Reflections After a Water Emergency

On Sunday evening, a 48-inch water main in our area broke. Our water authority gots lots of calls from people with no water or very low water pressure, but it took several hours to find the break since it was in park land down a ravine.

They then imposed mandatory water restrictions – no outside watering, no laundry, no dish washing, etc. They also issued a boil water advisory to last at least three days. Residents were advised to boil water (or use bottled water) used for drinking, preparing or cooking food, cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, etc.

All restaurants – several hundred – in the area were ordered to close, and other businesses (groceries, convenience stores, etc.) selling prepared food were prohibited from selling food prepared after the incident. On the first day, government offices in the area closed. A number of camps and schools also closed.

By late Monday, they had isolated the pipes in the area of the break, and restored water service to the area and lifted the mandatory water restrictions. Restoration did not depend upon repairs, which will take longer. They even had to build a small road in order to get equipment down to the site.

Results from the first round of water testing became available Tuesday evening. None of the samples had any bacterial contamination. Good news, but the State requires two successive rounds of testing with no findings of contamination before a boil water advisory can be lifted. The State and County did decide to allow restaurants to re-open, but under a rather severe set of requirements with tap water, unless boiled, not usable for cooking, cleaning of table services or anything else, hand washing, etc.

On Wednesday evening, the second round of water testing confirmed the absence of bacterial contamination, and the boil water advisory was lifted. The water emergency was over.

All this was quite an inconvenience. But we ourselves never completely lost water. And we use bottled water for drinking, so that was not an issue.

This incident caused me to reflect on our privileged status. Most of the time, we have ample clean water for all purposes, right in our own home. So many do not.

Our situation at the height of our water emergency was much better than the every day situation of a substantial portion of the world’s population. They would be so grateful to be able to live under that kind of situation.

More than one billion people in the world today lack access to safe drinking water – not for a brief interlude due to a water main break but every day year round. And 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation. Each year, 1.8 million children die from diarrhea, mostly as a result of drinking contaminated water. Even many who do have access to reasonably safe drinking water have to haul it by hand some distance from their homes.

There is a vast difference in the lives of those of us who live in the world’s more affluent nations in reasonable comfort, and billions who live in poverty. Our status is not due to us being better or more moral than those in poverty. It is a matter of circumstance. Causes of the misery of so many include greed, wars, economic exploitation, and racism. Our profligate lifestyles definitely contribute to the problem.

What are some of the lessons I take away from this?

  1. Be thankful for my many blessings.
  2. Consider the implications of my lifestyle, and how that might change.
  3. Be in prayer for those facing extremely difficult life circumstances.
  4. Use some of my relatively abundant material resources to help those in need.
  5. Work to change national priorities away from militarism towards meeting human needs and increasing equity.

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2 Responses to “Reflections After a Water Emergency”

  1. You know, Bill, it’s been a while since you put this up, but it still strikes me. I live an affluent country (the same one as you) but in my neighborhood nobody takes water for granted.

    My drinking, washing, and bathwater emerges from out of a 24-foot deep hole in the ground lined with fieldstone, that came with a blue cast-iron handpump on top. When it rains, my water is brown with the silt that runs into the well. When the level is low, the water smells like a fish tank. When it REALLY smells, I lift off the cover, drop down a ladder, and go down to extract the bloated rabbit or the drowned toad that makes it that way.

    But I’m lucky. My well does go dry from mid-summer to fall, and every week I have to haul water from town, a half-hour away on my flatbed, 3600 pounds at a time. But my neighbors to the east and west have the coal miners under them this year, and their well water is now gone forever. Just this morning I drove around the water truck who had stopped by my neighbor’s gate to fill up the two 1000-gallon tanks set up by the side of the road that are now the only source of water for his dairy herd. For the last 100 years his cattle drank endless spring water from a concrete trough, but those days are gone forever.

    As for sanitation, we’re a long way from any sewer system, and without consistent well water, no septic system is possible either. So we have a detached bathroom, like 2.6 billion other people, I gather.

    This place was all we could afford, out here. And it’s well worth the inconveniences. But even here in the good ol’ USA, water is questionable for lots of people.

  2. Thanks, this is one of the better posts I’ve read today. I share your vision about that. Thanks man!

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