Boil Water Orders

All of a sudden, everyone in my vicinity is thinking a lot about where our water comes from.  I wonder if this thought about water sources and water security will also make people think about food sources and food security.

It’s making me recall a conversation with a Haitian colleague back in January, shortly after the Haitian earthquake.  He was telling me about the difficulty his still-in-Haiti relatives and friends in the city were having in getting food from the countryside.  It made him think about our food supply here.  He pointed out that a lot of the U.S. is closer to Haiti than California is to Massachusetts.  How would California produce, or any other food, get to us if we had a catastrophe?

This weekend, we did in fact have a catastrophe:  there was a rupture in a joint of the tunnel that brings water from reservoirs in Western Massachusetts to those of us in Greater Boston.   We’re now cut off from our regular water source, the Quabbin Reservoir, and its treatment plants.

Instead, we’re  getting water from a few ponds in the region that serve as backup reservoirs.  It’s good for firefighting and flushing toilets.  Washing hands in it doesn’t leave them clean enough for handling food, so hand washing has to be followed by antibacterial hand sanitizer.  Showering in it is a lot better than being sweaty, as Murphy’s Law kicked in and we got weather in the muggy 80s right when we stopped having potable water.    No, it’s not potable, because it’s not going through the right sort of treatment.  Water from one of the sources is untreated, while water from other sources is going through heavy chlorination.

Lots of people in the area are getting their drinking water by buying it in bottles, with all the environmental costs of shipping and plastic.  We’re not, but it’s not easy.  First we have to kill the bacteria by boiling the water – a rolling boil for at least a minute – then let it cool enough that we can run it through a Brita filter to take out most of that chlorine.

For all the hassle, it’s good to be reminded to appreciate the safety and convenience we tend to take for granted.


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