POTABLE DRINKING water has been in the news on a daily basis this past year. Countries are poised to fight bloody wars over water rights as upstream consumers deplete entire rivers before this life-giving resource crosses their neighbor’s border. Only 1% of the world’s water is readily available as potable water and we are already using up one half of that! More than 1 billion people in the world go without a reliable source of potable water on a daily basis.
I was contemplating this dilemma as we members of Boy Scout Troop 20 paddled across billions of gallons of fresh water in the Adirondacks, located in upper New York state.
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink! On Day 1 of our five-day, 60-mile, wilderness-canoeing trip, fresh potable water was not a concern because we could pack what was needed for cooking and remaining hydrated. However, you begin to realize how precious this commodity that we take for granted really becomes as civilization fades away.
Our first day found us traversing a slow-moving stream between two lakes. As we floated gently through the wilderness, we came upon a very large beaver hut. Beaver, deer, muskrat and other animal wastes contaminate the apparently pristine waters. Beaver Fever is the nickname for Giardiasis, an intestinal illness triggered by ingesting the microscopic parasite Giardia Lamblia in untreated water. Symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, rapid weight loss and feeling exhausted.
This illness lasts for one to three weeks and, in severe cases, can become chronic and life threatening.
People in institutional settings and day care centers as well as individuals who travel in foreign countries or consume improperly treated surface water can contract Giardiasis, Hepatitis A, Salmonella and Campylobacter, which are also commonly found in ponds, lakes, streams and open springs.
Brown with tannins from trees and detritus from the forests, the water looked like weak tea when we refilled our plastic drinking bottles. Reverse osmosis would be an ideal solution, but impractical if not impossible, which left us with three choices:
-Boiling water for up to five minutes — unsafe to perform in a canoe;
-Tetraglycine hydroperiodide (iodine-based) tablets, which leave a strong aftertaste; or
-One of the newer style ceramic/carbon filtration hand pumps designed to effectively block transferal of bacteria, while improving taste and removing odors.
Iodine tablets are the traditional choice and most of our group decided to remain loyal to their use. After filling your bottle, while carefully avoiding floating chunks of debris or bugs, it is necessary to wait 30 minutes before you drink it. The sterilization practice includes forcibly squeezing some treated water out through the loosened cap to ensure bacteria-free contact while drinking from the container. We boiled water for cooking purposes on several occasions.
I wanted to give the pump purification system a try. Our first morning found me standing in the cool lake waters wishing I had two extra hands. The instructions emphatically admonish that the bottle-filling tube must remain uncontaminated and housed in a separate plastic zip-lock bag between uses. The pick-up tube comes with an attached foot valve sediment filter and weight to keep it submerged below the surface.
So there I was, thigh-deep in water, one hand holding the intended receiver with clean hose, the other hand holding the pump assembly and needing a third hand for operating the lever. With the bottle now firmly tucked under my arm, the opposing-action pump lever gave me enough oomph to pump water faster than the filters could accommodate and the unit’s relief valve opened, squirting me in the shorts!
It was a bit cumbersome to adjust to, but once you’ve gotten the hang of the process, it goes rather quickly.
The ceramic cartridge filters down to 0.2 microns, removing all known disease-causing bacteria and protozoa from your drinking water while the compressed activated-carbon filter removes chemicals and pesticides from the water, improving taste and odor of the water you’re pumping.
A side benefit was the removal of tannins, which resulted in crystal clear water. A small bottle of chlorine comes with the kit and a few drops are added as a precaution along with a 10-minute contact time before drinking.
I was impressed by the small amount of potable water we really needed for daily survival. Basic needs included cooking, drinking and personal hygiene. An inch of water in a cup sufficed for brushing teeth, a quart for drinking (additional hydration is gained from moisture in foods) and about a gallon for cooking the freeze-dried foods we packed.
When I came home and flushed a 3.5-gpf water closet, it struck me that I had just used more potable water than our entire group used in a single day’s time.
Doesn’t it seem ludicrous that we utilize potable (instead of gray) water for flushing water closets in this era of diminishing resources?
Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected]