Water, Water Everywhere…

 Friday, November 10, 2006

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Most in this country take water for granted: you turn the faucet, and out it flows. You use it for cooking, bathe in it, flush it, and drink it without any worries about its safety.

Where I live, water comes from the ground. There is an old stoned-up spring in my pasture that gushes an icy-cold, clear overflow even in the driest of summers; a 58’ drilled hole in the granite underpinnings of our hilly landscape has been supplying delicious, chemical-free water to my house for about thirty years.

Some time in July, our bodies became possessed by aliens. It took nearly six weeks to diagnose the “beaver fever” (giardia lambia) that gripped us, in part due to the fact that we had eaten some rare tuna on the night before getting sick. Ironically, the tuna was a red herring, not at all related to our malady, but for the first couple of weeks it was the prime suspect. We couldn’t look at food; our intestines roared and raged; we dragged ourselves around; we avoided social situations (giardia can make even the most swell person very bad company). We had our well water tested, and it flunked.

The summer of our intestinal discontent progressed into the autumn of my close acquaintance with the NYS Health Department, local and far away laboratories, and eventually what feels like a PhD in Water Quality Assurance.

I listened to the water treatment specialists, but the high tech methods of “purifying” water are so Rube Goldbergish as to be amusing, not to mention expensive. You can treat giardia with UV light – if your water meets a long list of criteria (turbidity, suspended solids, color, sulfide, metals content, hardness etc.) – and ours didn’t. No problem… you buy a large $1500 greensand filter, a $1000 softener, and then pass it through the $3200 UV light (a method that works as long as you don’t have a power outage, at which time the little giardia weasels infest your pipes and faucets…) Of course there is also the monitoring, hauling of salts to the softener, bulb and filter replacing etc., but here’s the catch: the UV light doesn’t KILL the giardia; it affects its DNA, so what you end up drinking after all of this treatment is mutant giardia. Sound yummy? The people promoting this method assure me it’s fine, but I remember when x-ray machines were installed in shoe stores so you could look at the bones of your feet for the fun of it. That was thought to be perfectly safe too. Okay, so add an $850 reverse osmosis 1 micron carbon block drinking water system with non-electric booster pump to keep pressure high enough. And oh yeah, you might need one of these for each drinking water faucet. Skol!

But here’s the real kicker: we don’t know if there is giardia in our well because you can’t test water for its presence. Tests have shown bacteria in our water, but that only confirms the possibility that giardia could also find its way in. We still don’t believe we got it from our water because other people drank the water and didn’t get sick.

So here you see a photograph of the well-driller and his rig boring a new, deeper, cased and grouted, up-to-State-standards well in my front yard. Will this solve the problem? Would anyone like to visit us next week and be the canary in the coal mine?

The rig arrived, the well-driller set it up, and drilling began. Rock dust filled the air, and within two hours the well was 60 feet deep. Soon it will be cased, grouted, and drilled another forty or more feet in search of a water source deep in the ground and – hopefully – clean and clear.

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