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Water Off the Grid (Ram Pumps) by Bev

This article was originally featured on, a very useful emergency preparedness website that I highly recommend. This article has since been updated by the author and re-published here as part of our new homesteading series.

When I was a little girl we used to go visit my great-grandfather, Harry, on his farm in Trout Valley. We would carry buckets of water from the fresh water spring that bubbled out of the base of the bluff in the pasture to the house for drinking and cooking. But my grandmother, Marge, would tell us of a time, when she was a young girl, on the farm when the boom of the ram water pump would lull her to sleep.A time when there was no need to carry water and the spring was fenced off from the cows.

Hydraulic ram water pumps have been used for at least two hundred years to deliver water to homes, farms and even small towns bordered by a small creek or river,

“In 1879, The People’s Cyclopedia included the hydraulic ram among the 55 most important inventions in the history of mankind. It defined the hydraulic ram as: “A simple and conveniently applied mechanism by which the weight of falling water can be made available for raising a portion of itself to a considerable height.”

Generally, you need at least two feet of falling water to operate a ram pump. Most creeks and small rivers you would have access to on the homestead do not have a natural two foot drop. The spring on Harry’s farm gently meandered down to feed a larger creek. When Harry was a young, successful farmer he created a two foot drop by building up the small stream of water with rocks and mortar which created a natural pool at the base in which to sit the ram pump. Metal water lines ran a continuous stream of water to the summer kitchen of the house and to the stock tank that overflowed and created its own stream back to the stream below the pump. There was always ample water for the house, stock, and to irrigate crops if need be.

A quick and fairly easy way to create a pond/waterfall that I have used is to fall a fairly large tree across the creek and cut a V in it with a chainsaw. Instant waterfall! Silt and rocks will build up behind the log and the V focusses the water into one spot where you can put your ram pump. Or if you don’t want to pump water, just create an area where you can dip water, bathe, wash clothes, etc. the force of the water will carve out a small pond that will usually stay open even in traditional Minnesota winters. And on a hot summer day, it is a little piece of heaven to sit on the log, dangle your feet in the water and watch the kids play in the pond, jump across the V in the log and just laugh and play in the sunshine and clear water.

A solar water pump is an option if you don’t have the drop to create a narrow falls and have more money and a significant amount of sun. Any time you can get the water closer to the house, stock and garden, life becomes so much easier! This is the same principle as any electric pump, except that the power is supplied by the sun. If you pump the water into 50 gallon rain barrels and water the individual plants at their roots the water will last a lot longer than traditional overhead watering.

For more information about ram and solar pumps, a good site to access is: there are also plans on the Net to make your own ram pump.

If you have water on your land, it probably slopes. Thoughtful placement of your garden, stock pens and home can make water access as simple as a gravity feed. Create a “mouth” in the creek of PVC or some such attached to inexpensive plastic water line and you have instant water!

The same technique can be used to create a pond near the creek, with an outlet leading back to the creek at a lower elevation. If you have clay soil, a pond can me created fairly easily just by digging out a depression and letting it fill with water. The clay will “self-seal” within a couple of days. Rubber liners can be used successfully to create a pond. Two I have used to create a small pond are rubber roofing sheeting and, usually can be gotten for free, pieces of the big silage bags!  I have used silicone caulk to seal holes and connect pieces together. Sometimes all it takes is some time with a liner to eventually allow the pond to seal itself. If you have rocky soil, use old blankets as a liner for the waterproof liner to rest on.

And then there is snow… also known as poor man’s fertilizer. It too can be thawed to create water for cooking, dishes and even bathing. Just so you know, the ratio is about 10 inches of snow to 1 inch of water—that is a lot of melted snow. But you do what you gotta do, and just be grateful that you have the heat to melt it with!

6 comments to Water Off the Grid (Ram Pumps) by Bev

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  • Bev

    Wow, I was thinking about what you said about the daisy chain. That would be so easy by getting the water to flow into a 50 gallon barrel, automatic 2′ drop and up she goes for another 20 feet! So smart ED!!!!
    You know, I’m guessing this is why it become one of the top inventions of its time! Fill a water tower and gravity feed the whole community! Wow, that ranks right up there with central heat! Which I have experienced now (with cooling!) for an entire year! I’m sold hands down on central heat! But it doesn’t sink into your bones like wood heat does :)
    Stay in touch, I would love to know what you find out! Bev :)

    • Never thought about using a rain barrel for this application. I guess a little ingenuity goes a long way, or is it: necesity is the mother of invention? Whatever!

  • Bev

    The average ram (depending on diameter of the pipe you are using) will pump at least twenty feet up. As far as I know they can be daisy chained. Check out the website and ask them if they have suggestions. They may know exactly the size of pipe you need to get the rise you want :) I’m not a big mechanics type person :)
    Also, check the net, there are youtube videos on how to make a ram pump out of simple inexpensive parts!

  • Ed

    How much higher in elevation can a ram pump operate? 10, 20 feet or more? And, can they be daisy-chained together? So that if you have a 40 foot elevation to make it up but the pump only works for 20 feet then you could have one pump half way up to continue the process.

  • Jill

    Very nice idea. I only wish we had a stream to take advantage of it!