Water On the Brain

The fallout (as it were) from Typhoon Banyan hasn’t been as heavy on us as predicted (see Here Comes Our Rain!). Nevertheless, our water system is quickly refilling. The summer water tank was almost full by yesterday afternoon, and we had nearly an additional inch of rain overnight.

As it happens, during this transition from scarcity to abundance, I’m reading The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water (paid link), by Charles Fishman (check your local independent bookstore). (See my review here.)

At the same time, our local radio station just tested the Letnikof spring water, and found significant levels of e. coli in it!

So, lately, I definitely have water on the brain!

First, the spring: Apparently, there are many varieties of e. coli bacteria; not all of them are harmful to humans. Currently, no one seems to know which variety the test showed, but residents are encouraged to boil spring water before use.

We, like a lot of people, use this spring almost every day. For some local households, it’s their only water source. For us, it’s a matter of convenience. Rather than haul our own water over the trail in bottles, we routinely fill empty bottles at the spring on our way to town. We will not drink Haines tap water unless absolutely necessary. There’s nothing wrong with it, other than the trade-offs of municipally treated water. We simply can’t abide the chlorine taste!

In addition, I brought home 5 gallons from the spring to tide us over the low water period. I filtered it all through our Berkey filter (see Drinking Water: Better Filtering and Water, Water Everywhere!) so I think we’re okay. All three of us, though, have drunk plenty of unfiltered spring water lately, with no discernible ill effect. For now, at least, we’re hauling bottles of our own water to the road when we go to town.

I’m learning a lot from Fishman’s book; some I knew before, a lot I’d never thought of, even after more than 10 years of managing my family’s water supply. His basic thesis is as simple as it is damning: we don’t think about water nearly enough.

One of the most shocking statistics offered in the book concerns flush toilets. According to a 1999 study, Americans use more water to flush toilets than all other uses for water in the home combined. At an average of 5 flushes per person per day, we each flush 18.5 gallons/day. As a nation, we use 5.7 trillion gallons of treated drinking water daily, just for flushing!

Can you believe that? It makes me proud that we use outhouses! It also adds to our discomfort when we visit other places, and have no choice but to use flush toilets.

But, at least we don’t have that kind of draw on our water supply. If we did, it would take more than the tail end of a single Asian typhoon to save our home system!

(For a detailed overview of our catchment water system, see Fresh Water: Collecting and Conserving a Precious Resource.)

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4 Responses to Water On the Brain

  1. Charles Fishman says:

    Mark, and all the Zeigers —

    Wow, what an adventure you are on. I just spent a very few minutes at the blog, but you all have staked out some fascinating territory for yourselves. You know what it takes to keep life & limb together, warm, dry and fed more than most, because you’re doing it every day.

    I look forward to browsing your adventures.

    Mark, I think you know a lot more about water in many ways than I do. Feel free to post a review, or simply impressions and disagreements, with “The Big Thirst.” You’re a smart, experienced reader, and you’re living with water as both responsibility and also in nature — as beauty and as disruptive force — in ways modern Americans have long since lost track of.

    We here at Fishman Unlimited don’t flush our toilets that much. We use about half the typical water for modern, house-dwelling 21st century Americans. We’re about to lose 25% of the family to college — be interesting to see whether the water use goes down, too.

    I hope your outhouses are well barrier-ed from all those springs… The house I grew up in in Miami still has a septic tank, which is nothing but an outhouse that’s hidden.

    Thanks for finding the book. No responsibility to post another word, of course — but I’d love to know what you think, whether you agree or disagree, ifyou’re of a mind.


    Charles Fishman

  2. Robin East says:

    Hi Mark & Family, Seems strange sitting here 7000 Km away in the Uk having to worry about things that we take for granted such as water don’t even think about it. I saw on the Cycloneane web site that Typhoon Banyan is heading away from Alaska wanders of modern technology being able to track Typhoons and Hurricanes on the Internet. Hopefully you will able to get enough water supply for what you require. Look forward to reading you blogs, keep up the good work. Rob

  3. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Rob, glad you found the blog! I love that we have readers in the UK. We seem to be in good shape, waterwise. We’ve been getting just enough–the trail hasn’t turned into a creek, as it often does, yet our tanks are on their way to full. I try to fight against complacency, try to avoid feeling too secure, but a full water tank feels like riches, and I’m feeling like a wealthy man again!

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Mr. Fishman, what an honor to have you visit our Web site and blog!

    The outhouses are well separated from our water sources. The spring mentioned is several miles down the road from where we park, which is a good mile and a quarter from our homestead. The summer and winter water tanks’ dams are on the ridge, well above our outhouses, and can’t be contaminated by them. Even so, we filter our water before drinking, especially the summer water, as it’s fed by a surface swamp that moose and other animals tend to frequent.

    I’ve replied at length privately, and will certainly carve that response down into a review for your book. It’ll likely appear here on the blog in about a week.

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