March 1, 2002

The Muds of March


            One of the truest sayings regarding the human condition is, “Ignorance is bliss.” We live by the veracity of that statement every day. For example, take black holes. We didn’t know about them a few years ago. And it didn’t hurt us a bit. Now we know, or think we know, about those invisible, impossible ultimate vacuum cleaners of the universe. And what good does it do us? I was happier ignorant, I can tell you. The fear that a black hole might sneak over and suck up the Big Dipper has contributed to a sharp rise in anxiety since the news came out.

            But this is a water system, not a solar system, so what does this topic have to do with water, you are wondering. Well, the fact is, the successful water manager must carefully cultivate a certain level of ignorance (blissfulness) among the consumers, and at times, even within himself. And having said that, I am going to forthwith ignore that important management principle and reveal certain truths about your system that you would be better off not knowing.

            Such as, there’s stuff in your pipes. Stuff besides water. Stuff like tubercles, which are the homes of iron-eating bacteria. Stuff like rust, which the tubercles are made of, and stuff which is just plain dirt, having settled out of the “clean” water to form sediment in the bottom of pipes.

            Rest assured that if there was any way to keep you blissfully ignorant of this state of affairs, we would darn sure do it. But the truth comes out from time to time, causing everyone’s state of blissfulness to slip down a notch or two. A big dip in bliss will definitely occur if you can’t discern a color difference before and after flushing the toilet.

            This time of year is especially bad. We’re all waking up from hibernation, so to speak. Water is starting to flow through pipes instead of just sitting there. To make matters worse, your faithful water servants, ever anxious to please, are running around flushing fire hydrants and stand pipes in an effort to get the brown, red, and yellow colors out before they make it to your faucet. Which never quite works 100 per cent. In fact, the process of flushing lines, while necessary and good in the long run, can cause episodes of awful truth which generally trigger phone calls that are not blissful. Try explaining to a customer holding at a glass of brown water that it was the result of our efforts to make the water cleaner.

            But flush we must. And you can help. Now is the time (before meter-reading season begins) to deliberately waste a little water with the aim of cleaning the system. If you notice discolored water, it is probably because we are flushing main lines somewhere in your neighborhood. A pocket of brown water has found its way into your pipes, and must be disposed of by you. Just open a hose and let it run, somewhere that will do no harm, maybe even some good. When the water clears up, shut it off.

            Everyone wants to know if the discolored water is safe. That’s a good question. It stands to reason that since it has been bathed in chlorine all this time, no pathogens are lurking in the sediment. Should you drink it? Well, I personally don’t like grit in my teeth. Should you do laundry with it? Not if you’re fond of white. A good idea would be to set aside some clear water (while it’s clear) for drinking or other critical needs. It’s okay to flush the toilet with it, for sure. The key to bliss is to remember that it is a temporary situation, and you can help to hasten the recovery, by running a hose.

            As soon as we figure out how, we’re going to attach a black hole to one end of the system and get it cleaned out in one big hurry.