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Hummel: Water, water everywhere?

 When I was a kid, our Dad drove our family out to visit Uncle Dave and Aunt Kate at the farm where Dad grew up.  When we got near the farm, we stopped, all got out of the car and went to a familiar spring for a sip of water.  The spring was a bowl in the prairie, about the size of two bathtubs, side by side.  We got down on our stomachs and looked down through the clear, sparkling water and watched it bubble through the fine sand on the bottom of the bowl.  The water was cold and fresh as a drink of water could possibly be ─ we thought it was the best in the world. Mom, Dad and four kids loved it.  At the end of the bowl, the water trickled away through a little creek. Sadly, that wonderful spring is gone now ─ the prairie and the pool are covered by a huge reservoir.   

When bottled water first came on to the market, I was jolted.  Growing up, I drank free water from our tap at home, from fountains at schools, churches, hospitals, ball parks, offices, department stores, springs on the prairie and just about everywhere else that somebody might be thirsty. Water, water everywhere. Water was always free ─ who would think of selling it?  Who would buy it? My gosh, if somebody can sell drinking water, what will be next ─ sunshine?  Fresh air?   But the world moved on whether I was ready or not and I got over it.  It moved on all right ─ Americans drank 10.9 billion gallons of bottled water in 2014.  Now there is a water testing competition. In Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, the Berkeley Springs International Water Testing Festival is held every year.  This is the so-called Oscars of water. 

There are four categories:  1. municipal; 2. purified; 3. bottled; and 4. sparkling. The judges are told to pick up a numbered glass, inspect it for impurities, take a deep breath to smell it ─ any chlorine or plastic smell? Then take a sip and keep the water in your mouth ─ is it harsh or soft on the tongue, fresh or bland? Then swallow it ─ does it refresh you, making you thirsty for more or does it have a lingering residue?  I can’t tell you about the most recent winners except to disclose that the top tasting municipal tasting water is from the wells of Hamilton, Ohio.  The next time you cruise through Hamilton, stop and drink a glass of their prize-winning tap water ─ but don’t pay for it.   Two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered by water (mostly salt water), but we have water shortages not only in California, but around the globe.  That is because the climate is changing and only three percent of our water is fresh and suitable for drinking, farming and manufacturing.   In the Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Coleridge, the Mariner tells the story of a ship at sea, far off course avoiding a storm, and everyone on board is literally dying of thirst.   

The Mariner wants to yell but his mouth is too dry.  All on board die of thirst.  The most memorable line from the tragedy, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”  All around the world “water is life.”  But in third world countries, water is life and death.   Some child dies of water related disease (diarrhea being the most common cause) every 15 seconds according to the World Health Organization. In many places, children are seen walking miles to a village well to fetch a one gallon pot of drinkable water for their families. An organization called Water Wells for Africa (I know nothing about them ─ check them out yourself if you are interested) says organizing, arranging and digging a clean, healthy, working well in Africa costs $7,000.00.  That well will provide for 2,000 people, or $3.50 per person.   If (you/we) drinkers of bottled water hit the free fountains and spend $10.00 a month less for bottled water, 60 of us could send a new well to Africa in only one year. It just might be the best thing we did all year long.

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