Don’t Call it Prepping: the Your Water Sucks edition

DALLAS, : A stock pond south of Dallas, TX, dries up due to drought conditions 25 July. Nineteen consecutive days over 100 degrees and a withering drought prompted President Clinton to declare Texas an agricultural disaster area. AFP PHOTO/PAUL BUCK (Photo credit should read PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images)
DALLAS, : A stock pond south of Dallas, TX, dries up due to drought conditions 25 July. Nineteen consecutive days over 100 degrees and a withering drought prompted President Clinton to declare Texas an agricultural disaster area. AFP PHOTO/PAUL BUCK (Photo credit should read PAUL BUCK/AFP/Getty Images)

Okay, so you’re water might not suck. I hear there are places in America where the water comes out of the faucet as cold and pure as the Alaskan glaciers. Untouched by fluorine and pesticides, agricultural run off and years of industrial neglect.

If you live in a place like that, with your own well and an endless supply of lovely water, skip this and go have a drink.

For the rest of us, our water tends to shift between not too horrible and, “Oh my god, what is this brown stuff…” with the occasional dry spells.

I speak from experience. Stone Mountain Georgia’s water isn’t the worst. Nothing that a good purifier can’t fix. But last summer it shut down all over the county, causing thousands of people to go dry for about a week. It came without warning, very little municipal guidance and chances are, it will happen again.

It did, however, turn on for just long enough to take showers and take care of necessities. Long enough get a little bit of cooking done. I even got into the habit of filling a couple of bottles so I had something to drink when it inevitably cut off again.

I was drinking that swill for a week before I found out that the county had issued a warning to boil water… after explicitly saying not to boil the water shortly after the crisis began.

It was the perfect opportunity to talk to my wife about capturing rainwater. Emergencies like this come out of nowhere and without warning, and they are likely to become more common. The pipes are old, and were often built during simpler times and for fewer people.

That’s my story. Here are five more facts that should motivate you to catch your own rainwater. Even if you are a totally sensible, non-prepping person, once you’re done with this you’ll understand why you need to start catching water in barrels and purifying it for your personal use. That, my friends, is the humble beginning of a self-sufficient, prepping lifestyle.

broken pipes
A 20-inch water main break at 128 Somerset St. in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood .The pipe was 100 years old. Photo: pressherald.com

First off, a lot of that clean water never gets to your pipes. According to a 2014 piece by NPR, about 2.1 trillion gallons are lost every year, seeping out through leaky pipes, broken mains or bad meters. How much water is that? Enough to cover Manhattan in 300 feet of water.

“The infrastructure and the massive investment that our grandparents, great-grandparents, some of us our great-great-grandparents put in, is coming to the end of its useful life, and the bill has come due on our watch,” said Danielle Gallet of the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit focused on sustainability to NPR reporters.

And it’s gonna cost Trillions to get it back in shape.

How much of your city's water supply actually makes it to your home?
How much of your city’s water supply actually makes it to your home?

Which brings us to the second point. The pipes and mains are to keep on breaking. Right now there is an average of 700 water main breaks everyday.  And according to a recent piece by CNN.com the nation’s drinking water system is so troubled, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave it a grade of D minus in its 2009 Report Card of America’s Infrastructure.

Thing is, once it gets to your faucet, there is no guarantee that you will want to drink it. Just ask the folks in Flint Michigan.

Water in Flint Michigan. For some time, the city said it was safe to drink. Would you drink it? Photo: Occupy.com
Water in Flint Michigan. For some time, the city said it was safe to drink. Would you drink it?
Photo: Occupy.com

Flint residents began suspecting problems in April 2014. They said it tasted and smelled funny soon after their city began drawing water from the Flint River. Soon afterwards, their children began to test with higher than normal levels of lead in their blood.

Free water purifiers have been made available and Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder has declared a state of emergency, but there is still no concrete plan to clean up the water. Not surprising, since they can’t even agree that the water is the source of the lead.

But once we invest those trillions, we’ll be okay, right? Well, no. Even if our pipes and mains weren’t made out of hundred year old mounds of clay, we would still be looking at dry times.

“By midcentury, we expect to see less reliable surface water supplies in several regions of the United States,” said Kristen Averyt, associate director for science at CIRES and one of the authors of a recent study.

water-as-weapon-of-war
Is this in your city’s future?

Speaking in the Huffington Post, Averyt said, “This is likely to create growing challenges for agriculture, electrical suppliers and municipalities, as there may be more demand for water and less to go around.”

Those cities include…

  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Lincoln, Nebraska
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Miami, Florida
  • Atlanta, Georgia (gasp!)
  • Washington, DC
  • El Paso, Texas
  • San Antonio, Texas
  • The Bay Area of California
  • Houston, Texas
  • Los Angeles, California

There really isn’t much of a silver lining, but there are some things that you can do.

Next week I’ll be posting some home-built solutions to these national problems. Rainwater harvesting is a simple, effective way that you can help your family get through the thirsty times ahead.

More next week…

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