Last year we suffered through pumping water from a spring and pond into water totes and our big cistern at the top of the hill using a little 12 volt pump I picked up from Harbor Freight. It required lugging a heavy battery up the hill and priming it by pouring a gallon or two of water down the hose and my arm, dipping it in the pond, and repeating until it started sucking water. The process reminded me of the Harry Belafonte song “There’s a Hole in the Bucket” it just wasn’t as funny to me because I was living it. Even after it was pumping, the flow wasn’t huge. I could pump about 375 gallons per fully charged battery up that hill. So I would lug the battery back down and charge it on our solar cells, which usually took a day, and by that time we would have to leave.
To be clear, the incoming flow to our little pond is a steady trickle, not a full stream, and that usually dries up by August. If only there were a way to do this without a power source.
Sounds like a perpetual motion machine? Well there is a way.
In the late 1700’s a pump was created that used gravity and water flow to push some of the water much, much higher than the pump itself. The Hydraulic Ram Pump was born. A company called Rife still sells them but at steep prices.
Then I found this fellow’s YouTube Videos. Credit where it is due. He explains it in a three part series very well and shows how to assemble it from parts you can get from a plumbing store. Don’t waltz into Home Depot and expect to get everything you need.
A ram pump had always been part of our plan, and I have talked it up to my friends for ages it seemed like but now I had a chance to put it into action.
Get all the parts. This required trips to 4 different stores. Mostly because the professionals only sold 20 ft lengths of everything. I don’t need 17 feet of 4″ schedule 40 pvc, just 3 feet, and for the galvanized pipe I really wanted 10 ft lengths that were threaded so I didn’t need an expensive pipe threader. This will all make sense when you look at the pictures. With LeFemme and the dog along for the ride you can imagine the amount of eye-rolling and feigned patience I had to endure.
The hard part. Drive a 10 ft pipe horizontally through 9 ft of packed dirt and clay and come out of the inner pond wall in the right spot. Tools: T-Post driver and muscle power. It was several hours of pounding and extra digging before I was ready for the next part.
Knock out 4 ft of packed mud without totally stripping the threads on the pipe. Rebar seemed like the best choice. Once it got flowing I needed to wait for it to clear the pipe.
Assemble. The compression tube gets fitted with a bicycle tube. This helps keep an air pocket in the tube. As the pump fills the tube it compresses the air and when it reaches the point it pushes the water uphill it then begins compressing again. The two swing check valves keep water flowing in the direction we want.
Starting the pump is just a matter of tapping the first check valve open, then monitoring the pressure until it passed 20 PSI.
When I ran up the hill I was greeted to the sound of water gurgling up the 100 ft length of hose.
The next day I hooked it up to our cistern and directed the overflow to our swale, which eventually charges the groundwater which is what the spring overflow was doing farther down the hill.
Lastly, I installed a screen on the end of the pipe to avoid sucking up the flora and fauna that have found our little pond.
The pump was still going strong a week later with its steady heartbeat rhythm.