Dry as a Bone

Posted on October 15, 2010 by Howling Hill

It was really a no brainer when Allie asked if I would write about water issues for Blog Action Day 2010: Water. For those of you who follow my blog, Facebook, and Twitter know the month of September was pretty brutal for me and Wolf. If you’re not in the know the reason for the brutality is our well went dry.

Howling Hill has a dug well. This means there’s a big hole in the ground about 10 feet deep and about 5 feet wide (wells vary so yours may not be as deep or wide). Concrete lines the hole. Inside the hole is a pump. The pump moves the water from the well to an underground tank. From the tank the water comes directly into the house. Cold water is drawn right from the underground tank. Hot water is drawn from the tank, into the hot water heater (40 gallons I think), heated, then comes out the faucet. Any point along this route can be compromised.

There’s another kind of well, an artesian (or drilled) (“ar-tee-sion” accent on the tee). This is generally a more desirable well than a dug well. However, artesian wells are expensive (in this area costs start at $10,000) and requires drilling straight down into Mother Earth until an aquifer is tapped. I won’t get into artesians here.

Many people would not be able to cope without water for a day much less almost three weeks here in the US. Since I was a part of the lesbian-making, pro-choice club, commonly referred to as Girl Scouts, I used that training to cope by heating water on my stove to wash dishes, used a bucket to go to the bathroom in, and catbathed in the tub.

At first we went to the grocery store to buy water (10 miles away) but that went against our belief about bottled water and, because I’m still unemployed, it cost too much. Instead we started going to Bristol to fill 8 water jugs and two 5 gallon buckets to get water (10 miles the other direction). Despite the fact there is a major river which runs 1/4 mile from my house, using water out of the Pemigewasset River is not an option. First, there is little access to it where I live — safe access is what I should say — and because it’s one of the most polluted rivers in the world (or so I’m told).

Going to the spring in Bristol became just another chore. Each time we met more and more people without water from all over the area, not just our town. This really pleased us because we realized we weren’t the only ones in this predicament. We found people who’d been without water for up to a month. We found people who went there every day to get water because, despite having wells filled with water, the water flowing from the tap is undrinkable due to high sulfur and iron contents.

Because more people started using the spring I was worried it would dry up like the one in Plymouth but that became an unfounded worry. Thankfully. Had it gone dry Wolf would have had to buy water.

When I tell someone the well went dry the first question I got was “how are you showering”? Well, I didn’t. Wolf did buy me an outdoor shower which works fine (but not for hair washing. My hair is too thick and long for the outdoor shower without water pressure). It can’t be put in the tub however because the weight of 5 gallons of water will pull it off the wall or pull the shower head out. I cat bathed and borrowed other people’s showers. Wolf cat bathed and took showers at work.

Showering was definitely a problem so it’s good I’m unemployed (I can’t believe I just said that). I can’t imagine trying to explain to fellow employees why I smelled and why my hair was so greasy. Employers and employees are not reasonable when it comes to body odor. I’ve watched many people get humiliated and embarrassed because a co-worker made a rude comment or a boss has had “to talk” to them about the way they smell. There is a little more tolerance to body odor where I live because many wells run dry but overall employees are expected to smell like nothing or smell like chemical perfumes. Conformity is the best way to stay employed after all!

Dishes were by far the biggest PITA. I have a large canning pot I filled about half way to heat water. Having to do it this way makes me realize how much water doing dishes wastes (about 2 gallons per day). I didn’t change the water every day but it got gross pretty quickly. Rinsing the dishes is also a waste of water but one must get the soap off somehow. I seriously considered getting biodegradable plates and utensils so I wouldn’t have to go through the whole process but I realized how un-green that is. Additionally, it seems the dishes are never actually clean. We don’t have a dishwasher here so I’ve always had to do them by hand but I still felt like they were clean. Now I feel like now matter how much I washed the plate, it’s always greasy and unclean.

The last thing I want to touch upon is going to the bathroom. There are a couple ways in which Wolf and I could’ve solved this problem. One was to keep water next to the toilet as a way to flush it but we both felt this is an incredible waste. Instead, he made me a composting toilet out of a bucket and some wood chips. He was nice enough to make me a seat made out of scrap 2x4s so I could sit “comfortably” on it. It was out behind the woodpile but I moved it onto the back porch when the rain came. It was only marginally drier I think.

All of my woes make me realize how much more difficult it would be if I lived in an area without running water. It also makes me realize what a spoiled American I am that I lament at the lack of running water and how running water is a necessity for me. It has also made me realize how important water conservation is.

Water is being privatized at an alarming rate. Aquifers are going dry because of corporate greed. There’s been a campaign which has filled us with fear of drinking tap water (Do you remember the joke “what does Evian spells backwards? Naive!) which has been incredibly successful. The idea of drinking tap water is almost blasphemous! There are all kinds of filters one can buy to filter tap water when most tap water is fine to drink and most bottled water is tap water! My mother in law gets very upset when Wolf or I drink from the tap instead of the water from the Britta filter.

Some great documentaries have come out about water issues. There’s Flow: For the Love of Water and Blue Gold. Though it didn’t focus specifically on water, The Corporation did touch upon water issues, specifically the violence surrounding Bolivia’s privatization of water due to US pressure.

Of course there are fantastic blogs focusing on water issues: Food & Water Watch, Water.org, and in the UK Give Me Tap which advocates increased use of reusable water bottles filled with tap water at restaurants and other eateries in the Manchester area. All are on Twitter if you want to follow their progress. Wednesdays is also #waterWednesdays on Twitter.

Some water facts from Blog Action Day (follow #BAD2010 or #BAD10 on Twitter).

  • Nearly one billion lack access to safe water.
  • Lack of access to clean drinking water kills 42,000 each week
  • 40% of America’s rivers and 46% of lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life.
  • The world loses 70,000 classrooms of kindergartners every year due to diarrhea, an entirely preventable condition.
  • The water & sanitation crisis claims more lives with disease than any war claims with guns.
  • The cotton t-shirt you’re wearing took 400 gallons of water to make, & your jeans took 1800 gallons.

So the next time you flush your toilet, keep in mind the water in it is cleaner than most people in this world have access too. Know how wealthy you are that you have access to clean, safe water. Think about water conservation the next time you swim in someone’s pool, or take a vacation near a lake or river, or take your car to the carwash. Conserve water instead of watering the grass and advocate for your neighbors to do the same.

The only way (positive) change will happen is if we change the perception of normal. If it’s normal now for everyone in California’s desert to have a pool, work to change that. If it’s the norm for people in foreign nations to have their water supplies privatized by western nations, speak out against it until we are all in agreement that water is a basic human right and should not be abridged nor denied for any reason whatsoever.

That was the lesson I learned after almost three weeks without water due to drought in rural New Hampshire.


  1. Wow, that sounds like quite an ordeal. It’s true — water is a precious commodity and we should all remember that every time we turn on a faucet.

    October 15th, 2010 at 9:24 am
    Comment by Courtney
  2. Great article and reminder of just how lucky we are!

    October 15th, 2010 at 10:33 am
    Comment by Annette
  3. Great post.

    A friend of mine recently invited me up to his family’s mountain cabin “before they shut off the water for the winter.” When I pointed out that we could still go up there in the winter and use water from the nearby stream, he said he hadn’t thought of that. Even in a rustic mountain cabin, the idea of getting along for a couple days without running water didn’t occur to him. I’m sure several weeks is a much bigger challenge, but it sounds like you found some workable solutions.

    October 18th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
    Comment by Mickey

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