Water Main Break
According to the Watermain Break Clock an average of 700 water mains break in Canada and the USA every day. Yesterday our block was one of them.
A water main is the giant pipe in the ground that carries your fresh drinking water. Not all countries have them, and not all of the countries that do have them bury them or maintain them well. There are places where the water becomes contaminated on it's journey from the filtering plant to the homes. Here in Saskatoon we have very good water. The plant is mere blocks from my home so we get it quite fresh and with good pressure. Speaking of pressure, those water mains have to contain a lot of it. The pipes may be made of ceramic or plastic but more often are made of steel. They are joined sections with bolts holding them together. Water rushes along at a tremendous rate, trying hard to swell the pipe and squeeze out wherever it can. This means that when you turn on your tap, even in a tall apartment building, water comes pouring out in a satisfying gush.
I spoke with the men working down the street and they told me that the main in this case is quite old, though not among the oldest in our city, and made of steel. They said the collar-join at the intersection broke, causing a breach. Breaks can be caused by the natural shifting of the earth, movement of the pipes, or in very cold winter, the ground can freeze down far enough to cause the pipe to become too brittle to contain the water anymore. Any weakness due to rust or general thinning will then burst through. Water main breaches not only waste water but they can wash away the substrate under the road or your lawn, causing the surface to slump and creating some nasty sinkholes capable of swallowing trucks whole!
When the break was detected by an unusually large surge in the flow, city crews were sent out to locate the breach and cut off water to that pipe. This happened at 3:30pm yesterday. Cards were distributed to all affected homes advising them of the breach and promising a water supply if the shut-off might last more than eight hours. In the meantime, we were advised by the city website to utilize the toilet tank reservoir for necessary water. I don't know about you, but my toilet tank isn't that clean inside. When I got home and discovered the cute card and the empty pipes I phoned my husband to pick up some water at the store.
So commenced an evening without running water. It was late when the trailer with a tank of water arrived so until then there was only the jugs of water from the store. Not enough for washing dishes, cooking potatoes or flushing the toilet. I wound up baking the spuds instead. Every cup of water that was used for rinsing or otherwise was saved for the toilet. The tank reservoir was used for washing hands, and suddenly being too sloppy to wash dishes was a virtue! It was anyone's guess how long we might go, but I knew it would be at least till later the next day.
We in the modern world really take our water for granted. My husband, for instance, who is the poor mule fetching buckets of water with a cart from down the block, forgot and flushed after peeing. I have always practiced some water conservation. As a child we were on a rural well and septic system so we didn't flush the toilet if it was just a bit colored. Rather, we waited till it was distinctly unpleasant. When I bought my house the pipes were broken and I could not afford to have the plumbing overhauled right away, so I did without running water for five months. My husband has always had water and has a habit of flushing for even such trivial things as a bit of tissue he's used to dab a shaving cut. When he mindlessly flushed for urine, he discovered just how much water it takes to flush our old toilet. Four gallons of water. Nearly all of one of the two fifty pound buckets he had to fetch. In underdeveloped countries it's often the young girls who fetch this water every day from miles away, not just down the block, and they don't have a cart to haul the buckets. We'll be replacing that toilet shortly with something that uses less water.
The workers say that if the repair holds they'll be turning on the water shortly. We are likely to return to 21st century convenience in time for supper tonight. I'll be able to wash dishes and take a bath and return my life to it's usually sanitary standards.
When you turn on the tap to wash your hands or grab a drink of water or clean that dirty spoon you want to use, consider the miracle of it's delivery and let that lessen your griefs just a little.
Addendum: the water was restored during the writing of this piece.