the property, those are probably already part of the county records.

Maybe you bought some unimproved land and built your own retreat structure.  Did you file building permits with the county?  Do you have utility connections (visible or not)?  Maybe even internet or telephone service?  Did you have any contractors do any work on your house?  Or building inspectors visit?  Did you get mail or courier deliveries at that address?  Do you have occasional deliveries of propane or firewood or diesel fuel?  Does a septic tank service company visit to pump out your tanks?

Even if you think you’ve done everything off the record, sooner or later, the county assessors will update their database and discover the improvements on your property.  Their staff know the areas they are responsible for very well, and if they find a new driveway that didn’t formerly exist, they’ll want to know where it goes.  If they happen to see a contractor’s truck going in or out of the driveway, they’ll doubly want to know what is going on.  Or maybe they’re just doing one of their two/five/ten year revaluations of all property in the county, and someone notices from an aerial photo the presence of buildings and clear indications of agricultural improvements on a block of land they had formerly categorized as unimproved forestry land.

Have a look at, for example, this impressive site that records all details of every property in the entire state of Montana.  Chances are there’s a similar database either for your state or at least the county within your state, whether it be publicly online or not.

Other Problems

What do you say if meeting locals in the nearby town in terms of where you live?  Someone, and probably several or even many people, know that you’re out there, even if not exactly where – you’ll be the guy who lives somewhere up back of (some other place).

What about your travels to and from your retreat?  Have other people seen vehicles they don’t recognize (ie, your vehicles) in out-of-the-way places and wondered who you are and what you are doing?  Have you left tire marks, or do you have a formal driveway or some other indicator of a house on the property?

And so on and so on.  Will anyone else for 50 miles around you know about your retreat?  Unavoidably, and of course.

There are countless ways your presence will be inadvertently revealed, and your life will be a misery if you try to hide it.

The preceding examples show some things you have done or will unavoidably do that draw attention to your retreat.  But that’s not all.  Your retreat could also be found accidentally.

Accidental Discovery Too

We know that in a Level 2/3 situation, there will be an exodus of people from the cities.  Remember that for every rural dweller at present, there are about five or six city dwellers.  In theory, this suggests that the countryside might become five or six times more crowded with people than before, so this by itself increases the chances of someone stumbling across your retreat unexpectedly.

In addition to that, think of everyone you know who confidently says they’ll hunt deer or other wild game for food in a Level 2/3 situation.  Deer will rapidly become an endangered species, that’s for sure!  The woods will be crawling with hunters all eagerly looking for game to shoot, so if your retreat is anywhere close to any sort of hunting, expect an influx of hunters in your area.  Ditto for fishing.  Ditto again for any food bearing plants in the vicinity.  Maybe even for people seeking to fell trees for building materials or to burn.

There’s another potential source of disclosure too.  Google Maps, Bing, and other mapping providers are increasing the frequency of aerial mapping surveys, and the quality/detail of the images they post online.  Many counties have aerial survey maps online too.

Your retreat might be miles from anywhere, but that won’t stop a plane from snapping a beautiful aerial shot of your retreat from the air as it flies over doing a photo-reconnaissance sweep.  Your dwelling will be online for everyone, everywhere in the world, to see next time they open up Google Maps.

Okay, so this presupposes that Google Maps or any of the other online mapping services is still available in a Level 2/3 scenario – a dubious scenario, for sure.  But if your information is/was online, it is probably also printed out somewhere, and a more resourceful looter will access good old-fashioned printed county records to identify tempting targets to go hit.  If you were a looter, wouldn’t you consider an obscured out-of-the-way retreat to be more tempting than one close to three or four neighbors?

It also means that from whenever your retreat first starts to appear on these documents and online records, there will be a small but growing level of awareness of your presence, prior to WTSHTF.

Summary

Figure on being found, sooner or later.  You can not rely on remaining hidden.  Once one person finds you, expect them to share that information with more and more people.

Unfortunately, the more unusual your location, and the more creative you’ve been at obscuring it, the more ‘interesting’ it will be for people to talk about it, and the more curious they will be about exactly who you are and what you have.

By all means do all you can to extend the time until you are found, and hopefully to minimize the frequency of times you are found, but sooner or later, you will have uninvited ‘guests’ arrive unexpectedly.  You need to have a plan for what to do once the veil of obscurity is lifted from your location.

May 162012
 

Rainwater tanks come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and materials.

Storing rainwater of course has cost associated with it.

You’ll want to store enough to make sense, but not too much.  There’s another issue too – in some drier areas, the amount of water you need for the dry months exceeds the amount of water you can collect and store in the wet months, so you need to calculate both the amount of water to store and then to confirm you’ll actually be able to collect that much during the wetter months.

Sadly, the final calculation is not as exact as it might seem.  Sure, you’ll have surrounded yourself with vast masses of rainfall data as part of your calculating, but as you’ll see from the worked example below, at the end of the process, you end up making some subjective guesses.  Feel free to ask us if you have questions or need help.

Getting the Raw Data You Need to Do Your Calculation

The key issue now is understanding the rainfall pattern you’ll experience at your location.  This involves both some science and some art.

The science is simply retrieving historical rainfall data.  The art lies in translating historic rainfall data, which varies from year to year, into the acceptably likely/moderately worst case scenarios that you want to build into your planning, and in taking rainfall data from weather stations that might not be close to your location and equating their rainfall data to what will actually happen at your location.

It is an easy thing to go to various different websites and get average monthly rainfall data for a range of different locations around the country.  We have some links in this article, just a bit further down.

Equating Rainfall at Weather Stations to Rainfall at Your Location

So how to equate this rainfall data with what happens where you are.  Maybe you are 50 miles away from where the nearest data is collected.  That could be okay, but maybe you’re in the rain shadow on the other side of a mountain range from where the data is obtained.  Ooops.  That’s not going to work, is it!

So find the best data you can, and if you can’t find any good data, maybe consider averaging the data from several reasonably close locations.  It is better than nothing.  In particular, use the National Weather Service rainfall maps (link below) to get a sense of the rainfall patterns and distributions for where you live compared to where the sampling stations are.

You can also ask local residents for reality checks about what they might remember or have recorded for past years.  Perhaps they can at least answer some simple questions like ‘how often is there no rain at all in July’ and ‘what is the longest gap between decent rains’ and ‘which month do you need to water the crops the most’.

If you want to get really obsessive, you can even go to the archives of the local newspaper and track daily weather from back issues of the paper.

How Much Information is Enough/Too Much

This last suggestion (going through back issues of the local paper) points out a happy fact.  Much of this information is ‘scientific guesswork’ – sure, the historical rain data is a matter of fact, but applying what happened last year, last decade, last century, to predict what will happen next week or month or year – there comes the guesswork.

So there’s only so much data you need.  There’s little point in spending lots of time and money to go from a 75% understanding of past rainfall to a 90% understanding, if you then go and make a guess with a huge +/- 100% factor in it anyway.

Averages, Maximums, Minimums

Now for the second part of the puzzle.  You’ve probably managed to find a chart of average monthly rainfall measurements, and you might have adjusted this a bit for any variations between the data you’ve found and the reality of your exact location.

But – here’s the problem.  To start off with an example, the average US family formerly used to consist of two adults and 2.5 children.  But have you ever seen a half child?  You can visit as many houses as you like, and while you’ll find many with two and many with three children, you’ll never find a house with half a child.

Another way of looking at an average is to say that an average is the number whereby half the time the reality is higher than this number, and the other half the time, the number is lower than this number.

What that means with rainfall numbers is that the monthly average rainfall will be, for half the time, higher than the actual rainfall.  Sometimes the actual rainfall might be a little less than the monthly average, and sometimes it might be a lot less.  This doesn’t matter to the statistician who has neatly calculated his 100 yr average number, but for you, it could mean the difference between having water and not having water – yes, the difference between life and death.

What you need to do is to establish a number a bit like flood plain numbers (you know, the 50 year and 100 year flood plain zones).  Do you want to base your needs on an average monthly rainfall figure that is half the time more positive than the actual rainfall will be in reality?  We suggest not.

But now comes the guesswork.  Do you want to use a monthly rainfall figure in your planning that is too high one year in three?  Or one year in five?  One year in ten?  How about one year in 50 or 100?

There is a cost associated with this, of course.  The more you want to plan for drier than normal years, the larger you’ll need to make your water storage capacity to carry you over from the good/wet months to the bad/dry months, and so the greater your cost will be.  Plus, sooner or later, you’ll end up with a number so huge that you’ll never be able to fill it based on the rainfall from the preceding wetter months (which circles us back, in such cases, to the need for a second water source).

You must look at a minimum of 10 years of data for each month you are studying.  If there is little variation from one year to the next, then you don’t have to build as big a safety margin into your figuring.  But if the numbers are all over the place, clearly you’re going to have to assume something close to the worst for planning your water needs.

But within what looks like a consistent set of data for perhaps 10 years can be other hidden longer term cycles – some weather cycles have a 60 or longer year period to go from minimum to maximum and back to minimum again.  Maybe the ten years you are looking at are the ten years at the best part of the cycle, which is now trending towards the worst part, which could show extremely different numbers.

At the very least, get an extended data series on an annual basis so you can see what overall variation there is, and if you’re looking at marginal weather and rainfall, you will need to be more careful about the data you are using.

Daily or Monthly or What Data

The longer the time period, the less variation in the numbers you’ll get.  If you look at annual rainfall totals, these will vary much less from year to year than if you look at each month’s data.  Whereas the chances are that your region’s annual rainfall is never zero, the chances may be that some months in some years, there’ll be an inch or more of rain, but in some months of other years, there might be not the slightest sprinkle for the entire 30 days.

The time period you need to drill down to depends to an extent on the size of the storage capacity you’ll be building.  The smaller the capacity, the more accurately you need to know when water will come in to replace the water going out.

Generally the monthly data is sufficient for most purposes.

However, daily data is useful for understanding how the rain falls during a month, so as to know whether to adjust the total rainfall to reflect light sprinkles that have little collectable net rain or not (see our section on Real World Imperfections in our earlier article on rainwater collection).

A Worked Example

Let’s have a look at some real world data for Seattle – not because we recommend that as a bug out location, of course, but just because there is readily obtainable information for the area.

First, let’s state our assumptions that we are using, above.  To be consistent with our earlier article on How Much Rainwater Can You Collect From Your Roof, let’s keep the same figure – 50 gallons of water a day or 1500 gallons a month for our basic household needs.  We also said that each inch of rain on our hypothetical roof will give us up to 763 gallons of collectible water.  So, by happy coincidence, it seems that as long as we are getting 2″ of water a month, we’re in good shape.

Can we be sure of getting at least 2″ of rain every month?  The first thing we do is look at the monthly average rainfall figures.  Let’s have a look at them on this page (other pages will have slightly different figures) :

 

Month Rainfall
January 5.5
February 4.2
March 3.7
April 2.5
May 1.7
June 1.5
July 0.8
August 1.1
September 1.9
October 3.5
November 5.9
December 5.9
Annual Total  38.1

 

Which brings us to the first important point.  If we looked just at the total rainfall for the year, we’d see 38.1″.  We need 24″, so upon seeing 38.1″, we might mistakenly think ‘Great, we have no problem’ and not look any further.

But look at the individual months.  You’ll see that the five month block from May through September all show less than 2″ of rain per month.  And if we look back at April, its 2.5″ figure looks a bit anxiety-causing too – remember this average is the number which will be too high half the time.  So with a need to have 2″ of rain in April, and no opportunity to top up with extra rain in May, we need to get an understanding for the possible variation of rain in April too.

Let’s now look carefully at the six months we’re worried about (April through September) and not only look at their monthly averages, but at the actual real rainfall that was measured in recent years.

We’ll take the information from this site.  The next table took a lot of time to type in, so please be appropriately respectful of the information presented to you!  And, just to show another thing, we are using their averages rather than those in the preceding table – quite a big difference in some cases, too.  (It seems this service changes their averages on a shorter sample of years than some of the other time bases).

We immediately noticed that regularly, the September rainfall was less than the 2″ we needed, so for those years, we looked at the October rainfall too, and with a shaky 2.17″ in 2008 for October, we looked at that year’s November.  The same thing happened in 2006, although massive rains in November helped the region catch up on its very dry summer.  Although the averages above suggested there’d be no problem in October, for one of the ten years in this sample there was.  If we don’t want to risk running out of water in October one year in ten, we need to look at that month too.

There’s more, with another deceptive average.  We also noticed that April couldn’t guarantee us 2″ of rain in three of the ten years either, so we added March data for years where that was necessary.  Fortunately, March rain was always above the 2″ we needed, so there was no need to look further back.

Month Avg  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002 
March 3.75 3.65 4.42 2.18 2.13 6.49
April 2.59 4.47 3.49 3.36 1.90 0.69 2.73 3.68 0.65 2.74 4.29
May 1.78 3.20 2.83 3.61 0.89 1.46 1.65 3.32 2.53 1.16 1.11
June 1.49 1.42 2.49 0.18 1.64 1.34 1.67 1.63 0.81 0.51 1.73
July 0.79 0.71 0.31 0.06 0.48 1.44 0.06 1.03 0.16 0.06 0.64
August 0.88 0.13 0.64 1.16 2.87 0.73 0.02 0.29 3.00 0.32 0.04
September 1.50 1.29 4.80 1.75 0.78 3.16 1.43 0.95 2.80 0.89 0.42
October 3.48 3.45 5.54 2.17 1.55 3.01 8.95 0.66
November 6.57 6.52 15.63 3.71

 

Okay, hopefully your eyes aren’t glazing over from the over 80 data points in the above table.  Let’s first quickly skim through the data, month by month, and note the huge difference between wet years and dry years.  August went from 0.02″ all the way up to 3.00″.  October in 2002 had a mere 0.66″ of rain, but the next year, it had 8.95″.

Clearly the average monthly figures obscure massive swings from one year to the next.

Let’s now look at both the worst and the second worst rainfall figures for each month.  If we want to allow for a ‘one time in ten’ being wrong, we’d take the worst figure.  If we were prepared to consider a ‘one time in five years’ then we’d take the second worst figure.

Month Worst  Second
March 2.13 n/a
April 0.65 0.69
May 0.89 1.11
June 0.18 0.51
July 0.06 0.06
August 0.02 0.04
September 0.42 0.78
October 0.66 1.55
November 3.71 n/a

 

So we are now starting to make sort of progress, with an easy conclusion to draw and a difficult piece of further analysis.

The easy conclusion is that we can say we can reliably expect, on 1 April each year, to have full tanks due to having had more rain than we needed in March (and February and before).

We can also say that we can reliably expect, more or less on 1 November, that the rate of rainfall will start to increase above our offtake level.  We’d probably want to have a week or so remaining supply in case the November rains came late, but we know, for sure, that by the end of November, we’ll have received more rain than we consumed, and will end up the month with more water in our tanks than we started with.

Now for the really important part – the seven months of April through October.

If we wanted to be super conservative, we could simply take the lowest reading for each of these seven months and use that as the figure to work from.

But here’s an interesting thought.  Look at any of these months – let’s say August, for example.  In our table of lowest values, the lowest rainfall for August is 0.02″ (in 2006).  Now look at September.  Our lowest rainfall for September is 0.42″, in 2002.  Add these together, and you get 0.44″ for the two months.

But – and here’s the complicating factor.  In August 2006, we had the 0.02″, but in September 2006, we then had 1.43″ of rain – add these together and you get 1.45″ over two months.

If we look at the lowest September figure of 0.42″ in 2002, if we add the 2002 August figure of 0.04″ to that, we end up with 0.46″ – not very much more than the two lows, but still more.

So here’s the question.  We have one chance in ten that any given month’s figure is the lowest.  But what is the chance of the next month after that also being the lowest?  Does the weather in one month influence the weather the next month?  Sure, people talk about ‘dry summers’ or whatever, but is that a perception or a reality?

Let’s create another table, for the three most critical months (June, July, August).  We’ll compare the total of the lowest numbers from any year with the totals for each year.

Lowest  Second  2011  2010  2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
0.26 0.61 2.26 3.44 1.40 4.99 3.51 1.75 2.95 3.97 0.89 2.41

 

So now we know that if we cherry pick the lowest months from each year, we can end up with the lowest total of 0.26″, and if we go to the second lowest, we are at 0.61″.  But if we insist that each month be linked to the month before and after, the lowest number now is 0.89″ and the next lowest number is 1.49″.

Confused yet?  So, what is your feeling – how much rain should we project to be sure of receiving in the three months of June, July and August?  We’re not going to answer that ourselves, because clearly there is no single right answer.

When you’ve answered that question to your own satisfaction, it is time for the key question :  How much rain do you think we’ll get for the entire period from 1 April through to sometime in early/mid November?

Clearly, there’s no exact or correct answer.  Depending on the level of risk you are prepared to accept for being wrong depends on the number you’ll choose.  If you guess wrong, then during the course of the dry months, you’ll realize the rain isn’t coming as it should, and you’ll see your water levels dropping below the levels you projected them to be, so you can start to adjust your water usage habits some.

That is relatively practical when you started off with a fair/generous projection of water usage to start with, and of course much harder if you were rather optimistic/aggressive about your water savings, giving you little room to cut back.

Further Interpretation of the Data

We’re going to look across the entire dry spell, from 1 April through to some time in November (let’s allow 500 gallons for November), and use our second worst numbers for each month.

But then we’re going to look at the individual months and see how the rain fell in those months and start adjusting for the less efficient collection of light sprinkles compared to the more efficient collection of downpours.

For example, in September’s 0.78″ result for 2008, we look at the relevant data and analyze the rainfall, day by day.

The first day with rain was the 20th, when temperatures ranged from 54 – 58, and the wind was 3.7 mph, and 0.54″ of rain fell.  We’ll say that 0.51″ of that was collected – after a long dry spell, albeit a damp day or two prior, there was probably a lot of moisture absorption and some evaporation off the roof going on.

On the next day another 0.02″ of rain fell, but the temperatures were warmer and the winds stronger, so we’re going to say none of that was collected.

On the 22nd, 0.01″ of rain fell, and that’s the minimum needed just to wet the roof, so we’ll ignore that.

On the 24th, we had 0.12″ of rain, and we’ll count 0.10″ as collectible.

On the 25th, temperatures were warm, the wind was strong, and 0.09″ of rain fell.  We’re going to say that only 0.045″ of that was collectible.

So add these adjusted figures together and round down, and instead of 0.78″, we have a net collection of 0.65″ of usable rain.

Let’s say after doing similar calculations for the other months, we end up with 3.8″ of rain in total that we can be sure will actually make it into our tanks.  This provides us with 2900 gallons of water.  But we are going to use 7 months of consumption at 1500 gallons a month, and we want 500 gallons left over on 1 November – a total requirement of 11,000 gallons.

So after adjusting for the rain that will come in , we need to start on 1 April with 8,100 gallons of water stored.  Now let’s adjust for evaporation – 0.25% a day, perhaps.  This means, for the seven month, 210 day period, we’ll lose 52.5% of our water.  We need to increase our storage from 8100 gallons up to say 12,500 gallons.

Can We Get the Rain We Need in the Wet Months to Fill Our Tanks

12,500 gallons is a lot of water.  It represents 16.4″ of rainfall.  Can we be sure of getting 16.4″ of rain during the wet months of November through March?

Yes, we probably can, even in a worst case scenario, but only just.  We’d simply repeat the analysis that we’ve already done for the dry season, and this time do it for the wet season to get a feeling for likely worst case scenarios.

In this case, our tanks will take the rest of the year to fill, and sometimes might not fill until early in the new year, giving only a few months of happily overflowing tanks and water-richness, before entering into another extended period of anxiously looking up at the sky each day.

The point to be aware of here, slightly obscured from using rainy Seattle’s data, is that the amount of rain we can collect in rainy months is sometimes insufficient for the drier months.  There’s no point in making the storage capacity any larger than the total amount of water likely to be collected off the roof.

Summary

So, we have learned both a general and a specific lesson from this example.  The specific lesson is how to work through a calculation for the water you’ll need based on your area’s rainfall patterns and your family’s water consumption.

The general lesson hasn’t yet been stated until now, but it needs to be considered.  Creating a water storage system capable of storing 12,500 gallons of water requires a sizeable amount of tankerage, and probably they will be at ground level so you’ll then need a water pump to transfer the water up to a holding tank in the ceiling for regular usage, so the water isn’t energy free.

Even a teensy-tiny well (2 gallons/hour capacity – barely a trickle) and perhaps a single 1500 gallon buffer/holding tank would give you the same results as your enormous 12,500 gallon rainwater collection system, and at massively lower cost.

These numbers were based on the climate in Seattle, an area renowned for its rain (albeit, as we’ve now seen in detail, somewhat unfairly).  Imagine how much worse it would be in a drier climate.  If we say 8 months with no water, that would call for 12,000 gallons, plus 500 for early November, and then if we say a higher 0.3% evaporation rate over 240 days, and you’d need to start off the dry season with 21,500 gallons of water stored.

There’s probably no way you could collect that much water during the shorter rainy season in this hypothetical alternate location, so like it or not, you’ll need a secondary water source right from the get-go in such cases.

One last point, if we may.  If you’re in a water scarce scenario, all other buildings on your property should also collect the water off their roofs too.  If you have a tool shed/workshop, an animal shed/barn, or whatever else, these could potentially double or more the rain you can collect.  And here’s the strange outcome of that.  If you are collecting twice as much rain, you don’t need as much storage.

Apr 292012
 

The Fifth Annual ‘Rich States, Poor States’ report has just been published

Where should your retreat be based?

There are lots of issues to consider in answering that question, and depending on the respective importance people give to the different factors to be considered, you will see a group of people, all given the same raw facts, come to completely different decisions with no two people reaching the same conclusion.

One factor to consider is the economic health of the state you are choosing to live in ‘normally’ and/or choosing to retreat to if all goes wrong in the future.

The good sense in living in an economically prosperous state in ordinary normal times is obvious.  But we suggest that even after ‘the end of the world as we know it’ you’ll still be better off in a state that was, until that time, prosperous.

In general, prosperous states interfere less with their citizens, and their citizens in turn are content to enjoy their own good lifestyles without obsessing too much if their neighbors have it better than them or not.  Prosperous states, by definition, tend to have more people employed and fewer people on benefits, and if you had to choose between having people on state benefits or successful fully employed people living in your area, you’d probably prefer the latter.

Prosperous states also tend to have lower rates of crime, probably because more people are working and getting a good living honestly.

We’re not saying this is the most important factor by any means when choosing locations, but it is one of the many factors to consider, and we mention it now due to the release of the fifth annual ranking of states in terms of their economic outlooks.  This study – ‘Rich States, Poor States’ and published by the American Legislative Exchange Council lists the ten best states as being :

1  Utah

2  South Dakota

3  Virginia

4  Wyoming

5  Idaho

6  Colorado

7  North Dakota

8  Tennessee

9  Missouri

10  Florida

And the ten worst states?  They are :

41  Pennsylvania

42  Rhode Island

43  Oregon

44  Illinois

45  New Jersey

46  Hawaii

47  California

48  Maine

49  Vermont

50  New York

The entire 125 page report can be downloaded from ALEC’s site for free.  It includes detailed analyses of each state’s economic condition and policies, and lots more information too.