How To Solve a Thousand Gallon Plumbing Mystery and Fix a Rookie Mistake

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At first, I believed a rookie plumbing mistake had caused the thousand gallon water dump. There was no mystery to it.

That’s what I thought. Turned out it was two rookie mistakes, one of them being a boo-boo I’d never have suspected of myself in a thousand years, never mind a thousand gallons of water.

A couple of months ago, the installation of a new 2825 gallon Bushman tank was completed. All of the PVC pipes running to and from the tank were glued together and buried. There was also a line rerouting operation that upgraded the washing machine in our laundry shed from gravity feed water to water under booster pump pressure.

That last one, the laundry shed line, turned out to have a bit of a problem.

We hadn’t done laundry during all those intervening weeks, but pretty much every article of clothing in the house had finally gotten dirty. It was time to crank up the washer and dryer, run at least a couple of loads.

Which we did, and everything seemed to be working fine–until I happened to glance over toward the water tower, and…holy crap! Water was gushing up out of the ground!

Busted water lines and I are old acquaintances. During my water hauling days in western Colorado, delivering tankers full of fresh water to rigs drilling for natural gas, I had a four inch blast of pressurized water cannon hit me square on and knock me to the ground–twice. The first time, just five days on the job, the pot metal hose fitting cracked right in two. The water knocked me down hard enough to send my hard hat skittering under a pickup truck parked twenty feet away.

The second time happened a couple of months prior to the end of my employment. I was no rookie at that point. In fact, I was one of the top night shift drivers the company had, with a rep for getting the job done right and getting along with customers and fellow employees alike. I was experienced…but it made no difference.

The hose clamps failed to hold, and the hose slipped right off the end of the fitting.

That water hit me hard enough that even after I was on the frozen ground in the middle of a ten degree February night, I couldn’t get back up. The force of the flow had me more or less pinned to the ice. I had to roll out of the stream in order to make it back to my feet.

In both cases, though, the first priority was crystal clear: Get the valve shut off so the water quits blowing.

Everything else comes after that, and the same rule applied here at home. But there was a problem. The irrigation control valve cover wouldn’t open. The lid was somehow stuck. So, pretty soon, I gave up trying to get that green lid off and simply yanked the entire tower assembly from the ground.

That was step one. Step two necessitated reaching down into chilly, muddy water, feeling through the fast-accumulating mud to locate the shutoff valve, turning–ah. Got it.

Then I could stop to think: What the Hell? What caused a burst pipe like that?

And then…wait a sec. This spot was right where….

Yeah. I’d shattered the end of that stick of pipe with the spud bar when digging it clear. Then, instead of doing the right thing, digging another ten feet of trench to make sure the connection was made to pipe that hadn’t been weakened, I’d simply cut off the shattered end of the stick, glued it to the new stuff, and–

–and hadn’t tested the line before burying it.

Well, foo. I’d hooked up a weakened pipe out of laziness (Rookie Mistake #1) and then hadn’t even bothered to pressurize the line to be sure it was okay before grabbing the shovel and flinging dirt (Rookie Mistake #2).

That’s what I thought…but as it turned out, I was only half right.

Two days later, i.e. the first chance I got, I started digging out the mess. And a mess it was. With just one day to let all that water soak into the ground, the soil I had to move was pure clay gumbo. It was like shoveling glue.

But I stuck with it, ’cause I’m stubborn that way (especially when I don’t like the evidence of my own mistakes staring me in the face). Once the suspect pipe was exposed, I turned on just a bit of water. Sure enough, the break was precisely where I’d predicted.

Oh. Wait. Wha–? No! I don’t bleeping believe it!

The pipe had not shattered. It had nothing to do with using a weakened stick of pipe.

I had completely forgotten to glue that particular joint in any way, shape, or fashion!

Well…at least the mystery was solved. There was no doubt whatsoever as to what had caused this little thousand gallon plumbing debacle.

Digging down to expose the connections for the laundry shed plumbing run.

Digging down to expose the connections for the laundry shed plumbing run.

The irrigation control valve tower with the cover that wouldn't open.  The entire tower had to be yanked bodily from the ground.

The irrigation control valve tower with the cover that wouldn’t open. The entire tower had to be yanked bodily from the ground.

Starting to expose the underground piping.  Moving the shovel very carefully now.

Starting to expose the underground piping. Moving the shovel very carefully now.

The split piping has been cut free--wait.  It's not split.  I simply forgot to glue one joint!

The split piping has been cut free–wait. It’s not split. I simply forgot to glue one joint!

Nope.  Not one bit of glue inside this end of the elbow, is there?

Nope. Not one bit of glue inside this end of the elbow, is there?

No glue on the pipe end, either.

No glue on the pipe end, either.

(*Sigh*) They say confession is good for the Soul. I’m not sure who “they” are. That’s no doubt true for Catholics, but for the rest of us, it seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. In my case, confession may or may not be good for the Soul, but admitting the IF (Idiot Factor) will most likely keep me from making a similar mistake in the future.

Not that I won’t find different mistakes to make in the future, but that’s another story.

“The only people who make no mistakes or those who don’t do anything.” Let’s go with that.

Okay, so, back to fixing the problem, rectifying the rookie mistake(s). It would have been possible to simply slap down a bit of primer and glue, shove the two unglued pieces back together, and call it a day–except that I’d accidentally nicked that same piece of pipe with the shovel. It would needed to be trimmed back behind the nick and a new set of connections made.

Which I didn’t mind a bit. The original hookup had been on the gnarly side, twisting and curving more than necessary (although it was necessary at the time if I didn’t want to dig another five feet of trench, and I didn’t). By cutting out that center snarl, I could install a much cleaner set of lines.

So that’s what I did.

The old piping snarl has been cut away, leaving the area open for installation of a cleaner, simpler plumbing run.

The old piping snarl has been cut away, leaving the area open for installation of a cleaner, simpler plumbing run.

The new set of pipe connections has a much more attractive look, never mind that it'll be underground where only the earthworms roam.

The new set of pipe connections has a much more attractive look, never mind that it’ll be underground where only the earthworms roam.

The final connections for the new piping arrangement were made yesterday afternoon. Before testing (which would not be omitted this time), the glue needed time to set. Our housemate, Alta, needed a ride into town to pick up a prescription anyway, so I decided to wait until the following morning (December 20, 2013) to test the lines.

In the interim, starting around 5:30 a.m., the rains came down.

Not hard, but a steady, windy, chilly drizzle under heavily overcast sky. It was depressing. It was wet. Mostly, it was muddy.

Unfortunately, finishing the job could not safely wait. At 9:00 a.m., the temperature had only reached 42 degrees. That’s usually a solid indicator that the overnight low will drop below freezing. Those pipes couldn’t afford being exposed to the weather if that happened.

Testing the lines went off without a hitch. No obvious leaks, fully pressurized, good to go.

Burying the lines was another matter. Gumbo, gumbo, and more gumbo.

The lid that wouldn’t come free from the control valve tower was weird. It had somehow gone off the reservation, jumped its stopper bumps past the plastic tab designed to line it up with the exit slots.

A wood chisel and a hammer eliminated that tab entirely, and we were good to go.

The laundry shed plumbing line is once again buried and safe from freezing.

The laundry shed plumbing line is once again buried and safe from freezing.

In summary: The thousand gallon plumbing mystery had a twist ending. The leaking pipe was not the culprit, nor did the butler do it. Instead, I’d simply forgotten to glue one PVC pipe joint, then compounded that error by burying the pipe without testing it first.

It’s a bit like a political scandal. The original rookie mistake bites a bit, but it’s the cover up that did the most damage.

2 thoughts on “How To Solve a Thousand Gallon Plumbing Mystery and Fix a Rookie Mistake

  1. Confession is good for the soul. It helps make us humble to admit that we can mess up and are not perfect. Glad to see that you are human, it gives the rest of us hope.

  2. Okay. Pam told Alta today that I could never admit a mistake. I pointed this out to her immediately, so she amended it to say that when we first met (before she “fixed” me), I could never admit a mistake.

    She’s not entirely correct about that, but she does get some credit. I don’t believe I’ve changed all that much internally during our years together, but the outer manifestation is definitely “new and improved” to a degree.

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