Friday, July 8, 2016

Little House on the Prairie Chronicles: Hauling Water

Growing up in the Twin Cities, I never gave much thought to water. You turn on the tap or spigot; it comes out. Simple. A city employee collects your water usage information remotely via a signal emitted from your house's meter. Mystical. Once every three months, you receive a bill to pay for the amount of water you've used. Grrrrrr. How many of us actually read the amount of water we use? I didn't, unless the bill was higher than usual. Even when I did read it, I didn't give it much thought.

That changed when I moved to a country house in North Dakota and had to work for my water.

Here, we also have no direct water supply to the house; the water used for cleaning, showers, and toilet flushing we haul from the city's water tower.

It's an inconvenient chore, but is it cheaper than metered water! In the Cities, I would pay an average of $40 per month for the water used by the duplex I owned. Here, the cost of water averages less than $5 per month.

We also have no sewer system--it's a below-ground septic tank in our back yard, the precise location of which is unknown (finding it will be fodder for another blog and a possible reality TV episode...or two). If I were to take those long, scalding hot showers that I love, our tank would overfloweth...and who knows where that's going. I think it's safe to say that I'm not going to be dowsing for a well on the property. Even if we were to find a well, it wouldn't last that long; many people out here who have dug them have to relocate their well once every two or three years. I have no concept what digging a well involves, other than lots of time and money.

So we hi-ho, hi-ho, it's to the water tower we go. 

In the corner of our basement, a walled-off room  houses a 2,500 gallon cistern. Every so often, one of us will go downstairs, take a long piece of wood, and dip it into the cistern to measure how much water we have left. If the end of the stick is darkened by less than 3" of water, we need more. Weather permitting, we'll put the 250-gallon water tank on a trailer, hook the trailer up to a truck, gather quarters, and take a jaunt to downtown Flaxton.

Once we've arrived, Roger (because he's slightly taller with longer arms) will clamber up on the trailer and reach for the nozzle onto which he attaches the hose to put water into the tank. I position myself next to the coin slot and wait for further instruction: eye contact, a nod of the head, or that sort of nonverbal signal.

Then Roger unscrews the tank lid and inserts the other end of the hose into the tank. When he's braced himself sufficiently (that water comes shooting out at God-knows-how-many-gallons-per-second), he gives me a nonverbal signal to commence offering quarters to the Flaxton water gods. Reverently, we both wait for the metallic sound of rushing water that indicates the flood gates have been opened.

Mind you, it isn't a precise system, but the cost is most often $1.25 for 250 gallons of water. Sometimes, fortune smiles upon us and we can fill the tank for 75 cents. Sometimes, it costs $2.25. More often than not, though, I plug 5  American quarters, one at a time, into the slot on the side of the building. Canadian quarters jam the machine, resulting in an inability to shut off the all. Roger found this out when someone had used a Canadian quarter and he tried to shut off the supply by holding down the water shut-off button. The supply didn't shut off and water shot everywhere until he could call someone in town to come shut it off (I was not along for this adventure). The most recent time we went, we arrived to find water pouring out of the overflow and creating a small slough at the base of one of the tower's feet. On this occasion, we met the public works supervisor (an engineer from Texas) and his wife (an architect from Switzerland). From our local water engineer, we learned that Flaxton has the best water in the state, brought up from a well 600-feet below the ground.

Once the tank is full, we bring the water back to the house, hook up a different hose to the tank's spigot, remove the repurposed tuna can that prevents critters from entering and drowning in the cistern and tainting our supply of the state's best water, shove the other end of the hose into a hole and feed it through some piping in the house's foundation, turn on the spigot, and let the tank drain into the cistern in the basement. This takes about 20 minutes.

After 3 or 4 trips, we have a full-enough cistern and enough water to last us for a month or so, provided that I don't take long showers and we abide by the "if it's yellow, let it mellow" maxim. 

You may be asking yourself, if you only clean with that water, with what do you cook? I don't cook anything that requires water...just kidding. 

The water with which we cook and give to the dogs is imported from Turtle Mountain taps when we go back for a visit. I'm most often the one who hauls the empty jugs--one- and 5-gallon--to one of our family's houses and fills them. Then I'll haul the filled jugs to the truck and we'll have enough potable water for a month or two.

When I moved up here, I didn't fully realize the importance--and precious nature--of water. However, now that I have to work for my water, I'm a lot more cognizant of how much I use and for what purpose I use it. I try to repurpose as much as possible. For example, when I give the dogs fresh water, for example, I will use yesterday's water to give the houseplants a drink. This isn't being stingy; it's being mindful that each drop of water wasted adds up to a sooner-than-necessary chore. I'd rather do things like write blogs and craft other pretty things than the chore of hauling water.