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I’ve been lucky. In every place where I have lived, the water was just fine.

My first experience with water had to have been in El Cerrito, where my parents lived when I was born. I have no bad memories of the water there. But then, I have no memories whatsoever of my time there, since the folks moved to a place six or seven miles south of Sonoma a year or so after my birth in 1950.

My memories of the water there include no bad associations with water, though they include remembering the neighbors at the end of the lane, the hog farm that bordered the property to the south, a wood cookstove, and my father butchering yearling steers after hoisting them with a hand pulley that led to the hay loft level of the barn. There were chickens and ducks wandering around the yard, too, often giving up their lives to a well-placed swing of Dad’s hatchet. I also remember riding my tricycle into a pothole in the yard that was filled to the brim with an undulating, humming swarm of what I soon learned were bees. I received no sting for my curiosity, but my mother was rewarded with several stings as she responded to my screaming and carried me into the house and straight into the bathtub. I sometimes wonder how many bees made it into the house with me, but, in my then-hysterical state, the memories were, and are, few.

After the move to Calaveras County in ‘54 or ‘55, to a Youth Authority installation, near the yellow-pine zone, about 12 miles east of San Andreas, at about the 2,000-foot elevation level, our water came from the headwaters of what I believe was San Antonio Creek. It may have been O’Neil Creek, though. At first the water reached us through an open ditch, about 12 miles in length, with flumes that spanned several canyons and ravines along the way. The water, which passed through a chlorinator, would turn brown for a few days after rain storms, but still tasted just fine. After a few years, a pipeline replaced the ditches, so the brown water times came to an end. The water was fine and plentiful, as it was throughout the county.

My next move was to Berkeley, in the fall of 1968, later El Cerrito, first to a residence hall, then, in ‘69 to a $125 per month one-bedroom apartment I shared with my cousin, until he was drafted (and then volunteered for the Air Force) near the end of ‘70 or the beginning of ‘71, where I juggled college and a job, first as a nighttime pump jockey, later as a service station mechanic while attending UC classes, often clad in a greasy Union Oil Company uniform. In retrospect, I was dressed as well as many of the middle class hippies who became yuppies in the 80s. The EBMUD water was just fine, as might be expected, since it originated in the Sierra Nevada Range.

After my cousin’s departure to fight for freedom and the American way (as he puts it now, conveniently leaving out that he joined only to avoid the draft, a fact I delight in pointing out to him, especially when others are present when he gets long-winded and wants to sound the hero!), I realized my job at the service station did not pay enough for college and rent and food (a fact of life to which many workers today can attest, despite the lies peddled by conservathugs and modern robber barons, like Leon Skum). So, I devised a plan.

My plan was 1) to take an honorable withdrawal from Berkeley; 2) to work for a year or so in Sonoma; 3) pick up my lower division biology classes at Santa Rosa Junior College (cheaper by far than Berkeley, thanks to that scumball, Reagan (with full complicity from the gutless legislature) who had declared war on Berkeley); 4) return to Berkeley for a year to get my degree. The on-campus counseling center thought my plan a good one, pointing out that classes at Santa Rosa JC were on a par with lower division classes at UC. So, off I went, and in ‘74 got my degree and went back to work at the gas station in Sonoma in between seasonal jobs with Fish and Game, California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the union job at the Safeway warehouse in Richmond that paid $7.53 per hour in 1975, from which I resigned to take on a second season with Fish and Game, at $3.15 per hour (sadly, warehousemen are NOT now paid the roughly $37 per hour that the $7.53 would be today–that sort of thing is what conservathuggery is all about!). After 22 years as a permanent employee with Fish and Game, I was finally making, in 2002, the equivalent of what I made at the warehouse back in ‘75.

So what? We’re supposed to writing about water. Well, the water in the place I lived, just south of Sonoma was just fine. The shallow well where I lived never went dry, flood or drought, and required only that I bleed the 50-gallon storage tank every few months.

Next, in ‘79, I found myself living in southern California, performing as a State Park Ranger at Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area, doing boat patrol on the impoundment, the terminus of the California Aqueduct. I lived in Hesperia, next to Victorville, which still had an Air Force fighter base in those days. The highlights of living there included seeing my first twin-ruddered jet–I guess an F-15, transferring to a permanent job with Fish and Game in Stockton, and good water. Oh, and dealing with LA cops who thought they were exempt from the law...they always signed the citations, though! Enough said.

Stockton water was just fine, as was water in Lewiston (CA) and Red Bluff and Fair Oaks and El Dorado Hills, places I lived over the next 22 years. Incidentally, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (a PUBLIC utility) provided the most reliable electrical service I have experienced in my life. Then I moved to Wyoming.

I was a little leery about water here, having tasted some pretty bad water in places during my three scouting trips here in ‘96, ‘97, and ‘98. But locally, in 18 years of living in central Wyoming, I have yet to drink a glass of water that tasted “off”. It tastes like water, period.

I can say the same for Perrier. In the 80s, when bottled water was becoming a fad, I broke down and bought (for a relative fortune, since I was used to paying a water bill once a month or once a year, or not at all) a small bottle of the stuff at the grocery store one day, feeling like a fool for doing so, and hoping no one saw me. When I got home, I carefully twisted off the cap, then put the bottle to my mouth and took a drink. It was such a letdown. It just tasted like my tap water. I never bought another drop of bottled water, and never plan to. And I know for sure that people who tout it as being “better” are a bunch of snooty, goddamned liars!

Now, why would someone expend so many words about water? I’ll tell you why.

It’s because a few days ago, I plucked the shrink wrap and cardboard bottom of a case of bottled water out of my front-yard pinon pine. It pissed me off that some damned ignorant yuppie must have let his dumpster fill to overflowing, without calling for collection, so that his effing garbage could blow onto my lot. In fact it made me so angry that I set the waste on the public right-of-way next to the paved street to let the wind have its way with HIS trash and to let people know that I don’t haul trash for a living.

The wind had its way all right It didn’t blow. I figured that next I’d be dealing with the cops about not keeping my lot clean, and that would escalate into me being hauled to jail for resisting arrest for having trash on the right-of-way. In short, a lot of possibilities went through my mind, including the possibility of being taken down by sheriff deputies for trying to beat the shit out of the town clown. I went out a couple of hours ago, and the waste was gone. There had been no wind, so it didn’t blow away. I may be engaging in wishful thinking, but I like to think that perhaps a driver passing by may have thought the waste looked familiar, stopped, realized that it was his (or her) waste, picked it up and disposed of it at home. But, I’m known to engage in a lot of wishful thinking. All I know is that no one in town government has knocked on my door...yet.

(Harvey Reading lives in Wyoming.)

One Comment

  1. Eric Sunswheat September 19, 2020

    October 23, 2019
    ‘Meets All Government Standards’: EWG’S 2019 Tap Water Database Details Unsafe Contamination in Communities Nationwide.

    Most Comprehensive Consumer Information on Drinking Water Quality – Latest Data for Nearly 50,000 Water Utilities…

    The vast majority of community water systems provide water that meets federal regulations. But tap water often contains contaminants in concentrations exceeding the levels that scientists say is safe.

    The latest research shows that many of the existing legal limits for tap water contaminants allow contaminant levels that can be harmful for children, pregnant women and other vulnerable populations.

    Furthermore, federal limits for new contaminants in tap water have not been updated in almost 20 years.

    More than half of the contaminants detected in U.S. tap water have no federal regulatory limit at all, including the highly toxic fluorinated compounds known as PFAS, which contaminate tap water in hundreds of communities.

    (Some states have adopted their own standards for some PFAS and other chemicals…)

    “The good news is that EWG’s database gives people the most in-depth – and honest – description of what contaminants are likely in their water, the levels that were detected, and what that could mean for their health,” Brockovich said.

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