Water Is The New Coffee

We’ve got a nice water fountain on our floor at the office. I like to drink cold water and the fountain is only a few steps from my office, so I visit it regularly. The water bubbles out ice cold and really hits the spot.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed that the fountain water has fallen decidedly out of favor. One day I was enjoying a few hearty, quenching gulps when one of the people who work on the floor looked at me aghast, and asked how I could drink from the fountain. “It tastes good,” I responded as I wiped the water from my lips with the back of my hand. “It doesn’t taste as good as my water,” she replied.

And last week I got onto the elevator with one of our attorneys who was lugging an empty half-gallon jug. “What’s with the jug?” I asked. He responded that he is trying to drink a half-gallon of water every two days and goes to our kitchen to fill up on some special filtered water. When I asked about fountain water, he said: “I don’t drink that stuff. The kitchen water is vastly superior.”

I think water is the new coffee. No one (except me) wants to drink the office coffee; they’d rather go to Starbuck’s or Cafe Brioso and shell out a few bucks rather than drink the free stuff. Now they’re snobbishly turning their nose up at our free water, too.

I guess my “water palate” is just not sufficiently educated. It it’s cold and wet and doesn’t have a funny or metallic taste, that’s good enough for me.

On The Shores Of Lake Schiller

Thanks to the melting of the snow we got over the weekend, followed by the persistent rains that fell more recently, Schiller Park had become Lake Schiller this morning, with many of the pathways completely flooded.  The whole area had a certain ghostly beauty under the light fixtures, with the watery areas just beginning to freeze as the temperature dropped.

I imagine the Columbus water reservoirs are full to bursting, given the amount of precipitation we’ve received already this winter.  If California wants to bring an end to its long-standing drought, I’m sure the water-logged states of the Midwest would be happy to work out a trade in which our excess water is swapped for the Golden State’s excess sunshine.

Lessons From A Rowing Mom

IMG_6707_2The people of Maine are different:  hardier, more outdoorsy, and seemingly closer to the land.  Kish has noticed that the women wear less make-up and tend toward a no-frills look, while the men have the kind of ruddy complexion that makes it look like they’ve just stepped off a sailboat.

There’s something about living in a rustic area, near water, that seems to encourage that laissez-faire personal attitude.  If you’ve got water and a boat nearby, there would be a lot of incentive to use it — and if make-up tended to run down your face when the fog rolled in, and fancy haircuts frizzed out and became unmanageable in the salt air, then make-up and the high-end ‘dos would likely hit the cutting room floor.

I thought about all of this on our recent mailboat run out to Isle au Haut.  At one of our stops we saw a mother rowing her very cute little girl across the harbor to a dock.  The Mom was an accomplished rower, and I’d be willing to bet that her daughter ends up as one, too.  That’s not a bad skill to pass down from generation to generation.

The Penny Chronicles

My name is Penny.

IMG_5208Today I am very thirsty.  These days, I am very thirsty every day.  My mouth feels dry, dry, dry, all the time, and when I drink I drink a lot.  I bet I drink more water now than I ever did before.  Each day, I seem to set a new record!  Some days, I even want water more than I want food.

The Leader knows this.  It is why she is the Leader.  So there are water bowls everywhere.  There is a bowl by where I sleep.  There is a bowl where the packs stays in the morning.  There is a bowl in the hallway, where I like to sleep on the rug.  And, of course, there is a water bowl next to my food bowl, too.

Thanks to the Leader, I never have to go far to drink my fill.

Sometimes the old boring guy will not see a bowl and will knock into it and the water will slosh over the side.  Ha ha!  But the old boring guy doesn’t seem to get mad any more.  He just shakes his head.  And when he hears me drinking, he walks over and pets me and scratches behind my ear and asks how I am doing.  I bet he feels thirsty some times, himself.

Speaking of water, where is that bowl?  I am thirsty!

Water Politics

It’s raining here in Columbus this morning, just as it does virtually every day in April.  I can hear the patter of raindrops against windowpanes and the rumble of thunder rolling from east to west.  These deeply familiar sounds are symbols of what Ohio and the Midwest has in abundance — fresh water, pouring down from the skies, puddling on sidewalks, sluicing down streets to storm drains, and rushing into roaring rivers and streams.  We check the forecast, grab umbrellas and don raincoats, and mutter about another rainy day.

IMG_5116But what we mutter about, southern California craves.  An area that always has been water-challenged is now water-deprived, as it experiences another year of punishing drought.  Water, the most basic building block of life, will be rationed in southern California, by edict of Governor Jerry Brown and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.  Los Angeles will have to cut consumption by 20 percent, and other communities will have to reduce use by 35 percent.  It’s as if the people of SoCal were living in a castle under siege — except it’s Mother Nature who is employing the siege tactics.

None of this is surprising for the residents of southern California, who have been hearing about dwindling water supplies for years.  But officials have noticed an odd phenomenon — as the water supply crisis has become more dire, some people in southern California are increasing their use of water.  Presumably those people have concluded that water restrictions are coming, anyway, so they might was well take an extra-long shower or increase their lawn sprinkler use before the restrictions arrive.  And that apparent “what the hell” attitude has caused the water regulators to argue that they have no choice but to impose mandatory restrictions and punitive charges on water users who exceed the limits.

It’s not entirely clear how the restrictions will affect individuals, yet.  There’s probably no risk of jackbooted water police ripping out sprinkler systems or kicking in the doors of home to install low-flow shower heads, but the people of southern California ultimately will have to accept the inevitable conclusion that there are too many people, animals, and plants in the region in view of the limited water supplies.  Heavily watered green lawns will be replaced by native desert plants, showers will be dribbles rather than blasts, and parks and common areas will have to change.  And the people involved in California’s enormous agricultural sector will have to figure out how to make do with less H2O.

Ultimately these restrictions are the price that must be paid when too many people decide to live in a desert.  Who knows?  Maybe some of those people, tired of feeling dirty and looking at brown surroundings, may decide to relocate to places where steaming showers and green grass are the norm.  Golden Staters, you’re welcome here in the Midwest.

Detroit, Water, And Human Rights

As it struggles to right itself after years of collapse, Detroit continues to push the boundaries of municipal law and social order.  The latest chapter of this sad tale has to do with something that most Americans take for granted — water.

Detroit has residents who haven’t paid their water bills.  So do many other cities.  But as with so many things, Detroit’s water problem is outsized to the point of absurdity.  About 150,000 Detroit residents are behind on their water bills.  That’s a huge portion — more than 20 percent — of Detroit’s population, which is down to about 700,000 people.  The non-payment problem is so severe that Detroit has begun to shut off water to those who don’t pay their bills.  The shut-offs started, then the Mayor imposed a moratorium to give people a chance to enter into payment plans, and now the shut-offs are on again.

IMG_2970It’s hard to imagine what living in a city would be like if you didn’t have running water — but it’s not hard to forecast that it would quickly become disgusting and unhealthy.  Water is needed for hydration, cooking, clothes-washing, personal hygiene, and waste disposal; no water means clogged toilets, dirty people, and filthy, dangerous living conditions.  It’s why a United Nations group criticized the shutoff, opining that “[d]isconnection of water services because of failure to pay due to lack of means constitutes a violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”

It’s hard to feel sympathy for either party to this dispute.  It’s a sign of the ridiculous extent of Detroit’s mismanagement that more than 100,000 people were allowed to fall into arrears and that the city was reduced to taking the draconian step of shutting off water to thousands at one time.  Where were the administrators and bill collectors while the roster of deadbeats grew?  Some residents also say their bills are just wrong and that the water is too expensive, and given Detroit’s awful record I’m guessing the city wasn’t exactly providing the most efficient, cost-effective water service in the nation.

And yet, storing, treating, and delivering water costs money, and bankrupt Detroit doesn’t have any.  It’s easy for UN groups to pronounce that free water is a basic human right, but who is going to pay for what is necessary to deliver it?  Other Detroit residents?  The State of Michigan?  The federal government?  Or perhaps the UN would like to foot the bill?

I’m guessing that a good chunk of those 150,000 Detroit residents who owe on their water bills didn’t treat it like a basic necessity when bill-paying time came.  I’m guessing that many of them realized that the city wasn’t trying to collect on water bills, and therefore those bills weren’t prioritized and weren’t paid.  The money that was available got spent on other things, and the amounts owed accumulated to the point it became unmanageable — and when Detroit finally came knocking for payment, there wasn’t the money available, and the only option was to react with outrage.  If that is the true story for many of those 150,000 Detroit residents, who is at fault for their predicament?

We’re going to be learning lessons from the sad story of Detroit for many years to come.

Hydration Fixation

Yesterday I was in LaGuardia Airport, waiting for my flight home, when I saw that Delta had helpfully put a “water bottle refilling station” in its terminal for those people who seem to carry a water bottle and take a swig everywhere they go. A simple water fountain isn’t good enough — we need a “station” where those brightly colored, quart-sized plastic canisters can be filled to the rim.

IMG_1848I’m sure there’s a purported health reason for this fixation with water, but it’s always seemed weird to me. A few years ago I asked a summer clerk at our firm to come to my office for a meeting. To my surprise, the guy brought along a full, sloshing jug of water, with a plastic straw protruding out. Good lord! How long did he think the meeting was going to last? Was he really worried about becoming dehydrated during a discussion about a research project? Maybe he thought I’d spew so much hot air that the risk of dessication was more than he could tolerate. And his constant sipping made me think of a hamster, too.

What is it with the hydration obsession of some people? Is it supposed to help them stick to a diet by filling them up? Is it supposed to keep their body’s flushing systems working at desperate overload levels? Is it supposed to keep their skin moist and dewy fresh?

I like to drink water as much as the next person, but this hydration fixation seems to be reaching ridiculous levels.

On The River Walk

IMG_4118When you ask most people about San Antonio, they’ll probably mention the Alamo and the River Walk.  (The NBA fans among us would probably also mention the San Antonio Spurs, who fell just short this year in their bid for another NBA championship.)

I was one of those people who’d heard of the River Walk.  I figured it was something that was created in the ’60s or ’70s as one of those grand urban renewal projects, but the reality is much more interesting.  The River Walk in its modern form actually dates back to the 1930s, and as you walk along you will occasionally see signs about areas that were built by New Deal agencies like the Works Progress Administration.  There have been many other additions and modifications over the years.

IMG_4064The River Walk obviously has been a great positive for San Antonio from an economic standpoint.  It’s a tourist attraction and is one of the reasons why San Antonio draws lots of convention traffic.  Many restaurants, bars, and shops are found there.  A number of people are employed as tourist boat operators, or landscapers, or in other jobs related to the River Walk.  It’s home to a number of sidewalk vendors selling their wares.

There’s lots to like about the River Walk.  In many American cities, planners seemed oddly eager to close off access to the rivers or lakes that caused the city to be founded in the first place.  If residents wanted to take a stroll by the river, they had to try to cross multiple highways or the parking lots of sports stadiums, and if they got to the water they found desolate, underdeveloped areas.  San Antonio, in contrast, embraced its river.  The wise city fathers here understood that people like walking by water and hearing the quack of a duck.  Now other waterfront cities are scrambling to catch up and correct city design mistakes that should never have been made in the first place.

IMG_4133There are other nice aspects of the San Antonio River Walk, too.  It’s a place full of unique vistas.  Some areas are home to towering trees and welcome shade, others have a distinct Spanish feel.  There’s a lovely riverfront theater, with seats built into the hillside on one side of the river and the stage on the other.  The bridges spanning the river walk and the stairways leading up and down aren’t uniform, either, which adds to the charm.  And even on the hottest San Antonio summer day, it’s cooler down by the river.

During our visit here, we’ve walked on the River Walk every day, and it’s been crowded.  Richard says that San Antonio residents tend not to use it much because of the tourist crowds.  I can understand that, I suppose, but I applaud any urban plan that has “Walk” in it.  I have to believe that some people use the River Walk to get to work, and that the River Walk makes the downtown workers in San Antonio much more likely to walk somewhere for lunch than is the case in other cities.   In an era of too many red-faced, flabby Americans, any urban planning that also encourages walking and fitness is a good thing.IMG_4059

The Sky Is Wide, And So Is The Water

 

I was looking through my photos of my Lake Temagami adventure today, thinking about how much I enjoy just being on the water — the sound of it, the smell of it, and the look of it.  A lake pushes the horizon back, making the sky seem wider and the whole world seem more expansive.  When this hardy soul left the dock in his little outboard craft on a cold afternoon, he seemed to be heading off into eternity.

Rose Run, February 19, 2012

It’s been a mild winter — but a wet one.  The waterways in our neighborhood are full to the banks, and during our recent walks Penny and I have often heard the rush of water.  Rose Run, which zigzags in close proximity to old State Route 161, is typical of the creeks and streams in New Albany.

There is something quite soothing about the sound of water tumbling across rocks.  If it were a bit warmer I’d be tempted to try my hand at skipping a few stones.

Venice Underwater

Venice is sinking and the surrounding sea level is rising.  In the last 100 years, Venice has sunk 11 inches.  It doesn’t sound like much, but 11 inches is a lot when every building and square is bordered by canals or open water.  If you visit Venice, you quickly realize that water is everywhere.  You cannot escape the sound of water lapping against a bulkhead, the smell of water in the canals, or the sight of water as you walk across one of the countless bridges spanning the canals.

The situation has become intolerable.  Venice now experiences 100 floods a year.  The Venetians and the Italian government have finally taken action.  Their plan involves construction of massive inflatable gates that will lie flat on the sea floor under normal circumstances, only to be inflated so as to block sea water from entering the lagoon when water levels rise.  The project is, as you would expect, controversial.  People have raised questions about its cost, its effectiveness and its environmental impact.  Amazingly, due to political wrangling it took four decades for construction on the project to get started — even though the situation is growing increasingly desperate.

Venice is a beautiful city, filled with fabulous architecture, art, and history.  Equally important, it is one of those cities that is a testament to the human spirit, human ingenuity, and human perseverance.  Imagine building a city on marshland and seeing that city grow and develop to the point where Venice was a major sea power and center of commerce!  Everyone should be interested in seeing Venice, in all its glory, preserved — and that means hoping that the project works.  Mankind would be poorer indeed if Venice, like fabled Atlantis, were to disappear beneath the waves.

Water Wealth

This story about dropping water table levels in India, apparently due to excessive groundwater pumping, just reaffirms what I think will become an increasingly obvious fact: one of the greatest attributes of the American Midwest is an abundance of water. According to the U.S. EPA, the Great Lakes hold more than one-fifth of the world’s supply of fresh water, and the only bigger source — the polar ice caps — aren’t exactly accessible. In addition to the water stored in the Great Lakes, the Midwest is home to large rivers, like the Ohio and the Father of Waters itself, the mighty Mississippi. Our winters aren’t exactly filled with brilliant blue skies, but they do feature lots of rain, and snow, and sleet, and freezing rain, and other forms of bone-chilling precipitation that cause us to cinch our overcoats tighter and mutter under our breath.

The Great Lakes, shown from space

The Great Lakes, shown from space

The question for the Midwest is how to maximize this resource and put it to best use. To their credit, the state governments of the eight Great Lakes states, including Ohio, have been proactive on the issue. They have entered into the Great Lakes Compact, which provides for management of the fresh water in the lakes and, for the most part, bans diversion of the waters to locations outside the Great Lakes basin. The Great Lakes States therefore have said to the world, if you want our water, you’ll need to come to the American Midwest to get it. I think people ultimately will do just that.