It was a beautiful spring day in Boston and we were packing up from Earth Day festival, when a calm yet concerned police officer came by shouting “have you heard of the water ban?” At that particular moment, we had not and the officer proceeded to inform us that the main water line to Boston had sprung a leak causing millions of gallons of fresh drinking water to spill into the Charles River. On top of the wastefulness, the water now pumping into Boston and the surrounding areas was untreated back-up pond water. This meant the water was technically unsafe to drink and could cause illness. The city issued a boil water announcement, asking residents to boil water for at least a minute or use bottled water before drinking or washing dishes and hands.

Honestly, I didn’t mind it so much. It was kind of an adventure to process my own water and who really cared if the shower smelled a bit like a lake?  However, an uproar was heard throughout the city when residents quickly realized this order caused hundreds of restaurants and cafes to either shut down or not serve such modern necessities like coffee. I have to admit, I was a little upset about not being able to enjoy one of my favorite drinks, but this still seemed a small price to pay. Bottled water, a despised product by environmentalists, had become a hot commodity and were flying off the shelves at exorbitant prices. Most people just went along with daily life and saw the issue as a minor inconvenience.  Within a few days the city had fixed the  leak and normality resumed with no reports of disease.

But this all got me thinking, this is how millions of people live every day. We are lucky we have such easy access to water. Those four days, we experienced not only how life was a few hundred years ago, before all our modern conveniences, but how much of the world still lives today. And many of those people, have it even worse as they have to travel miles to gather the water and sometimes it still may not be safe after boiling. Access to clean drinking water is a serious issue with over a billion people affected. This being compounded by economics, politics and serious environmental issues.  And with Climate Change knocking on our doors, this is likely to get worse. In fact it is estimated that by 2050, a third of the world will not have access to clean drinking water!

Water issues are a major problem throughout most of the world. Boston’s recent boil order was just a little slice of that life. It really emphasized how much we take for granted in urban and suburban United States. For the time being, many in the US have access to safe drinking water, but it is a luxury and we should be thankful for it. Actually, not only should we be thankful for it, but we should take action to help others in this country and around the world who are not as fortuitous as we are. For some ideas on how you can help and more information about the world water crisis, please read an earlier blog of ours entitled A Tale of Thirst: A World in Crisis.

While the city of Boston was able to quickly cure their water leak and life soon returned to normal, I couldn’t shake the lesson I had learned. The order issued by the city, hopefully made many no longer take our plumbing and water infrastructure for granted. I know I won’t.  Water issues around the world will still be on my mind. I hope other residents of our city will see this as a sign and will influence us to help others. It is interesting where and how we learn the lessons of life. After all, sometimes something amazing can spring from a leak.

-Gina Williams