Water water everywhere but not a drop to drink

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I ONCE came across an article predicting that in the next 50 years or so, nations would go to war not because of oil, but because of water.

I shudder at the thought, but at the rate the population is exploding in certain regions of the planet, the scenario isn’t farfetched. Coupled with mass migration of people to the cities, trees that hold life-giving water are being felled faster than you can say “timber!”

As if these developments weren’t enough, they bring with them environmental stress to our surroundings that have drastically changed global weather patterns in the last 50 years.

You don’t have to be a climatologist to arrive at such a sweeping conclusion, as recent catastrophic events both here in the Philippines and abroad become bigger, deadlier and more frequent. We can choose to ignore them at our own peril.

War footing

If nations would exchange bombs and bullets in the near future because of water, my family has been on a semi-permanent war footing for close to 50 years now due to unreliable and erratic sources of

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water. Water has been a major issue that constantly shadowed us wherever we lived.

I grew up with no permanent address as we moved from one rented house to another until my folks have had enough, and decided to build a house in seemingly remote Bacoor, Cavite a little over 22 years ago.

With such access as Coastal Road and the more recently opened Macapagal Avenue, plus a proposed MRT line all the way from Baclaran to Bacoor, our place isn’t as remote as it once was. But that’s a subject best left for another day.

When I was little and living in an apartment unit in San Francisco Del Monte, Quezon City, I even remember my folks, including my late grandfather, staying up until 2 a.m. to take advantage of the strong water pressure. They would fill up drums and buckets with water in the wee hours, which dripped sparingly, if at all, during waking hours.

Our neighbor, who also went on nightly vigils with my folks, had a more graphic way of describing the near absence of water during the day: Aba, e, malakas pa ang ihi ko sa patak ng tubig sa gripo!

Indeed, if we were to hold a pissing contest then, anyone, man, woman or child, could readily beat the measly amount of water dripping from our taps.

Leveling up

We were able to solve the problem, albeit temporarily, when my dad had a pump installed. But as more households discovered our little secret, they soon leveled up one by one by having their own pumps installed. We were back to square one and our nightly vigils in no time.

Years later, while living in another part of Quezon City, this time in Project 8, we drew water from an artesian well for almost a decade. Actually, it wasn’t so bad except for the fact that we had to do it manually for several years. Yes, as in mano a mano.

I was already big enough to help fetch water then, which I sometimes did grudgingly. I tried to make light of the situation by ascribing my task to that of my zodiac sign: Aquarius, which, in my case, literally meant the water bearer.

And since we shared the well with another family (we lived in a duplex), the daily interactions became a constant source of amusement as well as tension, as we each had to engage in small talk while dealing with each other’s quirks and moods, which constantly changed throughout the day. 😀

The situation couldn’t be avoided because the artesian well happened to be in our area of the compound. By simply being there, we even knew what they were cooking for lunch and dinner, and if their finances were running low.

Needless to say, they also knew more than they should about certain goings-on in our household. It was like living in a grittier version of a sitcom-slash-reality show where the only things missing were the cameras. Interesting, don’t you think?

Better than chlorinated

If there was a silver lining to that episode in our lives, the water we manually drew from the well was safe for drinking. In fact, it tasted much better than chlorinated H2O. The white button-downed shirts I wore to school weren’t probably as immaculate as the ones my classmates wore, but, since I was taller than most of them, I still probably looked a lot better. 😉

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My dad had an old-style deep-well pump installed later (it resembled a bicycle with two wheels, one bigger than the other, rotating in unison thanks to a rubber belt), but we had to pull it out after two years or so, as we had to move further afield to Novaliches.

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Another artesian well, this time with a built-in pump awaited us. But unlike in the old duplex we lived in, this time, we weren’t as lucky, even if our new rented digs, a three-room bungalow, was bigger and more exclusive.

Not only did the water seem unsafe for drinking, it was brownish and reeked of a faint rusty and fishy odor. There was even a time when clumps of thick, brownish and smelly goo were spewing out sporadically like bursts of gunfire from the laundry room faucet. Ewww!

And, true enough, when my dad had the water checked at a Department of Science and Technology office, various harmful microorganisms swimming in it far exceeded allowable rates.

Boiling it for drinking was probably a viable option, but we never resorted to it. Besides, boiling would never “exorcise” the water’s weird smell and brownish hue.

Back to the old ways

We made do with such poor quality water for cleaning and washing for almost a year, getting our drinking water from a neighbor with a better artesian well. I was back to fetching drinking water manually, which I did early in the morning before catching a bus to work in Makati. (Mineral water and so-called water refilling stations weren’t popular back then.)

I was a trainee fresh out of college in a PR firm. Again, looking at it now, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. I wouldn’t have cared had I worked from home, but I had a schedule to stick to. And with the horrendous traffic situation in Novaliches, I was often late for work.

Then, all of a sudden the situation changed. Our application and that of our neighbors for a “Nawasa” (water) connection was approved. In no time, clean, chlorinated running water as powerful as the Niagara Falls was flowing from our faucets.

(To kids 20 years old and under, people of a certain age call water provided by Maynilad and Manila Water, two private companies in charge of delivering water through our faucets, Nawasa. It’s a generic term that’s a throwback to the days when water in Metro Manila and nearby provinces was provided by the now defunct government agency that went by the name National Water and Sewage Authority or Nawasa.)

Alas, our watery bliss was cut short. After calling the place home for five years, we were shaken from our routine when the house’s owner decided to sell his property. We would have bought it (or, at least, my grandfather, who was then already based in the US, would) had not for its questionable papers.

It was then that my parents, including yours truly, decided to finally take the bull by the horns by having a house built in Cavite. The lot, which my mother bought when we were kids, had lain idle for decades. We finally made the big move to our new and hopefully permanent home on earth in 1990.

In transition

Again, the place, which was then in transition from a rural to a residential community, seemed idyllic except for one problem. Like in our previous homes, the village didn’t have access to Nawasa. So for 22 years now, we’ve relied on water drawn from a deep well.

If it’s any consolation, we had a more modern pump installed when we moved in. Like most unprocessed water drawn from the ground, ours isn’t exactly of premium quality.

The water, although much, much better than the quality of water we had in Novaliches, still had a funny smell. Thanks to powerful detergents, bleaches and fabric softeners, we were able to mask the odor and keep our white clothes relatively white.

But since the blessed pump is powered by electricity, our four-person household, including the maid and several pets, is racking up monthly electricity bills averaging P9,000 ($220).

All that, hopefully, will soon change for the better now that our community finally has access to Nawasa. Maynilad began digging relentlessly in the latter part of 2011.

I thought it would never end, as our place became an obstacle course of sorts from all that digging, rerouting, re-cementing and cordoning off. Well, it finally did, and just before the “ber” months rolled in.

I posted the development on my Facebook wall recently, and not a few friends gave me a thumbs-up sign. Some even shared their own personal stories while they made do with either water sold from privately owned water trucks or drawn from their own deep wells.

Water, so the futurists say, will become a major flashpoint among developed and developing nations before this current century is over. In the meantime, I’m enjoying my Nawasa water come bath time. It’s good to see you again, my friend. I never knew that the scent of chlorinated water would be this sweet. 😉

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