(or… How to drill a borehole)
Many months ago, before our future house even had foundations, when we were still energetic and didn’t have a single jaded thought between us about the process of house-building, we decided that we needed a borehole (Portuguese – furo). The main reason behind this excellent idea was the much-needed rehabilitation of our fairly substantial piece of land, which, before our visions interfered with it, was home to a eucalyptus plantation and some small ruins. It was only after we removed most of the eucalyptus and tree trunks the size of trucks that we could finally see the perimeter walls of the property and truly appreciate just how big a hectare was.
Phase 1: Visions of Water
The first step was to obtain the licence to drill. May I just say that it’s not surprising that the Portuguese expression for pardon me/excuse me is “com licença” – literally “with permission”– because you need a licence for just about everything here. According to the chosen drilling company’s logo and advertisement, this would all be very simple. I realise you’re probably experiencing a moment of hilarity after that last sentence, but in theory it is relatively simple, and once we received the licence, the well witcher came with his magic water-finding stick and quickly drilling commenced. The plot of land is on a hill and the furo company had to go fairly deep, but soon we had water and all was looking good for the future of this neglected piece of earth. We were even able to start pumping water (from the very sleek custom-made pump house pictured above) to a small reservoir so that we could water the few things we’d already planted at the top of the steep property. Visions of olives, oaks, chestnuts and other “good” trees filled our minds. But then summer intensified and intensified and one day we were told the borehole had dried up.
Phase 2: New licence, same vision
(or is it a mirage?)
This is the point where I can tell you there are many, many horror stories of boreholes drying up or giving much less water than promised. Of people discovering that they didn’t get the necessary guarantees or that the responsible borehole drilling company had gone bankrupt and/or started operating under a new, liability-free name. Friends of friends even ended up in court to battle with a dishonest drilling company, a fight they lost. Since we’d heard all those stories, we’d managed to obtain a guarantee from our furo contractor, so apart from the disappointment, it wasn’t the biggest crisis. We would have to pay for a new licence (of course), but the company who promised simplicity also promised to dig another borehole free of charge.
Again the dowsing rod did its magic and the team started work. They drilled and drilled and drilled (we lost count at attempt 4) and found nothing significant. Heads were scratched and no one could explain the mystery of why our neighbour had plenty of water but we didn’t. To complicate matters, the owner, who is also the drilling guru of the company, was in France for a few months. One of many side-effects of the persistent recession in Portugal is that many building entities have temporarily departed for greener pastures elsewhere in Europe, and so, being sympathetic to their plight, we agreed to wait. Months went by and we had no water. Nothing could be planted and our land only sprouted weeds and tojo, a tough local plant akin to gorse. We tried carrying water up the hill to the few remaining thirsty plants, but when you’ve just dug up gorse for three hours and discovered that this despised plant has the ability to not only awaken a previously unknown (and not entirely delightful) capacity for creative cursing but also cause floods of tears accompanied by desperate doubts about what the hell you’re doing with your life, there’s only so much energy left in your tired arms and spirit. So we accepted temporary defeat and left the poor plants to their own devices.
Phase 3: It’s simple, really
Months passed. Winter came and almost six months after the water dried up, the team arrived again for borehole attempt number 2.b-iii). The side of their van still said it would all be very simple, so if nothing else, they hadn’t lost their optimism. And sure enough, water was found. We couldn’t stop ourselves. Our minds filled anew with visions of beautiful trees.
Well, prepare yourself for another moment of glee at our expense: word came that the pump was stuck down in the pipe, buried by several metres of mud and incapable or pumping water to the parched surface. Why? (yes, why?!) After they found water, they ran the pump for testing – as they were supposed to – but no borehole has an infinite supply of water and once the water runs out, the pump stops and has to be restarted when the water level in the holding chamber has risen again. Only they didn’t restart it, which meant that the water that rose again brought with it sediment which settled around the pump and made it impossible to restart. All this meant that they had to shoot water and air down there to dislodge the pump, bring it to the surface, send it to the workshop for checking and repeat the whole process again. And that explains why we only have water now, almost a year and a half after it all started.
A fitting postscript to all this is the location of the borehole. Can you guess where it is? On a property of several thousand square metres, the one spot that would yield the best results is smack in the middle of the main entrance and driveway. You can see how very, very simple it all is, can’t you?