Rural Water Systems – Treatment

Now that you have water at the surface and under pressure, should you send it directly to your horses?  To answer that question, take a sample to your water treating supplier or lab that specializes in domestic water sources.

Your sample will be tested for three characteristics:

  • Suspended solids
  • Dissolved solids
  • Microbes

Suspended solids are small particles that make your water look cloudy.  These can often be removed by settling and/or filtration.

Dissolved solids, sometimes referred to as ‘hardness,’ are minerals that leave a white residue on things when the water evaporates.  The most common types are calcium and magnesium.  They can’t be removed by filtration but can be removed by ion exchange (a.k.a. softening).

Microbes, such as bacteria and algae, can make your horses sick.  They can be killed by UV radiation or bleach.

The treatment process usually begins with a filter, which removes suspended solids from the incoming water.  As silt and sediment accumulate in the filter, pressure loss goes up and water flow goes down.  If your water buckets are filling slowly, check this filter, it may be time to replace the element.

You’ll want to keep spare filters and O-rings on hand.  Dirty elements can be cleaned and reused once or twice.  You can buy filters and parts at vendors like this one.

Softening is the next step in the treatment process.  Most units have a resin bed with brine tank.  The resin has millions of tiny beads which initially hold particles of sodium.  Water flowing across the bed picks up sodium from the resin and loses calcium and magnesium.

Eventually, the resin becomes full of calcium and magnesium, which are displaced by sodium in the regeneration cycle.  Salt in the brine tank provides the sodium.

A problem with single-bed units is timing of regeneration.  The control panel lets you decide when that happens, usually at night when water use is low.  The bed may or may not be exhausted at that time.

In the summer, you’ll be putting out more water for your horses, spraying them down for cooling, washing out your trailer, etc.  You may run out of soft water before the unit regenerates.  That problem can be avoided with a dual-bed system.

Keep in mind that soft water still contains dissolved solids and may leave a residue if the water is allowed to evaporate completely.

Next in line is a charcoal filter, which improves taste and removes odor.  Unlike a softener, this unit can’t be regenerated; it must be dumped and refilled with new media or receive a new cartridge.  A ‘whole house’ unit may run for several years before needing service.

The softener and charcoal bed may be followed by another filter which removes fine particles from the water.  Elements in this unit may be rated for 5 microns, whereas the filter at the beginning of the train may be around 20 microns.  The rating tells you what size particles the element will catch.  A micron is a thousandth of a millimeter.

The last step in the treatment process is microbio control.  A rural water system will often use an ultraviolet unit to kill microbes before sending water to users.

Although UV radiation is effective at the point of application, it can’t send the kill down the line.

If microbes were present before you installed the unit, they will still be there.  You can treat the entire system by dropping a few bleach tablets into the well.  It only takes a few ppm (parts per million) of bleach to do the job.  Check with your well contractor or water treating supplier.

Your horses will probably be happy with their water at this point.  If you’ll be consuming it, you can install an RO unit under your kitchen sink to provide an additional layer of protection.

In reverse osmosis, water is forced under pressure through a membrane that allows water molecules to pass through but not much else.

The RO unit will likely have cartridge filters in addition to the membrane that should be replaced on periodic schedule.

A problem with some RO systems is waste.  You may have to feed three or four gallons of soft water to get a gallon of drinking water out.  Contaminants held back by the membrane are swept out of the system and down the drain by the ‘missing’ water.

Never send raw water from your well directly to the unit.  Without pretreatment, silt, sediment and minerals will foul the membrane quickly.

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