The Pump Saga

I’m reminded of this XKCD comic when I think of our tribulations with the Tony Gabowski Common Garden water pump. Countless hours have been spent getting this purported timesaver to work properly, although hopefully it will save time in future years, maybe … I hope.

The water level of Kluane Lake has dropped by over a metre this year, the result of glacial retreat and rapid spring melting (Figure 1). Until recently, we had been collecting water in buckets from the lake to feed to our experimental willows in the Common Garden, but this will become harder if the lake level continues to drop. So, as a slightly hypocritical response to our climate change woes, we bought a petrol-driven pump and loads of plastic piping to carry water up to the garden.


Getting the pump to work was easy. Jakob ordered everything back in Edinburgh and the whole lot was waiting for us when Team Drone rolled up in Kluane. Like that Pulp song, the whole thing was assembled quickly, and with a whoosh the lake water raced from lake to barrels, and a summer of barrel rolling and bucket carrying was saved.

Pump the first

Of course, if that was the end, this would be a rather boring saga. Instead, the pump never turned on a second time. In fact, it took around six weeks to get the right adaptors and figure out how the pump actually functioned.

  1. The first pump broke. Like a car from the ’90s, something inside it just gave up. We returned the pump to a full refund and a sense of defeat.
  2. But all was saved! Tony Grabowski, of Yukon and taxidermy fame, knew someone who had won a pump but it was broken. They were happy to give it to us; all we needed to do was repair it. No problem. So Team Kluane arrived on the scene to a high quality, fully functioning pump, and a simple instruction from Jakob: you probably need to buy some more hose.
  3. Feeling confident with such a shining specimen of a pump, plus a brand spanking new intake hose, Team Kluane strode down to the common garden with an unusual sense of purpose. Only to find out hose was not nearly long enough. Damn.
  4. Still you know what they say, if at first your hoses are too short, find some more hose. Lance, lord of the rugby field, to the rescue! With hose lying around a’plenty, we soon borrowed enough to make twice the distance from the lake to the pump. Surely this time!Except the hoses didn’t actually connected to the pump. Or each other. Another defeat.
  5. Lots of internet research followed by complicated diagrams and reciting product numbers in phonetic alphabet to Yukon Pump (You KAN Pump!) provided us with all the right equipment and enough hose to futureproof the pump if the lake level drops even further. Sure, we were now going up to Qikiqtaruk, so the middle month of the summer required water hauling, but when we got back all would be well.We got back and all was well. The custom made hose and parts were once more waiting for us, and on our first try we eagerly set everything up. This time!
  6. Only to realise that we didn’t actually know how to turn the pump on, forgetting that we were researchers and not very practically minded.

    John struggling with the pump
  7. A brief lesson on priming from Lance and this time the pump stuttered into life. With a cheer, John and Sandra made clear that water was rushing through the hoses up from the lake to the barrels, clear and cold and fresh, and…not coming out the other end. Confused stood I, holding the dry end of the hose and wondering if it might have anything to do with that new water feature over there in the bushes.It turned out that a hungry ground squirrel had chewed through the hose in our absence. So off we went back to the workshop to fix it. I say we. You can probably guess who actually fixed it (his name begins with L).
  8. Finally, YES!! On our sixth try the pump worked, filling the water barrels in minutes. SUCCESS!

Unfortunately by this time the field season was over and we didn’t need to water any more. And since this get rather cold in the winter up there we couldn’t leave water in the barrels lest they freeze and split.

And so our saga must end: with barrels of water being poured away at one end of the Common Garden. A time saver indeed.

There’s always next year!

Table 1 – Cost-benefit analysis for the pump.

Pros Cons
A pump means you don’t have to walk buckets of water from the lake Canadians can’t understand British people on the phone
A pump can be used in a water fight to great effect Using a pump may speed up climate change
Pump piping is a great source of nutrients for ground squirrels Not knowing how to turn on the pump made us feel really stupid
Getting the pump to work provides a source of entertainment for bored researchers that have finished all their fieldwork.
Until next year…

By John and Haydn

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