Published in the Rains County Leader on August 6, 2019:
In a First World Country like the United States, we tend to take the availability of safe, potable water for granted. Sure, there are complaints about chemical additives and other impurities in our tap water, and we spend millions on water filters and bottled water. In fact, we have specialty waters like artesian water, iceberg water, mountain water, mineral water, flavored water, vitamin water and so forth. But still, we assume water will come out of our faucets – until it doesn’t.
Last week I was coming home from a grocery store run when I passed some work in progress on the side of the road around the curve from our place. There was a backhoe as well as several city trucks that said something about “distribution” on the side. They were working in front of a house-in-progress, so I assumed they were bringing in water. As it turned out, I was right.
One of the first things I do when I get home from the grocery store is wash my hands. It’s a habit I picked up after hearing Aunt Fay talk about the dangers of shopping carts, merchandise, and money that had possibly been handled by hands that had just wiped a nose or, worse yet, had been the victim of an uncovered sneeze. I piled my plastic bags on the kitchen counter – don’t judge me for an old memory that always forgets the reusable ones – and flipped the handle of the faucet. All I got was a sputter and a dribble of brown water. They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I consider myself to be relatively sane; still, I tried the handle several more times before I announced to David that we had no water. Then I called the Water Department and left a message, asking if our outage was connected to the work I had seen and, if so, how long it would be until the water was back on.
When I was around two years old, Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers released a song called “Cool, Clear Water.” That song always made me thirsty, and as I put away the groceries with unwashed hands, all I could think about was a tall glass of icy water – that and my neighbor Connie. She’s always telling me how I should stock up on water, just in case. All I had was half a pitcher of raspberry lemonade and half a bin of ice cubes. Even the water reservoir on the Keurig coffee maker was almost empty.
Before I got a return call from the City, the water came back on, but it was full of sand. I called again and reached a nice person who said she would call the workmen and get back to me. We spoke several times after that, and I learned that the work had been finished but someone would come back out and flush the main line again. David and I opened the taps in the kitchen and both bathrooms hoping to clear the lines, but sand continued to accumulate in the sinks and tub.
I filled a couple of pots with water and put them on to boil. After the water began to cool and the sand had settled to the bottom the pots, I carefully dipped water into pitchers so as not to disturb the sand. I asked David if he thought it was safe, but he didn’t like the look of a thin, oily looking layer that floated on top. I assured him that whatever it was had been sanitized, but just so he’d feel better, I poured the water through a couple of coffee filters. After that, he pronounced it clear and safe to drink.
My last phone conversation was with the man in charge of the digging project. He assured me that our pipes would clear if we continued to flush them from our end, and he promised to come back and flush the main pipe early the next morning. He apparently knew what he was talking about, because by morning the sand was gone. We continued to use the boiled water for a few days, though, just in case.
Since then, I’ve thought about the most efficient way to accumulate an emergency water supply, but I haven’t come up with an idea yet. Our home is small with limited storage space, most of which is already over capacity. Besides, David says we have a good supply in the fresh water tank of the RV. What will probably happen is that the urgency will fade as quickly as my thirst did once I had a nice cold drink in my hand. I’ll once again take for granted the availability of safe, potable water and expect it to come out of my tap – until the next time it doesn’t.