Sunday, August 30, 2009

Who Needs Clean Water Anyway?

Gloucester has been having a bit of a water problem lately. Since August 21 we have been under a mandatory "boil-water order," which means any water used for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, and washing dishes needs to be boiled first. The Gloucester Daily Times reports: "The city continues to pump supplemental levels of chlorine into the water system in an effort to drive down the bacteria counts. City officials continue to emphasize that there have still been no traces of E.coli or other fecal bacteria in the water samples. The state's boil-water order is based on the presence of total coliform bacteria." Because there is no E.coli present (yet), the city is not passing out water, which means that businesses and residents have to spend their own money on decent drinking water. It's only water—it's not like we need it to survive or anything.

It's times like these I wonder how we've let it come to this: Why we think everything we've done to make our civilization more "advanced" automatically makes it "better?" Why we'd take a water treatment plant over a natural spring or well? It comes down to convenience. It's more convenient to turn on a faucet than go down to the stream or the well and hoist up buckets of water (if we'd even want to, given the fact that we pollute the streams). And indeed some places wouldn't be able to have wells at all (like San Diego)...and I'll take a page from Tommie's favorite enviro books and say, well, then maybe we shouldn't inhabit places where you couldn't have a natural source of water.

As a citizen of the modern world, I am torn. Of course I enjoy the luxuries of warm showers and faucets (and I'm pretty sure my scrawny pancake arm muscles couldn't pull a bucket out of a well even if I tried)...but where do these advances get us in times like these? I'd be better off going to my aunt's family cabin in upstate New York and drinking from the natural spring in the ground that's covered with decomposing leaves (it is, by the way, some of the best water I've had). Instead I'm in a city, like many others, that avoids bacteria water by pumping extra chemicals into it. So let me get this straight: I can either drink water teeming with bacteria OR chlorine chemical water? Pour me some of that! Maybe, just maybe, those shouldn't be our options.


  1. Hi Libra! I am a fellow Libra, also living in Gloucester. Really enjoyed this post! The point you are making about natural water vs. chemical water is an EXCELLENT one! It puts this whole water problem into a larger context- one that actually brings Nature into the picture.

  2. Great post! I love that it is a "Tommie style" commentary, except that it is really well written. What we need to do is begin to take a page out of the Natives book and figure out a way to live sustainably on this land. We need to create a better human-earth relationship. All of that also brings us to the question of population, but that is for another time. Keep up the great columns.