As RangerSir and I interview places we are considering for our retirement move, one of the things is on our list is water. I remember the day our dry creek bed first ran with water. Even if it is only a short spell each year I was thrilled to see water run in the small drawl that ran across our property for the first time. I called RangerSir at work with my news. I told him to guess what I had discovered that day on our property. Of course, he asked for a hint. My hint was people fight and get shot over this. His first guess was water. Not sure how that happened but it was one of those moments when we both knew we were on the same page about that resource.
It may seem kind of an odd thought in a country where we seem to have plenty of water that it is a blog-worthy topic. Yet it is not that simple, no matter if you have your own well or are on a “public” system. Here are some things to think about when you talk water.
There are many cities where your water does not come from a city-owned municipal utility. There are cities where you get your water from a publicly-owned for-profit company. Think about that for a minute. You are getting an essential commodity from a company who is charged with making money for the stockholders. The people who own your water don’t live in your community or have any care about your water system other than what economic return there is. There are two communities in Montana that are poster children for the disaster that this can be. Butte’s mining companies owned the water system from the beginning of the town’s history (prior to 1900) and for years they put no money into the system infrastructure. It was in such bad shape that the water was still in most cases flowing through the original redwood pipes. The city had over 800 bursts pipes annually. Splinters, rust and more came through the city water system into homes. Finally, in the 1990’s there was a transfer of ownership of the water company from the mining company to the city. The system was in a bad state. Bonds and mill levies were passed and millions were spent to bring the system back up to snuff. It wasn’t cheap, but the community can once again use the water that comes out of their tap. Another Montana city, Missoula, recently purchased its water system back after being sold and resold by public companies because its aged system was starting to need capital investments. The public companies liked the income but weren’t so crazy about investing in infrastructure. It cost the city a lot of money to buy their system, but they did it saying they wanted to ensure the people of the city had “access to clean, affordable and reliable water.” Similar things have happened elsewhere. It isn’t cheap for a municipality to own and maintain a water system but from what I have seen, the other option isn’t so great either. So as I look at cities one of the questions I ask about is their utilities. I assume nothing.
Here in the country, we have a well. We are lucky in that our well is exceptional. What I mean by that is, water is clean, plentiful, not full of minerals, and it doesn’t have a nasty odor or taste. We have it tested regularly and say a prayer of thanks for our results each time. That said, I think about what will happen if our well runs dry? Just a couple of miles away as the crow flies the houses are on a different aquifer. Those wells don’t supply enough water out of the ground on demand for basic household needs. In order to support their water needs, those folks have large holding tanks in their basement to ensure they have the pressure and quantity of water for a normal household. Pretty strong wake-up call when you know it is just geography and luck that I can turn on my spigot without a worry.
There are other stories around the word about water shortages for people and agriculture. It is something that we don’t often think about until it doesn’t work.