Teaser 218: Initial Planning of the Layout for Water and Electric

As the final preparations for our very large supper were underway, I gathered all the leaders together at one table and used one of Nassira's blank portfolio sheets to draw out a rough compound with all the areas to coordinate our trenches. We hadn't done this because we were, approximately, two weeks ahead of our planning and we hadn't hit the end of the first week. Our garden, roughly, ran lengthwise, from north to south, twice the width from east to west. I grabbed a black pen and drew all the areas into their approximate locations and labeled them. I grabbed a blue pen. “Okay, let's start on the east running south from the well. We don't need electric to each greenhouse, agreed? Only water.” Everyone agreed. “We'll run an outside circuit to the area, say, several groups of outlets, but they'll be outside, and we'll have electric in the area if necessary. Agreed?” All agreed. “We need water and electric to the prayer facility. The same with the medical facility. We'll run a single one-inch water pipe for the greenhouses and the prayer facility, with a pump toward the north end of the greenhouses, which we'll install inside a small hut, as we'll do for all the pump stations. We'll run a separate one-inch pipe to the medical and it will have its own pump, provided by the entire community, including us, but we will not be responsible for it entirely. It will be a joint effort from everyone. We only have to get the pipe from the well there first. Same with the electric.”

All were in agreement and I drew a line from the well to the northern-most area intended for the greenhouses. “We'll dig one main trench for the water to the greenhouses, mosque and medical, here. If, and I say, if, we add more greenhouses up to the northern corner of the site, we'll run an attaching trench from our greenhouse pump and add a connector there for that possibility. This one pump should suffice for all of this, including the addition.” I looked up at the nods around me.

“We need water and electric to the cropland area and to the living facility, kitchen and laundry, and water and electric to the animal pens. We'll have two one and a half inch pipes, the first to the cropland, the second destined for the living facility, and another one-inch pipe for the animals. So, we dig the main trench to here, where it turns west to the cropland for those two pipes, and the last one and a half-inch pipe sits in the main trench to here, where it turns west to the living facility.” More nods. “At the pump station near the crops, we bring in the two pipes, one for each pump. From the crop pump, we run its pipe along the eastern border of the cropland to the north border where it turns west, like this. Along all borders we will have lines for irrigation, which can be hoses from valves at regular intervals.” I drew a line along the east of the cropland to the north border and west to the end. “Our pump station here will house two dual-flow pumps, so we'll need a second, Kitana.” Kitana nodded. “We'll have one-inch pipe all around the cropland with those valves at regular intervals. From the south of the pump station we have both pipes, a split from the crop intended around the south and west border, and the pipe from the animal pump running in the same trench with the crop pipe to the southwest corner. Both turn and go up to the north end of the crop land, with the same setup as we will do for the east and north. The animal pipe will branch off for each animal pen, where it will end with a turn into the goat pen. Agreed?” I finished the drawing once all were agreed. “Last we branch off the animal water line and run a one-inch pipe to the electric, so there's water there in case of fire. For that contingency, also, we will always have one generator, filled and ready to go, near the pump station for the crop and animal water lines. If we have a fire in the electric facility we absolutely must get water there to fight it, even if the fire knocks out our electricity.” I looked up all around me and stated quite calmly, “If we lose electric and have no ability to put out the fire there, once the fire is out, we're starting all over again, almost from scratch. Agreed?” All were in agreement.

“All right. Those are all the water trenches and connections. Now, let's hook up the electric with what Bernard needs.” I grabbed a green pen to draw the electric trenches. “At the south, we need to run a service line to medical for the box to be installed there. It's going to be a thick cable. Later we'll connect the box to the medical facility's water pump. That's all we'll do for them. Agreed?” All were in agreement.

Chuck commented, “You like doing this, Gregory. You are really into it.”

“It helps drawing this out first, Chuck, and, as you well know, except for the electric, all lines have to be straight, and wait 'til I get to each individual line. It gets better...We're all agreed the living quarters will have two service lines and two boxes installed and one of those boxes will serve the pump and any external needs around the living quarters. That leaves one box installed in the electric facility for the prayer facility, greenhouses, the greenhouse pump, the two pumps for the crops and animals, anything else we might run up to the northern and eastern edges of the compound, all the animal pens, the solar tables, and the inside of the electric facility, including the computer network. Bernard, I'll want you to calculate, as best as you can determine, whether one box will suffice for all of this or should we get one more. I'm leaning to another so we don't tax a box if all the pumps on it are running. However, since all the cables for these are standard circuit cables, we can run them out of the electric and connect them to the appropriate box when it's ready. Agreed?” All were in agreement.

“Okay, once we determine the exact number of circuits to the prayer facility, greenhouse, and those three pumps, plus anything else in that direction, we run them inside protective pipes toward their eventual destinations. These cables will run in the same trench to the medical facility initially, Bernard, where you'll break off to the medical with its service line and continue to the prayer facility and connect to the main trench there. We'll run the electric cables from the main trench, each branching off when necessary, to the prayer facility, the greenhouses, the two pumps by the crops, the pump at the greenhouse and continue north for a few outdoor outlets, in case we need them. Like so.” I drew the green lines where they were intended, branching off where appropriate.

“The service lines to the living quarters and the circuit cables to the animal pens will come out of the electric facility at the north end into the trench for the water to the electric, follow that until the service lines run east to the west end of the living quarters, where both boxes will be installed, while the circuit cables to the pens run in the water trench all the way to the north end, branching into each pen and anywhere south of the pens where we want to install outdoor outlets. Agreed?” While everyone nodded their heads there was some laughter, too. “This is fun, isn't it? Wait until we start digging the trenches.” There was more laughter while I engaged Bernard. When I had his attention I continued. “Bernard, your sole responsibility is digging the trench to the medical facility and until it connects to the water trench there and the portion from the water trench for the electric facility to the living quarters for those two service lines. Since all the rest of the trenches serve both water and electric, those trenches will be the responsibility of everyone, all crews...

“Which brings me to my next set of instructions, so everyone get out paper and pen and write this down. This next part is absolutely critical that everyone understands because various crews will be working separately but with supervision from at least one of you here so there must not be any mistake. Period!” I looked around watching everyone doing exactly as I instructed, except for Kitana and Nassira. “Kitana, Nassira, both of you, too. Everyone here must know this inside and out. If any cable or pipe is incorrectly attached, we'll have a disaster on our hands trying to figure out which cable or pipe is what. There must not be a mistake. Period!” I waited for both to get prepared, both frowning mightily but saying nothing. Everyone thought, and rightly so, I had thought about this next part long and hard.

“Every pipe which comes from the well, every cable which comes from electric, must be distinguishable, so should we have to repair any cable or pipe we can identify the right cable or pipe immediately and never have to guess. This is what we're going to do as we begin laying pipes and cables.” I glanced down at the drawing on the table. “We have a single water pipe each leading to five separate destinations. So, for the greenhouse, prayer facility water pipe, we will paint the top section of the pipe green. Write it down! It is solid green. The medical water pipe will be solid red. The cropland pipe will be solid yellow. The animal pipe, which also branches to electric, will be solid brown. The living quarters will be solid blue. It means, as each section of pipe is laid, before the next section is laid, the new pipe is painted the correct color. You as supervisors must stay on top of it, so there must be no painting of pipes for identification without a supervisor there consulting the guides you have now drafted. I cannot stress enough how critical it is there be no mistake made! I also cannot tell you how truly disappointed I will be should there be a mistake made. Breaking my heart does not go even to the smallest degree to explain my disappointment. We have to have them properly identified as part of a rigid and inflexible procedure. You know I don't do it often. In this case I cannot tolerate any deviation. Again, greenhouse, green, medical, red, crops, yellow, animals, brown, living quarters, blue. Is there anyone who does not understand?” There was a universal chorus of negative responses.

“For the electric cables, they will be easily identifiable as electric cables should we have to dig up a trench for repair. We only need to identify multiple electric cables in the same trench but we will identify each cable, even though they may be of different thickness, for consistency's sake. So, for medical, we will paint that cable with a red stripe. To stripe any of these cables I recommend a simple brush stroke four to six inches, two or three inch break, and another brush stroke. That should suffice. For the pipes carrying circuit cables to the greenhouse, prayer facility, the crop, animal and greenhouse pumps and the northeast section of the compound, those will start from the electric with green striping. Once the cables branch to the crop and animal pumps, we will separate those cables, running them in separate conduit pipe, so the crop will be yellow striping, the animal will be brown striping. The rest of the electric cables moving north will continue with green striping. Since we will have two service lines to the living quarters, we will have a need to identify which cable is for which box. For ease of identification, the service line for box one will be dark blue striping, the service line for box two will be light blue striping. The electric then to the animal pens and western edge of the compound will be brown striping. When everyone follows this diagram, we will be able to repair any defective cable or pipe quickly, perhaps in a matter of a few hours, not days.” I glanced to Bernard. “How you wish to identify any cables inside the electric facility is entirely up to you, Bernard. I'm sure you've already considered it and have started it with the cables from the solar generator.”

“That I have, Gregory, including from which table, labeled one through six.”

“Good. I figured you would. Thank you.” I glanced around at everyone, noting wide grins, even on Kitana's face and Nassira's face. It made me smile. “Okay, so here's how we proceed digging the trenches. First, we lay out stakes along one edge of the trench and connect the stakes with string. From that we dig the opening. All we need to do is dig each trench straight down one edge. The water pipes cannot be bent. That's why all the lines I've drawn are straight or with right angles when they branch or turn. Each trench will be one meter in depth. I think it will suffice to keep pipes from freezing. We can, if you want, encase them in insulation material and tape them. I don't think it will be necessary though and we don't have the material on hand anyway. The trench must be wide enough so each pipe inside the trench lays flat on the earth and not on top of any other pipe or cable. We'll start from the well and dig the main trench along the east first. Using my guide, then, the greenhouse pipe should be laid on the eastern edge, the medical water immediately next to it, the living quarters pipe immediately next to the medical, the animals pipe next to the living quarters, and the crop pipe last, the western most pipe in the main trench. When we have branching intersections of electric and water, the water pipe is laid first, and the electric crosses above the water pipes. We can't have crimps in water pipes. They should be laid flat at all times and straight as an arrow.”

“That's a lot of digging by hand, Gregory,” Monsieur Farabé observed. “It will take a lot of effort and be slow going, do you not think?”

“We don't have a backhoe on site, Monsieur Farabé. It would help tremendously, but we're so far ahead of schedule, none of us have really considered it yet.”

Monsieur Farabé smiled wickedly. “There are backhoes in Mali, Gregory.” He rose from his seat. “Continue on with your discussion while I make some phone calls.”

I smiled wickedly, too. “You know what we need, Chuck?”

Chuck responded, “No, but I sense I'm gonna like it.” Everyone laughed.

“We need one of those little Bobcats with all the attachments, like backhoe, shovel, bulldozer, everything.”

“You're gonna lose the little tractor soon, Gregory. You should get one of those. Although while you're at it, you should consider one of the big boy tractors. North to south here measures shy of three miles, you know.”

“Yeah, we've got a pretty big garden, Chuck.” Howls of laughter ensued.

Jeremy was sitting in, at times recording as we talked. “Let's make a plea to include these items on your appeal, Gregory. Why handcuff yourself trying to do this on the cheap? You'll have a continuing need for them. They'll pay for themselves.”

“Got you on my calendar, Jeremy. Free up some time tonight.” There was more laughter around the table. “Okay, now that you have everything written in your notes for how we'll proceed, step by step, we'll be able to crank these trenches out and lay the cables and pipes quickly, I think. Once it's done, there's only one thing left. As each trench is completed, all the pipes laid, connected and confirmed, all the cables laid, connected and confirmed, and we go along filling in the trench, we'll use wires about two feet long with colored flags about four inches long at the top of the wire, to identify where the cables and pipes are buried. We'll use blue for water and red for electric and stagger them at the place where each pipe connects. Our water pipes and the protective pipes for electric are all about the same length so we should connect them all in the same general area, and we'll also place a flag for each entry to any facility or pump station and at every turn. As a note, should we have to dig to repair anything defective, we'll stake from flag to flag and run string so we're digging directly over the trench. No using your sight only. You can miss the trench. I know because I've done it before. Listen to the voice of painful experience.” Now the laughter was loud, followed by shouts of “Let's eat,” and “We'll get started after supper.”

Bernard made a point of sitting next to me for further discussion while we ate. “Thinking about the cables running to the prayer facility, greenhouse and pumps, Gregory, I'm thinking it would be much easier from a servicing standpoint if we kept those cables separate in their own conduit pipe. We could group all the cable to the prayer facility together, the greenhouses, the greenhouse pump and outdoor outlet cables together, the cables for the crop pump together, and one more for the animals pump. We'll stripe the crop yellow, the animals brown, the greenhouses green, and the prayer facility striped black. I think it would be best to keep each separate, since every one will have some connection because of the distance involved. As you know, the connections are the most likely for failure. It would be wise to only have to deal with a single pipe if there's a loose connection of one cable.”

“That's an excellent idea, Bernard. Change your guide to reflect it and I'll change my master that we are separating cables by prayer facility, greenhouse, crop pump and animal pump, and adding black striping for the prayer facility. I'll advise Kitana and Nassira and the others after supper.”

Upon further reflection Bernard measured the distance from the electric facility to the expected cropland pumps and realized it was considerably shorter running north along the water trench to the electric facility than running east to the main trench. We changed that, too, reflected in the permanent documentation and schematics and how we actually connected all of it. I hadn't considered every optimal connection when I drew up the trench plans but I was fortunate—as I knew when we all met in the African Union those many months before—I had met those who could and would improve them as necessary. They all knew I would never consider their unsolicited ideas unworthy. I considered every idea worth consideration and from all of us. This experiment would fail without our collective unflagging agreement for any and every proceeding.

After more discussion we changed the idea for the flags, by marking where every section of electric cable connected to the next, with an orange flag. We had large spools of romex cable, 12 gauge with 3-strand insulated wire, for the standard electric cable, each spool one hundred and fifty meters in length. We could have ordered bigger spools but we anticipated the enormous chore it would eventually become to slip these long cables inside protective pipe. We also had large spools of heavy gauge cable, which ran from the wind generators, the solar tables, and out of the electric facility as service lines, but Bernard had already estimated the probable amp requirements for each destination, since he had consulted Nassira's drawings for each and those drawings included the intended service outlets in every room and their intended use. We all had thought about this major construction considerably. We changed the cable laying procedure so that every standard electric cable would connect at the same location in each trench. This was to ensure we would only dig over the trench to repair a defective cable where they connected first, since—Bernard was correct—the most likely place for failure of any electric cable was where each connected. We knew there would be a lot of connections. We also ran as many as six separate cables—each intended for a single destination but providing six separate circuits—in one protective pipe and using colored tape at each connection to keep the cost of protective pipe at its lowest. When we priced these pipes we quickly realized that one and a half inches would hold six with plenty of room at a price about one quarter if we ran six separate cables of a half-inch. It was a pain running those cables inside the pipe but doing it this way saved us about ten thousand dollars, possibly even more.

- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-SevenLost on the Dark Continent” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com