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September 07, 2011

Water, water everywhere . . . .

Water, water everywhere

by Nancy Martin        

On the last morning of our visit to Las Vegas, I stepped into the hotel shower and turned the hot water handle to the max.  But nothing came out of the shower head except a whoosh of air.

Okay, I thought. I'm standing here buck naked, sweaty and covered in stinky sun screen on the day Nevada finally runs out of water.

It was bound to happen eventually.  (I've seen Chinatown. Haven't you?) The pipes hissed and rattled and burst out a few pathetic gushes of water before the shower eventually began to flow normally. 

Just a little air in the pipes, the desk clerk assured me upon checkout.

Most people come home from Las Vegas with stories full of sin and debauchery, but we decided to meet our kids and grandchildren there. (Long story, but when you're transporting an infant and a toddler via airplane, you look for the shortest possible flight, and that's why the rest of us ended up in the city that never sleeps.  Wait--that's New York.  So what's Las Vegas? I seem to hear George Clooney's voice saying "America's playground."  Or was that Brad Pitt?) We had a great time--swimming in the hotel pools--there was a wave pool as well as a lazy river--ideal for the kids--and gaping at various Las Vegas spectacles.  The spectacles that are visible in daylight, that is, since we pretty much skipped the casino scene in favor of taking my grandson Bobby, who is obsessed with African animals, to see lions and tigers.  (At the MGM hotel, there are always two lions on display in a big glass-enclosed cage along with their human trainers.  Now.........do you think the tourists hang out there in droves to look at wild beasts or because they expect one of those humans to be eaten some day?  Because that was my take on it.)

There are fountains all over Las Vegas.  The fountain at the Bellagio ought to be one of the man-made wonders of the world.  It's really amazing.  Here's a cool article from The New Yorker about Mark Fuller, the guy who designs spectacular fountains around the world. It's one of the best New Yorker articles of the year, in my view. And here's a video that includes one of my top ten favorite songs:


The fountain is lovely. Or maybe my judgment is colored by the fact that the first few times I saw it was during the movie Ocean's Eleven, and the other scenery in that movie is drool-worthy.

But it's a strange experience to look at the desert landscape from the hotel room windows and think about where all the water comes from to keep the city going. 

I've been thinking a lot about water lately. Who hasn't with all the video footage of Irene's aftermath? And now a new hurricane slowly grinding up from the Gulf of Mexico? I live in a city of three major rivers, and we've had plenty of rain this summer.  Three weeks before the hurricane, we had a terrible flash flood and a street in my neighborhood was so suddenly flooded that cars in traffic were submerged.  Four people died on their way home in what started out as an ordinary rush hour.  Bizarre and tragic. And---in my opinion---an awful example of what happens when an old city's infrastructure isn't maintained.

Also, my brother---who has moved to the Caribbean---survived his first hurricane, although not without storm damage and a  real concern about what might happen if the next one is a Cat 5.

My daughter Cassie moved to Texas last December, where they've been having a terrible drought. It rained for the first time in her town last week. That's almost . . . another planet from Pennsylvania.

My mother lives an hour north of here in the town where I grew up.  That area is the beginning of the watershed for a lot of states, and--oddly enough--while we've had lots of rain here in Pittsburgh and certainly further east where the hurricane dumped so much water that Paterson, New Jersey still looks submerged, my mother's community is under a drought watch. She's not allowed to wash her car or water her lawn, and she saves kitchen rinse water to give her flowers a little drink now and then. She's making a little sacrifice so people downstream can drink.

Did you know a sixth of the world's population doesn't have access to clean drinking water?  Isn't that astounding? Estimates say two million children die every year from water-borne diseases.  Considering how much oil we can move around the world, it seems bizarre that we can't put clean water into even the most remote communities, doesn't it?

Summertime is the water season for us here in the USA.  We go to the beach, to the lake, swim in pools and think nothing of taking a quick shower just to cool off. 

If you're still enjoying a summer splash, think about donating a few bucks to the Red Cross.  It takes several clicks, but c'mon, it's only a couple of minutes. They're trying to get water to Somalia and parts of Africa where it's really needed, and you can spare $10.

Meanwhile, tell me if you took a water-based summer trip.  And are you ready to face work again now that we're all back at our desks? Because suddenly it's autumn where I live.


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Huh. When I saw the title of this post I thought you were describing my house. We finally identified the cause of a leak in our kitchen and repaired that, but the whole ceiling in there needs to be replaced. Tonight, a big chunk of the second story bathroom ceiling fell in. It's always gotten soggy in the rain, but we've never been able to figure out where the water was getting in. Oh well, at least now we won't have a ceiling in the way of finding out where the leak is.


Vacation? What vacation?

I miss living on the ocean. Sailing and swimming in the harbor were the greatest things ever, second only to sailing and swimming in the harbor instead of going to school.

We had fantastic Labor Day clam bakes in Marblehead. The kids would check the tide charts for the best day. Every Header had a tide chart on the fridge. We'd walk out to a huge rock at low tide and dig a pit on the beach. Then we'd get a good fire going.

While we waited for the wood to burn down and start to glow and get ashy, we'd play games and tell stories about pirates and boat wrecks and eating lobster. The most popular story was the one about the guy on the island who gave out free buckets of lobster tails, because he only needed the claws.

The kids would drag in long hunks of seaweed, and the grownups would layer in the lobster, corn and clams. Everyone drank beer.

My first public beer was at a firemen's muster in Marblehead. I was eleven. I walked up to the beer booth with Tommy Roche and I asked for a couple each, for our parents of course. Then we drank them, four little plastic cups of beer foam mostly, on the way back to our families. People took our pictures. Huge fun time cheering on the Oko hand-pumper. Because there are only two kinds of people in Marblehead at muster time - Okos and Gerrys

So if you'd like to see a video of some Marblehead Oko boys having a great time getting wet and beating Salem at their firemen's muster here you go. Oh, and look for those little plastic cups: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDIYtmU9uJQ&feature=related

Well, not a water based vacation since I live in coastal SC, but I did spend 6 weeks in PA with my sister...about an hour north of Pittsburg. Little place called Harmony.

And the place where I was born and grew up is the home of the original Night of the Living Dead. A lot of my family were zombies in that movie. Type-casting, I guess.

PS: The Gerry (hard G as in The Gap) is from Marblehead, too. We never mention the names of hand pumpers from other towns. And Oko supporters will never root for a team that names their hand pumper after Elbridge Gerry, the original Gerrymanderer, even if he was a Header, and we are secretly proud of that.

I used to play fife with the Oko's Fife and Drum Corps (with bagpipes). I think the Gerry just had old guys with beer bellies who hung onto its rails while they marched to the muster field (Green Street Playground).

On one occasion, an Ambassador for UNICEF was invited to an incredibly remote African village to celebrate the first time running water was available there.

A great deal of ceremony first, then they turned on the faucet. Water gushed freely, the village went insane with joy.

Here's the point: disease dropped in the entire village by 80% once they had running water.

Think the little things in life aren't important? Think again. The stuff we take for granted a lot of the time are genuine miracles in other parts of the world. Couple of years back, after Hurricane Ike swept through, we didn't have gas, we didn't have lights, but we had running water throughout; I could take a proper shower. Believe me, it meant a LOT at the time.

OH, Laura, you have my sympathy on the water damage! Our house has a mysterious leak now, and the first estimate to fix it involves a backhoe, ruining our newly paved driveway and $30K. Yeesh.

Reine, I have never been to a clambake. I think we need a TLC get-together, and I vote for a clambake with you in charge.

JUDITH!!! Next time you are in Harmony, we need to call all the local Tarts and take you out for lunch. No kidding.

William, dear, you know you are one of our very favorite people. Big kisses to you this morning.

I am so concerned about all those promos for getting at America's natural gas reserves. The message is delivered by a calm caring, concerned as hell spokesman who speak of how it's such a safe process. It's called fracking and it uses a witches' brew of chemicals no one in the industry wants the public to know about. >
When the country's aquifers are polluted, what will we drink? Hey, how about a nice cold glass of xylene?

I was waiting for a comment about the ridiculous waste of water in those fountains (even if they recycle it, a lot of lost) in the face of an overtapped (pun intended) water supply in Las Vegas. It can't last.

Ah, infrastructure, the silent victim. Cities, states, and even the federal government ignore it as long as possible because it doesn't yell as loudly as the unions or the taxpayers--at least until someone's SUV falls into a giant sinkhole or a bridge collapses for lack of maintenance.

A couple of decades ago I worked for the city of Philadelphia. The water department there proudly displayed a slice of an early pipe--a hollowed out tree log lined with metal. What was frightening was that some of those were still in active use in the city.

Hi Nancy,

Hope you're still not standing in that shower without water! On one visit to Las Vegas we went to the Hoover Dam. It's so amazing. I have a phobia about dams bursting, and this was the biggest one I'd ever seen. Although the water level has dropped so much in the last few years.

Nancy Lauzon

Margaret, the fracking issue is huge here in PA. Most people think it's going to save the economy of the state. Everybody else firmly believes the process will ruin our water---which, if you follow it downstream, is the water for most people who live east of the Mississippi.

Glad you had such a nice fam vacay, Nancy!

I've been thinking about water a lot lately, too, because my son was in Austin when the fires broke out and we were biting our nails until he managed to get a flight out, because the highway to the airport was closed due to the fires. He made it--by taking a circuitous route--but his adventure had me staring with horror at the drought conditions in Texas. My son comes from a long line of cattle ranchers on his father's side, and so he was noticing the ponds, etc., and was startled by how low they are and how parched the land. And frakking ain't helping.

I made the mistake of watching some politics last night. So now I am going to channel any number of nutwads running for office - let me know how you think I did because I am going to have to go puke after I post this. You know why? Because batshit crazy is just getting too common these days.

The Batshit Crazy response:
Why should we be paying for someone else's clean water? Why did these people move to a place with dirty water in the first place? Why don't they just move to where the better water is? Is it because they are too lazy and don't want to take the chance that their welfare checks will get lost in the move? Or is it because god is sending them a message that they need to clean up their sinfulness or they will never have clean water?

Back to regular me- I love Frank Sinatra. And in case you don't follow me on Facebook, Michael Buble finally has a full-length holiday album coming out. I focus on these things sometimes because they keep me from going to the convention center, buying a tank, and flattening entire buildings in an effort to restore some sanity.

Sheila, I sort of figured the waste of water in fountains was understood. But they're so pretty! (Imagine blonde voice.)

Nancy, we were tempted by the Hoover Dam excursion, but our grandson was much more interested in the lions!

Ah, the water. Just 2 days back from a wonderful vacation on the northern west coast of Michigan. I was born and raised in Michigan, but it never ceases to amaze me how beautiful it is.

I don't really think too much about water, until its not there. Then I panic. The water pump broke while at the cabin. Turned out to be an easy and inexpensive fix.

Thankfully we haven't had any extreme weather.

>>>Here's the point: disease dropped in the entire village by 80% once they had running water.

That's a startling statistic. Running water is something we never think about... Until it stops.

Water is a rigidly controlled substance in Colorado. We are at the very top of the water delivery system for the west, and every drop belongs to someone. I can't, for example, use left over rinse water or have rain barrels, because I am only allowed one use, and then it goes downstream. The upside is, of course, that the water here is very clean and has not been through an estimated 8 people as is true by the time the Colorado empties into (the pacific?).

Las Vegas is supplied by the Colorado River, which runs south along the border of Arizona and California and used to form a huge delta as it flowed into the Gulf of California.

That delta no longer exists.

Imagine that the Sacramento River Delta no longer existed, or that the Mississippi Delta were cut in half. The costs, human and otherwise, are hard for me to imagine.

Yes, those fountains in Las Vegas are beautiful abominations - never mind that some of the water is recycled, think how much is evaporating into that desert air. And no, it's not sustainable. The larger problem, though, for the Colorado, is southern California and the diversion of water to support agriculture in the Imperial and Coachella valleys (and, yes, to support big desert cities like Los Angeles).

The western US has always been plagued with water problems because of the simple fact that it doesn't have enough water to support everything we are doing with, to, and on the land. The old classic, "Cadillac Desert", is a great place to begin to understand it. And it's not just the arid west - the Ogallala aquifer, the largest in the country, is being depleted at an accelerating rate. It supplies cities, ranching, and agriculture in the midwest.

And with all that, we're the lucky ones, as William noted.

It's a huge problem that needs careful thought, shared sacrifice, and very long-term thinking to solve. I wish I were more optimistic . . .

Kudos, Nancy for carting babies around Vegas.
I took many trips to Sin City and we took the helicopter ride over Hoover Dam..spectacular.
One time I watched my toddler grandson when his mom and dad went to Vegas and we asked him where his mom and dad went and he said "Sin City", precocious but sweet.
I am very appreciative of having running water as I spent the first seven years living right down by the river side with a well and galvanized tubs for baths and all.
When we moved to the house on the hill I was overjoyed to see the bathtub and went around the neighborhood rejoicing.
I am funny that way. I rejoice everyday to have water and hope that in a small way I can do something to help others obtain such a precious resource.

Tina, my Michigan relatives are visiting right now.--They live on the most beautiful lake. It's idyllic there!

Barbara, the "one use" is new to me. How interesting. Around here, we're encouraged to recycle. Sending the water back into the ground, you'd think, would be a good thing--especially at the top of a watershed. Hm.

Karen, one theory about why the sewage system malfunctioned (and people died) in our rush hour flood is that the storm sewers were full of trash--mostly plastic water bottles. Ye gods.

Kerry--you are our resident scientist. The delta no longer exists? It's very had to be optimistic, considering the continued growth in that region. And yet . . . will California's economic problems actually be part of the solution?

Marie, I so regret not teaching my grandson we visited "Sin City!"

The Sleeping Bear Dunes near Traverse City, Michigan were just named the most beautiful place in the US recently. My daughter just happens to live near by, lucky girl and her family.

Nancy, our local water health agency has been trying to get people and businesses to put in "rain gardens", where water is filtered back into the ground instead of running off into the sewers. When ground water goes to the sewers it carries with it all the dirt and grit from the pavement, along with cigarette butts, spit-out wads of gum, and other debris. Rain gardens help to keep the watershed free of that additional burden to filter out.

But it's such an uphill battle. Especially here in this area, where we have lots of water and a very lush landscape. We see this, and tend not to realize the rest of the world has problems. But we're all connected on earth, folks. Water shortage in Texas or Kenya is linked to water in the rest of the country and world.

I never thought of water much, here in the Midwest where there always seems to be plenty, but this has been a very hot, dry summer, and the farm from which I get my CSA share http://www.localharvest.org/terripin-farms-csa-M32881 has been struggling to grow anything . . . but still there are denials of climate change as a result of our activities . . . right . . .
It would be lovely if we could even out the extremes; perhaps if we treat the planet better, it will . . ..

Of all the things for me NOT to mention when it comes to water is my grandfather's work.

He was a water well driller. One who located wells with a forked peach limb (which was buried with him). He used a 'straight' drilling machine and was totally contemptuous of drillers who used rotary. Rotary machines used detergent to 'blow' the well and Grandpa always said that all that did was ruin the water table. He'd have been horrified at fracking.

Yes, thank you, Kathy. You did Batshit Crazy very well. Last night at my son's Cub Scout meeting, they read aloud from the manual, including the part about not wearing the uniform to any kind of protest march. The mom next to me laughed, saying that it was unlikely her kids would ever go to a protest march, which got me to thinking how many protest marches I'd like to go to. In or out of a Cub Scout uniform.

Here in Southern California, where it was 104 degrees yesterday in my neighborhood, I save non-soapy kitchen water and cart it out to water the rosebushes after the sun goes down. The kids have it drummed into their head that we live in a desert and have to save water. No one remembers the last time it rained for more than 90 seconds. A global water shortage is very easy for me to imagine, and very scary.

And yes, Nancy, I'm pretty sure those tourists are waiting for the humans to be eaten by the lions.

Traverse City--now, there's a place for a TLC reunion. For one thing, the pie is to die for.

Judith, your grandfather was what we call a "diviner?" How truly cool is that? And that he was buried with his peach tree branch--I think that's a blog topic. Around here, men are buried with their Steelers memorabilia.

Harley, on the subject of batshit crazy: I think we need to hear from Margie before this election gets too far along. Don't you?

And the mother who laughed at the notion of protest marches? Oh, that made me sad!

One summer we took a trip from St. Louis to Lake Itaska, MN. Lake Itaska is the headwaters of the Mississippi. The first thing is that in St. Louis, the Mississippi is a milk chocolate brown. The sediment from the Missouri, changes it from the deep green it is in Iowa. In Minneapolis, the Mississippi is Mediterranean blue and full of sailboats. The first bridge over the Mississippi is a foot bridge. I walked across the bridge and then waded back across knee deep in the Mississippi at its deepest. The water was crystal clear.

In 1979 I spent a month in Israel. I was in the Negev where I drank desalinated sea water. I bathed in water that was too salty to drink, you could wash in it and grow tomatoes.

NPR did a story on water not to long ago. If I remember, it costs about $50 per hole for the water per day for a golf course. FORE!

Alan, golf courses where I live are lovely--but rely on rainfall. Golf courses in the desert are just . . . an affront to nature, it seems.

How come comments pop up now, but weren't there earlier? I must not be giving Mr. Typepad what he wants.

There is NOTHIN' Vegas never does -- so it can;t be the city that never _________, because they do it ALL there.

The city that never gets enough rainfall??? Maybe?

We BEACHED this summer, which is watery and vacationy, but not drinkable.

One thing I miss since I moved from Vancouver Island is easy access to lakes & rivers. We would pile in someone's car, drive down and unmarked logging road, hike for 10 minutes and have private nirvana. Fresh, cold river water, lots of places to laze around, it was wonderful. Of course they are all still there, now I am a 1 hour drive, an expensive 95 minute ferry ride and another 45 minute drive away from all that loveliness.

A lot of people on the West Coast don't think too much about water preservation until summer hits and water tables drop and forest fires start. It has been a very cool summer up here but not a lot of rain. There are always bans on watering lawns - that get ignored. I have finally been seeing a few rain barrels in my area but definitely not enough.

I use a Brita water jug, Vancouver's drinking water is very treated, no floride (sp) but chlorine, yech.

Vancouver Island seems like nirvana to me, Gaylin. So beautiful.

RAIN BARRELS! Where I live (University City, MO) The city will install one for you FREE! What a great deal, or at the teaparty calls it, a waste of money.


I think I'm gonna get a rain barrel next spring. And do some sliding....

Nancy, you holler down the rain barrel and slide down the cellar door.
Now, if you have an old empty barrel, you can try "walking" it, balancing like loggers floating logs down river . . or put yourself or your younger brother inside and roll it down the hill . . .

Alan, I love Lake Itasca. I used to go there every summer with my friends and relatives on White Earth. We'd go check the rice and fish. Our cabin had no back door one summer. It had fallen off and hadn't been replaced. We decided we liked it that way with the view and the cool breeze. So we sat with our legs hanging out over the edge and watched the storm come through and pass by. Bass never tasted as good as it did then.

Nancy M. I'd like nothing better than to get a clam bake going for a TLC reunion fest.

Great topic--water. There are many predictions that the next world war will be fought over access to water. I believe it.

However, I certainly hope I'm not around to see that. I live close to the water, and I frequently kayak around the islands of Washington State and British Columbia. I'm a scuba diver, too, and I'm currently trying to finish a mystery with a lot of diving in it, so right now I spend a lot of time sweating in front of my computer and trying to remember how magical it is to be completely enveloped in the ocean.

I'm glad you finally got the shower. The suspense was killing me in the beginning...

I always thought of water shortages as something that happened somewhere else, but in Texas the experts are now saying that our drought could last through next year as well. We've been on the easy side of it so far in Houston, another year of this? The same experts are also saying we could lose millions of trees across the metro area. And oh the irony, the drought is part of what's keeping the tropical storms away from us. No one wants a hurricane, but gods do we need the rain.

I live 6 blocks from Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver but never swim there. Why you ask?? Because they test the water in False Creek once a day for the fecel coliform count. I already have a compromised immune system, I have no interest in swimming in that water. Doesn't stop thousands of other people.

Gaylin---EWWW! But I think Pamela is right. The end of the world will be a battle for clean water.

Lisa, the loss of the trees is so sad! It feels like the beginning of a wasteland, doesn't it?

Even if you are the only one who wants to save your troubled marriage you can do it alone once you know what you need to do. So, relax, take a deep breath and let's get started with some things you can do to get started on saving a troubled marriage.

Funny statement. Im so surprised for him to think that way.

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