Monastery water systems

Greetings in Dhamma to everyone,
Just a mundane post about the possibility of anyone having experience in making water systems, the property has access to a well and is flat around 1.5 acres, it’s for a new monastery in India, please share any ideas experiences you may have, kataññu in advance.


Sadhu sadhu!

You will probably get the best information from (non-monastery) people who live in the area. Are you local? You will probably want to have a water system that is similar to those around you so that maintenance and repair is simple for local workers to do.

It also depends on if you are hoping to have the water be drinkable or not. I’m guessing not.

Also, if it is a brand new monastery then it would be good to incorporate solar water heating for the kitchen and at least whatever dwelling old or sick monks may reside in. Solar water heating is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to get hot water if that is something important to you. As long as you plan for it.

Having seen the economic crisis in Sri Lanka with the power cuts, you may want to consider incorporating a gravity fed water tank system. They are ubiquitous in Sri Lanka. Don’t know about India. That would ensure that even if there were power cuts that monastics could bathe, flush toilets, and clean the kitchen.

Don’t forget the other side of a water system, the sewage system. That part will probably be the most location specific.


Yes indeed come good points Snowbird, had been on my mind to contact an engineer, had thought of solar too, will try and look into it, problem is the location is rural India albeit not too far from a city, I’m thinking there won’t be too much red tape, just a matter of the know how and finding people who can actualise it. In the end as long as there’s a small kuti in an empty place all is well I guess.

My guess would be that no engineer would be needed for a standard system. At least in SL I’m guessing that just a trades-person would be able to do an install. It also depends on the scale. Are you talking one kuti or one hundred?

The biggest danger is cross contamination between water and sewage. You can’t have your water and sewage pipes running close together. And any part of the sewage system has to run down hill from your well, generally speaking.

Also, depending on the location you may want to think about a gray water system to recover water from showers/sinks to provide water for any plants growing on the grounds.

Yes right, using sewage for watering plants is a good one, I noticed the labourers who made the makeshift toilet weren’t perhaps the most skilled, admittedly in the past when feesible I had always tried to use local Buddhist labour even if the committee thought otherwise, but in this instance was thinking to try and make it so everyone who comes gets to use a Kuti so it could indeed end up being 100, if we divide the land I to rows of sth like 3 m by 12 m each kuti having a meditation path seperated by plant/bambooo fence and one Dāna/bhāvanā sala and who knows maybe a few retreat kutis to help mitigate the cost make simple mud kutis and maybe one maha thera/theri and one like you mentioned abādha kuti.

Maybe you know this, but I was not talking about using sewage. Gray water is specifically not sewage.

I have heard of monasteries using the sewage to generate methane gas for lighting, but that’s going to be a much trickier (and potentially explosive) thing.

Personally I would care much less about the religion of the workers and more about their qualifications. A water system is something you want to do right the first time.

“…It’s a vast project, bhante. It would be best if you had someone professional to handle this. You might need to appoint an architect who is locally available to inspect the site and plan according to the requirements and design. Solar systems are best for energy needs. The Vipassana center I used to go to had a dedicated solar system to heat water and light outdoor bulbs. There was a huge underground water storage tank made out of concrete and an electric pump.
I personally don’t know anyone local in Amravati. It’s my cousin’s friend who is helping me get the shop address for idol making. I can ask him to provide me the contact numbers of good architects in the area…”

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Why would they be unconcerned if the water was drinkable or not?

Are hot showers looked down upon for younger monastics?

Drinkable tap water is a luxury in most of the world. To make toilet water drinkable is kind of silly when you think about it.

If the area where the well is is mostly ok, then it might not be that hard to make it all drinkable, at least for the locals. But foreign visitors probably couldn’t deal with that. The OP has given us almost no information (and may not have much themselves, which is understandable), so we just have to keep guessing about possible scenarios.

Depending on where in India, it may be so hot that cold showers are the only thing a young healthy person would consider using. However for the old and sick it can be problematic.

When on pilgrimage in Bihar, hot water at the mid-range hostels/hotels was not a given. Might only be hot a couple times a day.

I see. Elsewhere in the world the motivation for a water system is only to run commodes. What do people do for water for drinking, cooking, and bathing?

No, it’s of course multi use. However the only thing that absolutely has to be drinkable is the water that you drink. Even cooking water, as long as it boils, should be fine. I’ve heard about water that was so bad you shouldn’t even bathe in it (parasites from pigs) but I think that may be the exception.

If a place is wealthy, they might get bottled water delivered to be used for drinking. Otherwise there might be a small purification system just for drinkable water.

Of course there are other problems water can have like pesticide/fertilizer run off.

There are soooo many problems that can happen with a water system. Not too long back someone was posting about a monastery in South America where wildfires were melting their pipes. Honestly, maintaining a safe water system at a monastery can be one of the most complicated things to do. People love the idea of remote forest monasteries, but that stuff can be a pain unless you are going to just fetch it from the river when you need it.

Some excellent advice from @Snowbird. I work on various oil pressurization/cooling systems, but the following is just general advice based on some basic knowledge and quick research. Please consult an expert familiar with the region you wish to install the system as there may be some health and safety considerations that they will understand, such as quality of the water in the well and proper storage/maintenance practices for the climate.

Is the well already operational?

Not sure what part of India, but is rain collection an option at all?

Will the system be feeding multiple locations on the property or limited to several in close proximity?

I will echo @Snowbird on the suggestion to rely on gravity and limit the need for electricity, especially if the monastery is not very large (at first). If you do have access to electricity on the property (solar or otherwise) it is advisable to have a manual alternative (hand pump) to bring the water up to a takeoff or to your primary storage. This isn’t so much about being environmentally conscious as it is about keeping the system simple and reliable.

Now, when it comes to distribution in a gravity system, once the water is at the surface, and at a level above where it will be drawn for usage, it is just a matter of maintaining the tank and piping. This becomes way easier when you’re not attempting to use the water in a conventional plumbing scheme. Something safe, simple and reliable is the way to go imvho, and I would sacrifice convenience for practicality every day of the week in this case, especially if $$$ is a concern. A system that is unnecessarily elaborate is a recipe for all sorts of bothersome maintenance. If the water is undrinkable, and you only plan on using it for non-potable, non-sewage purposes, you just need to run piping (properly supported) from the tank to where you need the water most. If it is drinkable, again, it comes down to ensuring the water remains potable from the time it is drawn until it is used. The tank must be properly maintained to avoid algae and the build up of contaminants. Proper filtration is also necessary. Again, an expert in the area will know best.

Remember, that you can always add to the system once it is installed, and you may only learn what is necessary after a period of time based on what the residents need. The first system you install does not have to be the last.

I’m not sure if I’m being ignorant on the following, but is a composting outdoor toilet a reliable option to avoid broader sewage concerns? Not sure how costly these are to install or maintain, but I know they do not use very much water. Of course this would have to located a safe distance from the well. :wink:

The steward would benefit from knowing about routine maintenance of any of the above as not to leave the residents scrambling when issues arise.

Assuming you can always find a knowledgeable person for maintenance, wouldn’t it always be preferable to have a system that was off the grid as far as electricity goes? That would hold down monthly bills for the monastery.

Would photovoltaic panels, a small windmill, or a combination of both be the best for providing enough electricity? What about cost of maintenance( all of those moving parts in a windmill )?

Hesperian have some good tips on water collection, sewerage and toilets. How to build them etc. The guides are translated into many local languages too.

At the monastery I was staying at previously I helped to look after the water systems.
We had a dam, instead of a well, but it’d work similarly.
Our dam had a solar powered pump which would pump the water to a tank at the top of our property. The pump worked on a float valve so that when there was space in the tank (and sunlight) the pump would fill. That way it was always full.
If your property is flat then you’ll need to put your tanks onto stands to get enough pressure from gravity.

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