Schore to Please

On the day after Labor Day, mysterious droplets began falling from the sky. I asked around the neighborhood, but no one knew what it was. Pennies from heaven? Oobleck? Bird droppings?

Finally, I posted some photographs online and got the answer from some weirdos watching vintage cartoons. It was rain!

A year ago, most of the neighborhood had a foot or more of water in the basement. For many of us, the flooding occurred twice in 10 days. Books, clothing, and priceless artwork foolishly stored in the basement were turned into mush. Sump pumps spewed water every few minutes.

Then this summer arrived, the summer of the great drought.

Last year, 11.43 inches of water fell during the months of July and August, and that did not include the Hurricane Ida deluge in early September. This year, July and August produced a miserable 4.74 inches.

In the past, I usually didn’t pay much attention to water. When asked in a restaurant whether I wanted tap or bottled water, I had to control myself from repeating W.C. Fields’ gloriously obscene line about what fish do in water.

With this summer’s drought, water became an obsession. I began viewing wasting water on such things as car washing and lawns as crimes against humanity. When children began pouring water out of their kiddie pool, my cranky-old-man persona leapt out, forcing me to yell, “If you pour it out, I’m not refilling it!”

I bought a 55-gallon plastic drum via Craigslist for $25, which I hooked up to a downspout with a $40 diverter kit. When it rained an inch, the barrel filled half-way. I felt so virtuous. Then, sometime in July, the barrel ran dry.

While our household enjoys the bourgeois splendor of a dishwasher, to ensure that I’d go to heaven, I began collecting the water in the kitchen sink used for pots, pans and dishwasher-unsafe items in a plastic basin and dumped it on vegetables, flowers and the crackly brown lawn. I was amazed at how much water we used: around six gallons per meal.

The only downside of pouring dishwater on the vegetable garden was that every time I bit into a tomato, bubbles came out of my ears.

All seemed relatively well until we got notified by Hopewell Borough that our water supply was contaminated with the industrial compound PFOS. I immediately panicked and bought an under-the-sink filtration system and transformed myself into a plumber.

Lying on my back under the sink, even with a pillow, was both awkward and painful, but it gave me greater appreciation for the plumbing profession. The connections haven’t leaked even once—so far.

Then, too late, I had a phone conversation with Hopewell Borough councilman David Mackie, a geologist who works with contaminant mitigation and who because of his expertise oversees the Borough’s water issues. He said that the presence of PFOS was “not a health emergency,” which is why a year will be spent to determine water treatment and find funding for what will be an expensive response.

PFOS, a compound used in such items as pizza boxes, fast-food wrappers, dental floss — you may have seen the list in the document that Councilman Mackie provided to the town —is omnipresent in the environment. Because it is water soluble, it is dispersed everywhere, reaching places far removed from any industrial site. It’s been around since the 1930s, but only in the past 10 years has it been tested for.

The limit standard for PFOS is 13 parts per trillion. That’s right, a trillion! Only in April 2022 did Hopewell suddenly test at 14 parts per trillion, still an infinitesimally tiny amount, but it’s everywhere, and does not degrade. Over a lifetime of exposure, PFOS can be harmful, but scientists are still trying to figure out what concentration level poses a danger.

Perhaps I acted a bit precipitously in putting in the water filter, but since it removes the chlorine as well as the PFOS, it tastes a whole lot better, not that I’m really interested in drinking water when there’s beer readily available.

PFOS was detected in Hopewell’s single functioning well. The others were shut down due to contamination by naturally occurring elements: arsenic, uranium, and radium. Who would have thought?

Councilman Mackie pointed out that 45% of the borough water comes from the well, while the balance is provided by New Jersey American Water, a huge private utility that charges us exorbitant rates: between $22,000 and $30,000 per month! You might have noticed those rates when gasping at the size of your quarterly water bill.

So why not dig another well and end the borough’s dependence on NJ American?

According to Mr. Mackie, having to create a treatment facility for that new source might result in no reduction in cost. Turning over the borough’s utility to the private conglomerate also won’t guarantee rate reduction.

My response to the bills has been to limit my showering to once a month, but less frequently in winter.

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