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Without Water, Desperation Runs Deep

By Donna Britt
Friday, December 10, 2004; Page B01

"M om, we may need to stay at your place tonight. The well ran dry."

My mother's incredulity upon hearing those words couldn't match my own at having said them. It's the kind of statement no 21st-century suburban wife and mother expects to utter, any more than she expects to say, "I just finished the milkin' and Bessie's hardly producin'," or, "Can't talk now, there's more wool to spin."

Yet there I was last week, making arrangements for what I'd thought was a rural, pre-World War I occurrence. Ten years ago, when my husband and I were prospective buyers charmed by the 50-year-old Cape Cod that's now our home, we blinked at the news that the house was "on well water."

How quaint, I thought. The lush acreage surrounding the house meant that it and others in the subdivision were too far from a water main to tap into it. Hence, the well.

"But the water tastes great," everyone said, and it did. No biggie, we figured.

That was before we understood that when you're "on" a well, toilets don't flush during power outages -- which aren't uncommon in semi-wooded areas where large branches routinely tumble onto slim wires. That was before a neighbor confessed that she'd spent $10,000 putting in her new well.

That was before our well ran dry.

One minute, we had water. We'd turn a knob or twist a handle, and presto: Wetness leaped out of faucets; sparkling streams danced into tubs and sinks and the washing machine.

The next minute? The gush became a gulp, then a gurgle, then a gasp. Then . . . nothing.

Losing electricity I can deal with. You find the flashlights, light some candles, resign yourself to missing TV's "Lost."

But life without water? Without the substance that makes most cooking, housecleaning, bathing and plant-watering possible? Without toilets that flush, unless you find, fill and pour buckets of water into a contraption that most of us use thousands of times without considering?

Suddenly, water became the world's most precious substance -- which it already was, but I was too busy to notice. Suddenly, a friend's offhand comment -- "I gotta go and do some laundry" -- evoked an envy as stinging as if she had said, "Gotta run -- Denzel's waiting outside in the Mercedes he bought me."

Suddenly, thoughts of water consumed me. Health experts have said we don't drink enough. In every other way, we can't get enough.

Those who can afford seafront homes -- and some who can't -- buy them in hurricane country and pray for the best. We purchase overpriced mini-manses on teensy plots because they have fancy swimming pools or sit beside man-made lakes. It isn't enough that about 65 percent of our bodies are water. We buy poles, lines and bait to fish in the stuff, and canoes, kayaks, surfboards and the occasional yacht to ride on it.


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