Did you hear screaming a few weeks ago coming from my place? That was the moment my wife and I turned on our newly designed, installed and expensive well water purification equipment ... no, at this point it’s more like our expensive well water treatment “facility,” which is taking up more and more room in the tiny cellar of the old house we are restoring.



The screaming was not a prelude to a wild party celebrating clean drinking water but a reaction to the system putting out water that, by some warp in the space-time continuum, looked much worse than the water coming in from the well.



This can’t be easy since the raw well water is pretty bad looking in the first place. If you let it run for a hundred gallons or so until it clears up, it still has a brown tinge to it. The after-treatment water had a nearly opaque reddish-brown color reminiscent of what they show in animated feature films when they want to depict a pipe spewing toxic sludge into the environment.



As you may recall from a few columns ago, I set out to find why people in rural America tolerate so much bad well water. Well, I found out. Cleaning water is too expensive and takes too much effort and too many skills. Simply stated, it’s complicated.



Even though you can save a ton of money by installing your own system, it can be complex. If your skills are not centered around plumbing and chemistry with a strong minor in electrical work, physics and some carpentry thrown in — not to mention marriage counseling skills — it’s best to get a professional for installing and guaranteeing a system, so that they can explain to your spouse just why the cost keeps escalating.



Our well water is bad but it’s not the worst. It has three problems: it’s got 10 times the manganese and 65 times the amount of iron that water should have before you might want to drink it. It is also too acidic to remove the iron with ease. The solution is relatively straightforward. The plan is to inject a little bit of chlorine into the well water as it comes into the house. This is allowed to sit in a tank, giving the chlorine enough time to react with all of the iron and manganese so that these elements can easily be removed. It also has time to deal with the bacteria in the water. Did I mention the bacteria? Well, too late now. The chlorine already took care of that.



Next, the water goes into another tank where it washes over something like limestone to make it less acidic. Then it gets piped into yet another tank where it filters through this special mineral mix that attracts and retains the offensive iron and manganese. Oh yes, then it also goes through a carbon filter in the end to remove any extra chlorine that might be left over and, abracadabra: clean, clear, drinkable water, in theory.



In practice, the trick is getting the right amount of chlorine mixed into the water at the start so by the end everything is in balance, canceling out the “bad things” in the water by putting in “good-bad things” and then removing all the things and, voilá: clean water.



Testing for residual chlorine, I found that it was off the charts. If the water at least looked clean, it would be like drinking from an over-chlorinated swimming pool. It smelled like laundry water when you’re washing whites and trying to get out heavy stains.



After a lot of head scratching and going over plans, I found that my design was wrong and did not accurately measure the amount of water coming into the house. Too much chlorine was being injected. The solution is simple: throw more money at it for more specialized components that were priced as if they were developed for the space program and re-plumb a section of what was starting to look like The Matrix. This, plus a modicum of swearing and, presto-chango: clean, drinkable water.



I am assuming that all this fantastic progress I am making has pleased my wife to no end, as she has not complained much. As a matter of fact, she hasn’t said anything to me at all. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? And we wonder why people put up with poor well water.



More on this later, I’m sure.