Essay
12:55 pm
Mon January 20, 2014

Water, Water Everywhere

“I learned to take a bath in a tea cup!” I often chortled to anyone who would listen. A slight exaggeration, of course, but one time when I had been without water for 5 weeks, I learned to adapt, plus this important lesson: “I’ll never take water for granted again.”

It was the late 1970s and my husband and I lived a “back to the land” life, a strong national trend at that time. We had chosen a home situated at the end of a road at the top of a hill that needed much remodeling and repair. One winter sub-zero temperatures lasted for several days, followed by weeks of below freezing temperatures. Our basement heat was inadequate, and we went downstairs one morning to discover a forest of bizarrely twisted water pipes. They seemed to reach out from their valves as if seeking sustenance or begging for help. But it was a helpless feeling for us, as we had no money for a plumber.

My husband eventually replaced the pipes, but by that time I had learned to melt the plentiful snow for cooking, fill jugs of water at friends’ houses, and to prevail upon family for the occasional shower.

Recently in the western part of West Virginia thousands of people endured a week-long ban on water. During this crisis, emotions ran high. They still do. People commented the same thing I did years ago: never take water for granted. This time, we had water at our house, and I invited friends over to shower and wash clothes. It was not easy for some to show up, washcloth and towel in hand, and climb in someone else’s tub. Yet it strengthened our relationships as those of us fortunate enough to have water reached out to those who didn’t. We felt we had contributed to easing the crisis for some in a small way.

On a larger scale, our world is running out of potable water. When I visited Peru a few years ago, my guide told me that when new homes are built, they have to rent water from their neighbor’s well—only one hour a day. The norm for the foreseeable future is no newly dug wells.

Conservation and protective practices are ways to extend our time with safe, clear water sparkling over our hands and slaking our thirst. Trust is again an issue in the news, and just as my friends felt a sense of trust in order to bathe in my home, trust must be restored that the water we use is plentiful and healthy for consumption. We really don’t have much time remaining to make good water our reason for living—its very essence is why we thrive.

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