A couple weeks ago at work, three of us were taking a coffee break together. Somehow, the conversation turned to 2012 predictions, pole shifts, zombie invasions, and the collapse of society. One of our number sheepishly admitted to not having even an extra bottle of water in her house, and, basically, not being prepared for an emergency of any sort.
Now, I’m not a big believer in alien invasions or societal collapse, but I do strongly believe in being prepared for more-likely scenarios, like a simple power outage or a water main break. Even a tornado or multi-day blizzard, or, my personal ultimate worry, long-term unemployment. I gave my colleague a hard time, suggesting she should at least have a few basics on hand, like maybe a flashlight and a couple of big jugs of water, and possibly some extra food kicking around. She laughed it off, telling me that if the water main broke, she’d just pack up the kids and head over to her parents’ place to do the laundry.
Fast forward a week or so, and the water treatment plant in town has broken down – there is a boil water order for the entire district. You cannot even safely brush your teeth with the stuff, according to the Public Health advisory, or do your dishes or bathe your baby in it. Wal Mart sold out of bottled water in about a day, and all the bottled-water shops (Culligan and the like) are backed up on orders. The latest information I have been able to find is that this situation could stretch out for another month or more. My colleague posted quite a forlorn note on facebook, likely feeling that this was entirely my fault.
It has been interesting at work. I have a kettle in my office, so, every day I boil a kettle full of water to do my dishes in – no big deal, really. I keep alcohol hand sanitizer in the office, too, so I just use that or the boiled water instead of my usual hand washing. I work for a major institution, and they are bringing in thousands of bottles of water every day, to supply staff and clients. I shudder to think about how much that must cost, and additionally, I wonder where they are finding all the water – it is likely being trucked in from other places in the province, as it’s certainly not being bought off-the-shelf at the local grocery.
Some of my colleagues are really struggling with living “like this” – they forget about the boil water thing and give the pets tap water, for instance, making them sick, or just feel frustrated with all the extra steps involved in getting the dishes done, all of a sudden. Luckily, I have spent plenty of time traveling in third-world conditions, and the sudden conversion to having to think carefully about the safety of my food and water supply is pretty easy for me. Unfortunately, if you have never been outside of Canada, it does come as quite a shock to think that the water coming out of your tap might not be so safe to wash your blueberries in, and it’s fairly easy to forget the basic precautions. I have heard over and over that ‘things like this shouldn’t happen here’ – people are really offended at having to deal with the inconvenience.
Now, at home out here in the country, we’re not directly affected, as we’re on a cistern – lucky us! We will have a bit of a problem eventually, as our cistern only holds about a month’s worth of water, and our town has completely shut down the municipal supply for trucking out to places like ours. We had probably two or three weeks’ worth of water in the cistern under normal circumstances when the boil water order was announced. We’re generally pretty conservative with our water use, as trucking it in costs a small fortune, so there are not too many ways we can cut back. We’re doing laundry by hand right now, which is a gigantic pain in the butt, but that’s really the only place we can really cut consumption. The animals still need water, and we still need to cook, bathe, and do dishes. We could melt snow like we did last spring, but there isn’t very much on the ground, so I don’t know how well that would work this year.
I called our water hauler, to see if they were shut down entirely. The fellow on the phone assured me that we could still get water, trucked in from an unaffected community; it would just double the cost, is all. Considering how pricey it is to haul water in the first place, we’ll be on ultra-conservation measures (Hubby doesn’t know it yet, but I’m considering instituting a thunder bucket in place of the toilet), but at least we can get good water, for a price. The day after I contacted the company, the owner called me back, just to make sure I wasn’t worried about the safety or reliability of my water supply, and to assure me that he is servicing his regular customers before hauling water to all the new folks who suddenly want some, which currently happens to include the city itself. He’d just appreciate an extra day or two of notice, in order to arrange the scheduling. I appreciate his loyalty to his customers – he’s a good businessman, as well as being a nice guy. He’ll be doing a stellar business, at least.
Now, a six-week boil water order is not exactly the collapse of society, but it’s one of those major inconveniences that can cause real hardship, and even sickness. Having some bottled water on hand would give a person time to adapt to the situation, and even things like having a bit of bleach (currently recommended here for dish and laundry water, to kill the pathogens) or alcohol hand sanitizer (recommended in place of washing hands with the contaminated water) on hand can save a trip to the store when everyone else is rushing there in a panic – to buy bottled water, hand sanitizer, and bleach, of course! That is the sort of thing I’m talking about when I say I like to be prepared…