In this segment of his series on the Fundamentals of Pumped Water Systems, Robert Pelikan looks at control valves of jet pumps.

This is part 2 of our jet pump series. Last month, we said that a jet pump was a centrifugal pump with a jet assembly (also called an injector), either integrally attached, as in the case of shallow well jets, or remotely attached, as in the case of deep well jets. We further explained that a shallow well jet pump draws the water up to the surface and is limited by atmospheric pressure to a depth of about 25 feet. Deep well jets, with the jet assembly located down in the well below the water level, push the water to the surface and can pump from as deep as 200 feet.

The operation of a jet pump requires a certain amount of water to be circulated back through the jet assembly as drive water. In a shallow well jet pump, the amount of water diverted is governed by the internal construction of the pump and is not adjustable because the narrow range of pumping conditions can be met without having to adjust the amount of drive water. The performance of a deep well jet pump, on the other hand, can be optimized to specific pumping conditions through the use of a control valve to create the right amount of backpressure, and this article will explain their function and how to adjust them.

Types of Control Valves

Control valves can be as simple as a manually adjustable flow-restricting valve built into the outlet port of the pump (see Figure 1), or as complex as a pilot or manually operated spring-loaded diaphragm valve like a pressure regulator, attached to the outlet port of the pump (see Figure 2). Used manually, diaphragm valves operate just like any manually operated valve to restrict the pump’s discharge to create backpressure to force drive water to the jet. Their advantage over a simple gate or ball valve is that they can be adjusted more precisely and hold their adjustment better. Manually adjusted backpressure valves are set to a specific pumping level, and if the level changes, the pump’s performance will be affected.

At least one manufacturer offers an automatic backpressure valve that has a small line connected to it from the suction side of the pump. Vacuum regulates the valve and thus the output of the pump to provide optimum performance as the water level in the well goes up and down. When the water level is high, the vacuum on the suction side is low, and the valve is wide open. As the water level drops lower, the vacuum increases, and the valve begins to close to circulate more drive water down to the jet to provide the additional lift needed to pump from a deeper level. Automatic backpressure valves are factory-set and need no field adjustment.

Figure 1. Manual control valve

How to Set Manual Control Valves

Before making the final adjustments, the pump must be primed and the system purged of air. To do this, manually fill the pump and piping down to the jet with water and turn on the pump with the control valve open. You should see pressure at the outlet of the pump, indicating it is primed. Then, begin to close the control valve to purge air from the rest of the system.

Method one — Using a pressure gauge: Some manufacturers recommend adjusting the control valve in order to provide a specific amount of backpressure bet-ween the pump and the control valve, usually 20 psi. To set it this way, run the pump until the well has stabilized to establish the pumping level. Once there, set the control valve to give you 20 psi on a gage on the outlet side of the pump before the valve.

Method two — Using an amp meter: With the pump pumping at the stabilized pumping level, use an amp probe to set the control valve to give you an amp reading equal to the name plate amps of the pump. Don’t use service factor amps because you could overload the motor if the pumping level rises in the well.

Method three — Using your ears: This method is a little less orthodox but one used by many old-time jet pump installers. Open a faucet near the pump so there is no backpressure from the tank and so you can observe and estimate the discharge flow rate. Slowly open the valve until the flow rate appears to maximize. If you continue to open the bypass, you will reach a point where the pump starts to rattle, as if it is full of marbles, due to cavitation. If you continue to open the valve beyond this point, the pump will loose prime, and you’ll have to start over. Back off one turn on the backpressure by adjusting the screw and then tighten the lock nut. You’re done.

You can check your setting with a pressure gauge on the discharge and a bucket to measure flow. Watching the pressure gauge, restrict the discharge flow until the gauge reads 30 psi. Using the bucket and a stopwatch, measure the flow rate at this pressure and verify that it agrees with the manufacturer’s performance tables for the pump/injector package you have. If not, play with the control valve adjustment to maximize the flow.

Figure 2. Adjustable automatic control valve

Pumping from a Slow-producing Well

Since air entering a jet pump system causes it to stop pumping and necessitates re-priming the system, it is important to take precautions to ensure the water level in the well does not drop below the inlet of the foot valve. To prevent air from entering the foot valve in a slow producing well, try the following. Because a pump cannot lift water more than 34 feet maximum due to the limitations of atmospheric pressure, installing a 34-foot section of suction pipe below the injector will preclude the possibility of the water level being drawn down below the foot valve. As the well draws down, increasing the suction head on the injector, its pumping capacity slows down until it matches that of the well. With the foot valve set at 34 feet below the injector, even in a well with no production, air cannot enter the foot valve because the injector is not able to lift the last foot of water to empty the well. A neat little trick.

Summing up, shallow well jet pumps have the jet assembly built into or attached to the suction port of the pump and are designed to pull water out of a shallow well (less than 25 feet in depth). Deep well jet pumps have the jet assembly down in the well so they can push the water up out of the well and are not confined by the 25-foot limit. They can pump water from as deep as 200 feet. Convertible jet pumps are designed with the injector assembly removable and small enough to fit into 4-inch and larger well casing. They can be used as either a shallow or deep well jet pump, but can not pump from as deep as a dedicated deep well jet — 130 feet is about as deep as they go.

Properly sized, installed and adjusted, a jet pump can be a real workhorse and provide years of trouble-free service. Millions of people around the world depend on jets for their water. Hopefully, this series has given you a better understanding of the inner workings of these thoroughbreds.

Next month, we learn how to determine the pressure and flow requirements of a pumped water system.