Water, Sewer, and Lifetime Learning

Future Ideas and Issues Water

            Marble Falls       I’ve been talking to a gaggle of water experts recently on Wade’s World.  In some cases, I’ve read their books.  Lead is in the water, and it’s not alone.  People are being flooded and who knows what might be floating in the wake.  Distrust and public participation falls, when people don’t have confidence in their water supply and the local governmental authority that provides the water.  I’m following this intently for my sake and anyone else’s that gives a hoot.  Climate change is part of the concern.  Basic public health is another.  Sleeping at the switch is often the default setting.

Truthfully, when everything is flowing along as it should, in modern America, we just take it for granted.  If it’s coming out of the tap, most of us don’t think twice about drawing a glass and pouring it down the hatch.  Frankly, that’s as it should be.

Years ago, while in Delhi, it took some mental calibration to understand that I needed to fill up buckets in the washroom and take a shower at a certain fixed time, based on whether water would be available.  Leaning over a toilet or sleeping in the bathtub in Mexico City, when despite my care, I had eaten a salad where the lettuce was washed with local water.  Or the time in Lima when I ate ceviche in a restaurant right off of the central plaza, and thought it was delicious until I had to get up more than twenty times on a flight from New Orleans to Phoenix days later.  Or the time I missed a plane home from San Pedro Sula a couple of years ago because, not thinking, I’d eaten a piece of fruit with the Honduras ACORN board at their annual general meeting.  Not to point fingers, there was the time in Rome where drinking from the faucet laid me low overnight as well. You would think I would know better, and despite many mishaps, I have learned to do better, but still habits and expectations are so deeply ingrained that fools will still stumble when wiser folks let their guard down, no matter how briefly.

All of which has me obsessing about water here in the home country as well.  There are way, way too many water systems in the US to make me feel as happy-go-lucky as I’ve always been; 148,000 to be exact.  With that number, the margin for error is absurd.  I thought people in the country with a well, might be in better shape, but now I look at hydrology maps and wonder where the water table is, even in the wetlands of the Gulf Coast.  Thinking about climate, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the maps and circling the Ozarks area as a place that might be a safe haven in the latter half of the 21st century, to the degree there’s even such a thing.

Then you go from water to septic systems in these circumstances, and you realize how little any of us now about how that sausage is made or at least flushed later.  A Canadian comrade was telling me recently that his 5-year-old had expressed curiosity about a big drainage pipe, so they both went on a tour of their local sewer and water system.  Darned, maybe we all should be putting that on our calendar.  The articles from Mississippi about septic overflows in hard rains with their attendant effluent are stomach turning, and then I hear about counties in Arkansas requiring no permits for septic systems on properties over ten-acres, just rolling down hill following Newtonian gravity principles.  What about that water?  Makes one of those 148,000 systems look like a win, even if our confidence is eroding.

I have to admit that I’d never really planned to make part of my lifetime learning program include a deep dive into understanding water and sewer systems.  I don’t think I’m going to be alone for long.  I think we’re all going to have to go there.