So far this season has been hurricane free. But a week ago Saturday at the grocery store I thought I must have missed the warning about an advancing storm. The checkout lanes were uncustomarily long; people’s shopping carts were pilled with containers of water.
The water buying was not in advance of a storm but to counter a water crisis: much of the community’s public water system had become compromised by the presence of E. Coli.
I bought my few groceries but no water. I still have several gallons of water from last year that I’d love to use up. It was also possible I would not be afflicted since I draw water from my own well.
In the early days of this nuisance, information about the extent and instructions on the required reaction was hard to find. An emergency robo call from some authority garbled the name of the website to check. Nothing was mentioned about private wells. The internet was more helpful. It offered 2 suggestions: boil water for one minute before drinking, and take a shower without ingesting any water.
I boiled some water. But soon it was clear my well was not implicated. A week and a day later, I poured the boiled water on the plants.
The messages of subsequent robo calls, of which there have been at least 2, have been audibly clearer. The boiling of water for those on the public water system is to continue until further notice. And we are advised not to take water into our mouths when showering.
The showering practice reminded me of traveling in developing countries and of Georgiana.
Georgiana was a regular in the commuters’ locker room in the main complex building of the World Bank. We commuter locker room users were a traipse of globe trotters familiar with the practice of showering with one’s mouth closed.
Georgiana’s participation in the locker room community was interrupted at one point when she was assigned to the country office in New Delhi for a multi-month stint. Upon her return she called out from a shower stall: “Remember you’re showering in drinking water.” Her message became a rallying cry in the locker room even for the shortest showers.
I often think of Georgiana when I shower, especially when I stay in for too long. And I’ve told plenty of people beyond that Bank locker room to consider the quality of the water they’re using when showering.
Of course, I hope my fellow citizens on the public water system get potable water again very soon. But I also wish Georgiana could call out so everyone in America could hear. It’s a message we need: natural disasters such as big storms aren’t the only events that threaten our access to what we’ve come to see as basic entitlements.