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Water Ram — Summer 2009 | Out Here Magazine

Phil Hertz’s homemade water ram system delivers as much as 700 gallons of water daily to his garden and livestock from a natural spring on his 25-acre Georgia property.

Ingenuity, old-time watering method creates drought-free garden


By Noble Sprayberry
Photography by Sefton Ipock


A years-long drought troubled Georgia and the water of nearby Lake Hartwell was in full retreat. But, Phil Hertz's garden thrived. His yard stayed springtime fresh, and new cypress trees took root.


"I had the greenest garden around. I guarantee it," says Hertz, 64. "Everyone asked me how I kept it so green and how I grew the corn so tall."


The answer was an apparent drought-proof natural spring, a dose of ingenuity, and a centuries-old technique to pump water with gravity and the energy of moving liquid instead of generated power.


The system delivers as much as 700 gallons of water daily. The total, one-time cost? About $160.


The project on his 25-acre home outside Hartwell, GA, began when Hertz cleared the bushes, briars, and kudzu covering the source of a small stream that flowed to the nearby lake.


"It runs the same every day," he says. "No matter how dry it is, it keeps on going."


Then, he met his buddy Tommy Madden for one of their weekly barn-side chats, where topics might ramble from politics to historic farming techniques.


"We started talking about the old-time methods of using water, such as to run grinding mills or saw mills," Hertz says.


Then, Madden struck on an idea — a way to pump water uphill from the spring using a water ram.


The technique dates to the late 1700s but remains in use today in developing countries, says Hertz, a retired city manager.

Hertz began by sinking two 3-foot-by-3-foot wooden boxes into the ground at the spring to create a catch basin. A pipe draws water from the spring and then the pipe runs downhill for about 200 feet to the water ram.

Hertz and Madden, after careful research, built the device themselves from plastic parts. The ram consists of two valves — the only moving parts — and a water container.

Gravity forces water downhill to the pump, and when the flow is moving fast enough it closes the first valve. The water's momentum raises the pressure in the pump and opens the second valve, forcing some water to flow out of the pump and into the line feeding Hertz's lawns and garden. When the outward flow exhausts its power, the water drops, the valves reverse position and the process starts all over.

Not all of the water makes the uphill trip, with about 80 percent released from the pump to flow away naturally. But, the water does provide power. For every one foot the water travels downhill to the pump, the ram can lift water as much as 10 feet, which makes the 600-foot run to the garden and horse stables possible, Hertz says.

With the exception of one wayward salamander responsible for clogging the lines — mesh screens were added at the water intakes and other openings to prevent a repeat — the system operated trouble-free from the start.

"What I wanted to do is to reduce the burden on my house well," says Hertz, who noted several of his drought-stricken neighbors have paid to drill deeper to find an adequate water supply. "Everything I've done is homemade, but it works real well."

Noble Sprayberry writes from Phoenix, AZ.