The Berkey Works for Something!

The Berkey works for *something*!

One of the adventures of living out of town is wondering what’s in our water. There’s a development up the hill that is known to have bad/no sewer pipes, and our landlord has caught them dumping raw sewage onto his property.

Did I mention the water comes from a well?

The water tasted several kinds of bad, and we had been buying filtered water in town. It’s also super hard, so it’s difficult to wash things with it, though we still do. After some research, we decided to get a Berkey water filter, because it seemed to provide the best filtration for the cost per gallon. We knew it wouldn’t do much for dissolved solids or pH, but we were more concerned about toxic chemicals and bacteria.

After we got the Berkey, we were disappointed to discover that, while the water was definitely improved, it still had a salty flavor that made it useless for tea or coffee, though it worked ok for cooking and drinking straight.

We had wanted to get our water tested, both before and after the Berkey, to see what it was *really* doing for us. Two test kits and $40 later, we have some results.

The main result is that the Berkey only made any difference on one of the ten tests. We used the Watersafe well-water test kit, which tests for bacteria, lead, several pesticides, copper, iron, nitrates and nitrites, pH, Total Hardness, and Total Chlorine.

The biggest disappointment was that of the four unhappy results we got for the original well water, the Berkey only fixed one. The first was nitrates, which appear to be somewhere in the 35-50 PPM range, well over the EPA safety limit of 10 PPM. The Berkey did nothing to fix this, though it’s not advertised to. As expected, it also didn’t do anything for the pH or dissolved solids. However, it did save our bacon in one *very* important area: bacteria.

The picture shown above is the results of the bacteria test after sitting at room temperature for 48 hours. Even though we made no effort to clean the reservoir on the Berkey, which is *after* the filter, stays wet all the time, and hasn’t been cleaned since we bought it a few months ago, there were still no bacteria detected in the filtered water, show here in the purple-filled canister with a B on the lid. The well water, shown with the W, turned brown, showing a positive for bacteria. Since biological contamination is one of the main reasons we got the Berkey, and it hadn’t really been doing much else for us, this made us happy.

When doing the testing, I took a flash photograph of each result at the moment of the reading so all the illumination would be the same, and so we’d have results to look at for comparison later.

I did some research about the nitrates, and it looks like the best conventional fix for our situation here would be a reverse osmosis filter. They can be had for under $250 and would probably fix most of the problems with the water, at least for drinking. The waste 1-3 gallons of water for every fresh gallon produced, but otherwise are clearly the best commercial solution. However, another alternative that would pair well with the Berkey would be to create a constructed wetland. Real wetlands do a much better job of filtering water than any human-constructed mechanical or chemical process. They would introduce bacteria, but the Berkey would filter those out. We could make a dual system where water was circulated through one for however long it took to remove the nitrates while we draw water from the other. I’m sure it would be harder than I think to set up a small one, but it sounds like it would be fun to try. The Rhizome Collective in Austin had one made out of three cascading bathtubs that I really liked.

Obviously doing more rainwater catchment would really help. We have ample roof space, and the Berkey would again be used as a final filtration stage to remove biological contaminants.

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