The Day the Water Stopped

Water is something everyone takes for granted. Well, not everyone. I for one never take the stuff for granted, and this story will tell you why.

Living in a very rural community in Newfoundland, we had it hard. Government money wasn’t always available, so when we needed things like bridges, road work, and water supplies, the community had to band together to get these things themselves.

For the first few years of my life, my parents visited the nearest river to gather water for the house. I remember pails of water sitting in the porch, which my mom would use to wash clothes (complete with the old galvanized wash tub and scrubbing board), for bathing, and of course for drinking.

Since we did not have electricity yet, the water was usually warm, but we got used to drinking warm water. You may think I was born back in the stone age, but you have to realize that this was Newfoundland in the 1960’s, so the place was pretty poor. The only income in the area came from the Ernest Harmon United States Air force Base in town, and it was very difficult for local civilians to obtain work at the base. My dad drove cab, and barely made enough money for us to eat, so our conveniences were limited to say the least.

Anyway, back to the story. As I was saying, the community had to band together to build a dam to hold water for the community. Once the dam was built, and all springs were rerouted to the dam, piping had to be laid to each household in the community. The residents did not have equipment to do this, so pick and shovel were the tools of choice. This job took over two years to complete, and once it was done, residents enjoyed running water for the first time.

Wow, running water. My parents were in heaven. No longer did my mom have to depend on sparing the few buckets of water in the porch. No longer did I have to run to the outhouse to use the bathroom, which was quite the pain all year long, but especially in winter when the seat was ooh so cold. That’s right, we got a flushing toilet, perhaps the best convenience of the running water.

Although we had running water, it did not always run. Whenever the river froze, the pipes soon clogged with ice, and the water ceased to run to our homes. With this, bathing became impossible, Mom had to depend on the buckets of water that stood outside for washing clothing, and worst of all, we were back to using the outhouse. Darn!

My dad and other residents spent countless days at the old water supply, digging up pipes, using propane torches, and basically resorting to any means of restoring the water, but in the end, the old water system needed an upgrade. That was when my mom got busy writing letters to government officials, in an attempt to receive money to build a new water supply.

Finally, one Monday afternoon, my mom received a registered letter from the Premier of the province, stating that they had found some money in the budget for improving water supplies in rural communities. We were the first community to receive funding. A project to build a new water supply in the form of a reservoir, would not only provide a more dependable means of running water, but also create jobs for many residents in the area.

My dad was chosen as foreman for the project. This was particularly due to the fact that he spent so much of his time working on the old supply, and through this experience, he became very knowledgeable on what was required for the new system. My dad chose a hardy crew, and throughout the entire summer, the crew worked hard to build the reservoir. With the money from the project, the crew were able to rent specific equipment to do the digging, and by summers’ end, the project was completed.

The community was so happy, as water flowed to their taps continuously, regardless of poor weather, frozen rivers, or any other natural disaster could throw at the system.

Soon, the little community grew in size, and many new residents became dependent on a truly perfect water system. The water was so good, primarily due to the fact that mountain springs fed the reservoir, that the community was approached by a local water bottling company to provide water for their operation. The community met, and as a group, the request was turned down, at fear that the water would eventually dry up.

And dry up it did. Back in the late 1990’s, the area had been hit with an immense heat wave that lasted over a month. Small creeks became rock gardens as every water way in the area dried up. We knew that our great water supply was soon to dry up as well. As soon as the last drop of water left the reservoir, taps stopped running, and once again, the community was without water. Since this was years after the reservoir was completed, and the system was so dependable, residents got rid of their outhouses in favor of flushing toilets and sewage tanks, which left households without useable bathrooms.

I used to think that without running water, the only thing missed would be good drinking water. Boy, was I wrong. drinking water was the least of our worries. The toilet is the part you miss. Hauling buckets of water to fill the tank is hard work, and with one flush, the water is gone. Try telling that to your bladder, it seems that if you have to limit bathroom use, those bladders and other vital organs shift into high gear!

The morning after losing our water, community members gathered to check out possible solutions to the problem. I was part of a group who volunteered to bring shovels and picks, and try to reroute any water that may remain in the springs and rivers that fed the system. We walked over four hours, and we were unable to find even a drop of water. We noticed several small rivers that had dried up, tiny fish dead on the river banks, and not even a sign of moisture to be found. We returned to the community, discouraged and unable to find any positivity in the situation.

As a community, we had to gather once again. We sought a company to drill several artisan wells in the area, and once again the community had water. Although this method of obtaining water is very dependable, it was very expensive, but in knowing exactly how difficult it is to live without water, it is worth every cent.

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