Water Costs As Much As Gas


It is difficult for me to believe that people pay good money to buy water to drink and not complain at all. Eventually, I suppose, we will have to buy air to breathe. Yesterday, I watched with awe as a man emerged from a store bearing three big plastic bags jammed with plastic bottles of water. I asked him how much bought water costs these days. He said that with gas down to nearly $3.00 a gallon, the water costs about the same. I guess I should go to town more often so I can learn what progress is all about.

I still drink my well water and prefer it to bought water, but neither my children nor grandchildren agree. They don’t like my water’s whiff of sulfur which gives it character to my taste, the way a bit of Scotch does to a martini. Plus this kind of water is very good for the bowels. I often think of the seminary in Minnesota where I went to school once upon a time. It had previously been a health spa where wealthy people came to “take the water.” There were actually two kinds of water there. The sulfur water tasted and smelled like rotten eggs but was thought to be good for whatever ails you. From other springs issued what we called “iron water,” so hard that when poured, it sounded like you were emptying a log chain out of the bucket.

It has been my lot in life to become a sort of connoisseur of farm waters, having quenched myself with the effluence of countless creeks, springs, rivers, cisterns and wells across the countryside. What I have learned is that water is not simply H2O, I don’t care what the chemists say. Drinking what looked like the purest of liquids from a crick in southern Indiana had the same effect on me as drinking sulfur water, only faster. Out of my grandfather’s well flowed what we called “lime water.” It coated the inside of a glass with a milky film only dustier. The more you drank, the thirstier you got and the only way to avoid dehydration was to mix some cistern water into it.

Cistern water carried its own dark shadows. As it ran off the roof, it sometimes carried the essence of bird poop with it. The discerning tongue might also have noticed a piquancy of metal roofing lingering in the taste. In the cistern, water would age but unlike whiskey, that didn’t help. We used to put lime in it to keep it from getting stagnant, which made the drinker remember grandfather’s well.

The well on the farm where I grew up was the perfect blend of all the mineral ingredients water should have along with hydrogen and oxygen and was surely as pure as any plastic-bottled, melted iceberg water from the farthest polar regions. This was true of many wells in our neck of the woods. But in more recent years, we are all supposed to have the water checked periodically for pesticide contamination. Pure well water may become in the future as rare as gold. As progress fracks for more oil and more natural gas, disrupting groundwater sources, so I hear, the price of bottled water could go even higher while the price of gas goes down. And it shall be called wonderful, as the old hymn says.

But perhaps things could be worse. My grandfather, the other one, not the one with lime water, often drank what he called “tile water.” This clear, cool liquid resulted when rainwater sank into the earth and was carried away in field drainage tile systems. Where the underground pipes dumped into a creek, this naturally-filtered and flavored water was clear and unpolluted in the good old days before herbicides and insecticides. The fact that sometimes there were specks of rust floating in it did not bother grandfather in the least. He told me that was how he got his supplemental iron. But he quit drinking tile water when he noticed one day that some of those rust specks wiggled.


Springs, wells, field tile, cisterns — no one mentioned streams?

Our drinking water stream flows through the property of one very responsible neighbour, then to its source through wild public parkland. It tastes better than about any water I’ve had, but I can understand how in these days, people might be squeamish about drinking open water. There are deer in the watershed, so I guess giardia is a possibility.

I’ve often said the country going crazy can be traced back to the first plastic bottle of water that was sold.
Best water I’ve ever tasted was out of a Spring on a farm we used to bale hay on every year and it was always in July.Never knew if the water was that good or whether it was just so refreshing after being out in the Sun loading hay on the wagons.Also there was a big Maple tree that shaded the spring and thinking back over the years it seems like the best water always came from springs that had Maple trees at them.

I love hearing my grandfather (in his 80’s now) tell stories about his past. Grandpa said that some of the best water that he ever drank was from small pools, some encouraged by placing a couple rocks in strategic locations, of fresh springs that were at various places in the community that he grew up in. He said that there were always a hollowed out gourd or two by the pool of water for drinking out of. He also talks about the hard work of pulling water up out the wells on the farm to water the livestock before the ponds were dug years later What I would give to have some of his experiences.

With this years drought I found out what it is like like to have my well go dry! My well had been trouble free for 25 years and I never minded the mineral taste . It seems really strange to have to wade through 4 ft deep snow to check if any water has seeped into the well.At this point I don’t think I will have any water till spring.

There’s something about spending three hours in a haymow stacking bales in July that makes cool well water from a hose the most delicious beverage in history; my all time favorite. Distant second place is a chocolate milk shake from Young’s Jersey Dairy, back when they still used raw Jersey milk.

Times have changed, and now all my drinking water goes through a reverse osmosis filter, which hopefully removes the chemicals and salts. I take my water with me everywhere in stainless jugs. We take clean drinking water for granted, at our peril.

The prairie on the east side of the Rockies always fascinated me, with their water companies that sold shares of snow melt to ranches, with intricate canal systems. Without the irrigation water, the land was worthless for crops, even alfalfa. When there’s not much snow, people start to get snippy with each other, and the ying/yang of rural and urban priorities gets interesting. Interesting post.

I’m lucky to have a plentiful supply of ground water from a well right near the house. Unfortunately it has enough natural minerals like iron, sulphur and manganese that it is pretty hard on the digestive system for some people. Cattle do just fine on it though. I can haul all the drinking water I need from a nearby community well for a dollar per fill (100gal or more) and it has no chemicals added.

Thankfully we have delicious water from our 90 foot well. It’s one of the main reasons we would have a hard time moving; finding similar good water elsewhere is a tough task.

Gene’s comments bring to mind a practice the captain and crew, including myself, used when back in the day when commercial fishing was our livelihood. Water for cooking washing and drinking was kept in stainless steel or aluminum tanks. It was refilled from springs near the salmon canneries that contained threadworms. Yes, they looked like black threads, but they wiggled. Probably harmless, but why take a chance! To compensate for he metallic taste and slow down the wiggling of the worms either we made coffee or good wine was added to the water before consumption,with the concentration of wine to water changing after the day’s work was done. At that time, if the day’s haul of fish was especially good, a generous shot of good whiskey was added to the water instead of wine , (or was it a shot of water was added to the good whiskey?), I forget which.

As Gene pointed out in his book on the topic of alcoholic beverages, hard cider and similar beverages used to play a much larger role in the ratio of liquids consumed by society compared to water consumed by society because drinking water, whether well or sick water was thought to risk making you sick or kill you , This thought had much to validate itself, which still is the situation in much of the world wherein people are hard pressed to obtain clean water for drinking or other personal use. If you have access to good water treasure that access. Out here in the west where rights to water are more precious than money, there is a saying that: ” whiskey is for drinking;water is for fighting.” There is much truth in that. (Cheers.)

Bar none, the finest waters I have ever tasted were from the free spigots in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and any spigot on Aruba, where seawater distillation is so pure they pass the water over a crushed-coral sluice before putting into the pipelines.

Log chain out of a bucket? Now that’s some hard water!
A couple memories were quickly evoked when I read this. One was being a boy and standing in the “pump house” with my maternal grandfather on the farmstead where my mother grew up. It was a hot summer day and he took a drink of that water from an old dug well and said with a great deal of satisfaction in his voice “that water came from the NORTH side of the well”. Another was of the old tin cups that would invariably be hanging on some old nail close to the old dug wells that were still reasonably common when I was growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. Everybody always drank from the same cup and I doubt if some of them had been washed since they were new. Also I remember the first time I drank from a field tile in my twenties. Where I grew up in Champaign County, the soils were underlain with gravel and we had no drainage tiles. The Logan County farm where we still live has a big ditch running across the back of the farm and field tiles from the bottom field emptying into it. I had heard that clear field tile water was a treat on a hot day and decided to partake on a summer day doing field work far from the house. Kneeling down on a grassy bank under the shade of a huge old cottonwood and tasting that clear earthy water was a near religious experience.
Thanks for a great post.

By the way, there’s no chlorine in WA tap water, they use fluorine. Which is probably even worse.

Marsha (aka homegrown) January 9, 2013 at 11:24 am

Sorry, I meant to type “semi” for superfluous in my post. Had to say it. Love the language. 🙂

Marsha (aka homegrown) January 9, 2013 at 11:23 am

Oh, as a sami-superfluous followup, if any of you good people have great well water coming off the lime, and it builds up in the canner and films the jars when you put up food … you may use my epiphany. One day, while using vinegar to wipe it off the finished jars, I thought “DUH!” And ever since have put some vinegar in the water bath. Jars sparkle upon exit.

Up in my part of Montana the ground water is a bit on the irony side on the west side of our valley and pristine mountain runoff on the east side. I live on the west side with iron. I did install an Reverse Osmosis (R/O) and carbon unit with a spigot next to my kitchen sink. My city slicker friends that taste the water comment on how nice it is with no chlorine or chemical taste. My concern with a shallow ground water well is if a neighboring ranch accidentally dumped a load of herbicide or something that got into the aquifer I could get a slug through my water system. I am a geologist by education and understand fate and transport of chemicals through porous media (ground). But if I lived on the east side I would enjoy water in its natural state. If you have been enjoying untreated water and living long and healthy, something in that water may be good for you. The big waste are all those plastic water bottles that people buy. Where is the EPA to crack down on that wasteful use of resources?

A while back, and for several years running, a blind tasting was done on a variety of waters. Included in the samples were the most expensive imports, cheap domestic bottled waters, as well as tap water from, I believe, NEW YORK CITY!

Gues which water won several years in arrow, chosen by a panel that had highly discriminating palettes?

You guessed it.

And no need for refrigerators in summer for this extra cold well water too…
It’s great to recycle rainwater, but between the acid rain, whatever dirt it picks up from the roof and the decomposition and algae that happen in the cistern, it’s probably best to use it for watering plants only, or to have it pumped up and filtered naturally over a small river bed of sand and water cress (as well be productive), then back to the cistern.

hi. fracking here -youngstown ohio- has caused the diversion of one of the underground streams to divert–earthquakes– and it is running against the side of our neighbors’ basement which has caused no end of mess and work where was a formerly dry, warm basement.
i’m sure it is only a matter of time ’til all the water for miles around is so full of benzene and other carcinogens that we will have the choice of dying either of thirst or of cancer.
deb harvey

We are lucky at home to be high up in our aquifer. Wooded mountain above, tilled fields below. the well delivers moderately hard (mineral) water without the sulfur so common in our valley. Like the old Carl Madden credit card, we never leave home without some. Stainless steel instead of glass is our choice of vessels.

As for the shale gas boom, about all I’ve said on that is “water is essential to life; gas is needed only for a lifestyle.”

    Marsha (aka homegrown) January 9, 2013 at 11:21 am

    DOUBLE Amen, Mama Hen. Here in SE Ohio near Salt Fork Lake, in a place where nobody ever showed up ’till the autumn leaves came out, the shale drillers are up our backsides, disrupting the countryside, stringing lines for new pipeline and ‘sounding’ the earth. They’re waving money, and running the show. Do you mind if I make me a t-shirt with your sage saying?

LOVE this post! My husband and I, farmers in southeastern Minnesota, often balk at the store water or chloride and flouride-ridden town water people drink. Frankly, they think we’re nuts drinking water from our well, which has that distinct lime and iron flavor. We also note the “supplemental iron” bit to people, but to no avail. Medical professionals examining our five children find it particularly “unfunny.” Thanks for another well-thought post!

I don’t know which is worse — drinking the stuff that flows out of a tap in town water, which is treated with chlorine to the point you could about bleach your sheets in it, or drinking bottled water that’s full of all the chemical that plastic leaches into the water. We have a wonderful spring on our place and haul our drinking water in glass gallon jars. I carry a quart glass jar of this water with me to drink when I go to town. Get lots of teasing about my “moonshine” but that’s OK, I love the taste of my spring water.

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