Cistern 101

This is our first experience with a cistern and keeping it free of bacteria, mold and algae is a top priority. After living in the house across the street while ours was being remodeled we found that you needed to turn on the water and then be sure to turn off the water because the municipality only turns the water on a few times each week. Of course, we found out the hard way when we left it running and it overflowed all over the side yard wasting water. So when they were working on the house they put in an automatic shut off system like you would find in the back of a toilet. 

San Clemente 9.21a.2012 002

Now we asked around to find out what needed to be done to this water so that it would stay fresh. Most of what we heard was the addition of Clorox to the water but our friend Keith Daniels in Panama told us to get some copper wiring and add a few pounds of the stuff to the storage pit.

While Joe was taking down a gutter that had seen better days he found that it was hung with copper wire, he spend several hours stripping the coating and cleaning it up and then he added it to our cistern. One day last week while in San Jacinto we stopped in a small ferreteria there and asked if he had copper wire, he asked for what purpose and I told him to add to our cistern. He sells the wire by the meter (metro) of wire for .80 cents. We bought 10 meters.

San Clemente 12.18.2012 037

Joe stripped the plastic off and we tossed these cute curlie things into the cistern.

San Clemente 12.18.2012 039

It must be doing something because we had not needed to add Clorox to the tank in several months. You cannot drink this water even after the addition of the copper wire, it is used for bathing, laundry etc and we use 5 gal bottled water for cooking and drinking. Thanks Keith!

10 thoughts on “Cistern 101

  1. Good luck with your copper experiment, but please continue to use caution on how this water is used in conjunction with the human body. While ancients have used copper or silver water pots for thousands of years for this purpose, it seems that an electrical current should be applied to the copper (electrolysis) in order to really be effective. See: One of the best ways to keep the water in a cistern fresh, is simply to use it. Even if one has a good water supply and seldom uses the cistern water, it is recommended to shut off the main valve once and awhile and let the cistern drain down and then replenish it . While still not necessarily safe for drinking, at least the water will remain fresher than if just left to sit there day after day, especially in your warmer climate. Oh yeah, and that half cup of bleach tossed in every once and awhile is still not a bad idea. Here in our building in Cuenca we don’t even bother with the bleach, but of course our water is safe to drink and there is a constant turn over of the water in our cistern system. We use a small electric pump that maintains even pressure even when the municipal system is down – this guarantees us a constant replenishment of fresh water. We thoroughly clean and disinfect the tank every couple of years as well. And finally a little side ‘water’ story – my friend who lives in Yungilla Valley is deathly afraid to drink the tap water (has the 5 gal bottle on his counter) but doesn’t have a second thought about using it for brushing his teeth! Is toothpaste an effective disinfectant? Don’t think so! ;o)

    • Hi Terry, Our cistern is our only water source for our home, we use it for everything from watering our plants to laundry and cleaning. So it is used and replenished by the municpality as needed which is normally each week on Fridays and Saturdays. We use 5 gal drinking water for cooking etc and I do keep bottled water in the bathrooms for brushing our teeth because folks just seem to forget about that one item. Thanks so much for your comment. Nancy

  2. Hi Nancy
    Interesting article. After reading i was unclear as to what you meant by “clean”. Did you mean clean looking or free of bacteria? I mention this because i have heard of the copper wire preventing the growth of algae but not preventing bacteria. the correct use of chlorine does both making the water potable for all uses.

    Wayne, see you soon.

    • Hi Wayne, I made a small change to my article: This is our first experience with a cistern and keeping it free of bacteria, mold and algae is a top priority. Instead of the word clean…the water is clean when it comes from the municipality but in our research and information we have gotten from a friend in Panama, Copper can in fact stop the growth of certain types of bacteria. Other articles we read stated: “A little copper goes a long way in combating the growth of unwanted organisms in the water”. from and

      We don’t see any of our neighbors adding anything to their cisterns. Originally we were adding Clorox for the past month we have added nothing except the copper wire. We will see how it works!

      When will you be back in town? Nancy

  3. The things you learn around here. I actually thought about a cistern for rain water in Florida. When they put us on sewer the price of water went up dramatically ($80-100/month, imagine!), but there is a minimum $75 fee that made a cistern not worth it. Here, our water is fairly reliable but we keep some gallons on hand just in case. Interesting about copper. Who would have thought?

  4. One question Nancy- Is water from your city is not chlorinated?I hope in other large cities like Manta and Cuenca they do chlorinate the water! Regs–Yusuf

    • Yusuf, No, I do not think it is, if it was we would be able to drink it and I honestly only know of one city and that is Cuenca where folks drink the water…and I do not know the process there so I can not tell you what they use to make it drinkable or if it is actually drinkable….all I know is we get our water from the municipality, it is piped into our cistern on the weekends but we were told that you cannot drink it. Nancy

  5. Thanks- Another question is do your Ecuadorian neighbors drink that water?It may be possible for you to find out whether water is treated before delivery to the customers or where does the water come from? If I want to live in my city I will surely find out about this important commodity–My 2 cents–Regs–Yusuf

    • Good Morning Yusuf, My neighbors buy bottled water from the same man that delivers to my house. I do not think they are drinking from the cistern if they are buying bottled water. In all the areas that we spent time in, which includes Quito, Guayaquil, Puerto Lopez, Salinas, La Libertad, Manta, Ballenita, Playas, Portoviejo and now San Jacinto and San Clemente we were told not to drink the water from the tap and each day the better hotels supply several bottles of water for your use. Please don’t forget brushing your teeth put a fresh bottle of water there for your use as well. I have read many articles about folks drinking water in Cuenca but that again is a risk…for the cost of bottled water $1 to $2 for a 5 gal jug, I would just not risk it…we use approximately 10 gal of water per week that totals a little over a $100-$200 per year…a very small price to pay to not have health issues caused by drinking tap water. This is a underdeveloped country, the municipalities do not have the money to treat the water, I understand that it is filtered but actually have not seen a water facilty here…that sounds like a great outing and blog article…maybe I can get one of my friends in the area to show me where the water plants is…be well, Nancy

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