Drinking water struggles not new in many parts of the world

Water has been in the headlines a lot recently. Sebring, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan have had more than their share of attention about it. It’s gratifying to know that our local public water suppliers say that our water supply is free of lead.

Let’s think about the water we’re accustomed to in Warren. It has been clean, pure, lead free, refreshing – in a word – potable. But, I wonder if you know about the water situation in the world’s most populous country – China.

A few years ago, I spent two weeks in China with my son, his Chinese wife, and my two grandchildren. I lived in my son’s household in Putian City, Fujian Province, China – a coastal city of 3.1 million residents and 1 million migrant workers. I could use laptops, desktops, flat screen TVs, cell phones, other electronic devices (even though I still haven’t learned to use most of them), air conditioning, and have most all of the comforts and conveniences I’m accustomed in the U.S. – except for one glaring exception – potable water.

In the morning, I would take a cup of boiled water that I had brought to my bedroom the night before to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Yes, I was assured that I could brush my teeth using tap water, but I was also cautioned not to ever swallow any. Some assurance.

The daily drill goes like this: Fill a large container that looks like a giant coffeemaker with water from the tap or faucet. Plug the container in to the electrical outlet and wait for the water to boil. (This does not get rid of metals, such as lead.) Pour half of the boiled contents into a large thermos and cap it. Pour the other half into an open pitcher.

The hot water in the thermos was to be used all day for making tea or any other hot beverages. The water in the pitcher was to be used for cooking and drinking at room temperature. No ice. The tiny refrigerator made none.

There was also no dishwasher. All the dishes, glasses, pots, pans and cups were washed in the sink and then placed into a drawered cabinet that looked somewhat like a dishwasher. The cabinet was switched on for about an hour to sterilize them.

One NEVER drank out of a glass or ate off a dish that had not been through that process. Every time I turned on the water at the tap, I had to think about how I was to use that water.

Water was served in restaurants in very large glasses. Each glass of water was steaming and hot to the touch. It was the restauranteur’s assurance to you that the water being served to you was safe to drink.

So why do the Chinese have to boil their water? The fundamental problem is that the country simply doesn’t have enough fresh water, and large-scale industrialization has overwhelmed these scarce supplies – and drinking water is a casualty.

We are lucky, in cloudy old Warren, to have the Great Lakes nearby. They hold 20 percent of the world’s supply of fresh water, while China contains only about 7 percent of the world’s fresh water while sustaining 20 percent of the world’s population. What water that does reach the Chinese household comes from sources that are pretty bad and are poorly filtered.

Our community water treatments involve (I read this on the Internet again) coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration and disinfection – we won’t go in to what all those terms mean. The result is our drinking water supply is about the safest in the world.

As Donald Sutherland’s commercial for Simply Orange states: ” not new, not improved, not perfect, simply unfooled around with ” Well, not actually. We have to fool around quite a bit with our water before it reaches our taps.

columns@tribtoday.com