Water for life

Take away someone’s water, and you have their attention. Deprived of water, suddenly we discover how much we need this stuff we take for granted. Last Friday, Orange Water and Sewer Authority, the agency that provides water to more than 80,000 people in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, was forced to shut it all off, and no one could safely predict how long this would last.

Two events caused the crisis. A water main broke and began leaking big time, gushing out 1.5 million gallons a day. This happened as OWASA already was getting its water from Durham following an overfeed of fluoride at OWASA’s drinking water plant.

The University of North Carolina and local schools cancelled classes. The UNC-Notre Dame basketball game, scheduled for Saturday in Chapel Hill, was rescheduled to Sunday in Greensboro, an hour’s drive away. Hotels closed. Restaurants and bars were forced to shut down on the weekend that featured the Super Bowl and that Carolina basketball game. Stores suddenly were jammed as residents rushed to buy bottled water to drink, cook, brush teeth, flush. Some stores began offering free bottled water.

When will we get it back? No one could say for sure.

At our house, a generous friend showed up on Friday afternoon with two cases of bottled water for us to use. Next day, our daughter Beth and her husband Mark arrived bearing another two cases. We now have enough bottled water to float a large ship, and we continue to use it gratefully, bottle by precious bottle.

OWASA worked frantically to fix things, and by early Sunday, taps were again flowing in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, first in conserve mode, and soon thereafter we were returned to normal usage. What a weekend.

Our lives depend on so many things that we take for granted: electricity, phones and without a doubt, water among them. We assume that these things will be there for us when we need them. And they are, until we’re hit by a crisis like this one. Only then do we realize how indebted we are to others who work hard to provide us with what we regard as life’s necessities. OWASA and many others came through for us quickly, efficiently and professionally, and we are grateful.

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