Scads of Helical Fracturing

The first of what eventually grew to several piles of thrashed pipeline.

For many years my seasonal regimen for the hydroelectric system has been fairly routine: I drain the waterline some time in November, depending on the temperature trajectory, then recharge the line sometime late in March.  I use the descriptor “For many years” because our first winter here also saw the coldest temps since we bought here in 2000 with overnight lows reaching -15F, and my dream of running the system year-round was dashed.  The water froze in the pipe, resulting in my need to replace almost 600 feet of pipeline the following spring.

At one time I was rethinking the scheme of having the pipeline above-ground and wondered, could I get it buried beneath the frost line?  Since the answer to that question turned out to be, “Of course, all it takes is something north of $75k, and oh by the way it will completely destroy your creek and everything adjacent to it,” I’ve just stuck with the original concept.

So now, every late autumn as soon as we get a string of days with sub-freezing daily high temperature, I shut it down to preserve the line.  Notwithstanding that I’ve had to do a little repair every spring, virtually all from trees falling on the line and breaking it (once was from a bear gnawing on it) the routine has worked well.

No big deal.  A half-day of work and we’re ready to roll.

Until this year.

The replaced section near the bottom of the system.

For starters, between travel and yard duties I did not even begin to turn my attention to the hydro system until a couple weeks ago, a full two months later than usual; since I have not been in the shop much and there has been plenty of sunshine, the solar panels did more than enough to keep things copacetic power-wise in the barn.

When I dove into it this week, I encountered almost two hundred feet of shredded pipe near the bottom of the system.  The damage was the typical helical fracture pattern of bursting due to water freezing in the pipe.  This perplexed me since I had drained the line last fall.  My annual draining protocol is to disconnect the pipeline just below the capturing box at the top of the system by loosening the hose clamps holding it together, then moving the pipeline aside a bit.  And that’s where the problem this year started.  To quote the famous LBJ line, “I reserve the right to be smarter than I used to be.”

Now I are smrt smarter than I used to be.

What almost certainly happened was a fierce rainstorm occurred after the disconnect, with the resulting water flow in the creek high enough to pour into the open disconnected water line and refilling the line.  And when the line subsequently froze, BOOM!  A couple hundred feet of pipeline turned into confetti.

Treacherous footing abounds. One false step can land you flat on a bed of rocks.

I spent this week working on the damaged area, which is an exhausting undertaking.  Every footstep has to be considered and calculated given that every single space is uneven, loose rock, most of it slippery from being in a creek bed.  Even wearing my best old lumberjack boots, it is treacherous.  Especially since it requires good vision to navigate the terrain, a feature I do not possess.  (Monday I will be having my 22nd eye surgery, which will provide no enhancement to my very compromised vision but should help to preserve what little vision remains in my used-to-be-dominant eye).  Trying to traverse treacherous ground with zero depth perception is a challenge.

I was able to make the repairs with the last of my original inventory of 2″ x 20′ PVC pipe.  When I had the first catastrophic winter damage I bought a complete bundle of the necessary pipe, I think it was 80 pieces, and have been using a piece or two every year since the first one.

Yesterday morning I walked to the top of the system and much to my dismay saw serious damage up there too – not from freezing but from destructive/tumultuous water flow in the creek — which I repaired fairly quickly, then reconnected the water line.  Just downstream from that repair I discovered another breach.  Drat.  Walking the line yesterday afternoon I found dozens more breaches, and hundreds more feet of shredded pipe.  Double drat.  The air was pungent with not-appropriate-for-Sunday-School epithets.

I went to the local farm coop and bought all the pipe they had but still I am way short.  This morning I will check with the hardware store the next town over.  I’ve gotta get enough material to finish the project next week and bring the hydroelectric turbine back on-line.

Remember the full bundle I bought ten years ago?  It was roughly $11 per piece.  Now the price is $36 per piece.  Ouch.

Lesson learned, albeit a very expensive lesson – put a $1 cap over the end of the pipe intake when you disconnect it, stupid.