Wednesday, February 24, 2016

'Water, water everywhere'

Water covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and is vital for life.
In the poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” the lyrical verse chants: “Water, water, everywhere, / Nor any drop to drink.”

Jutting out into the river, our slice of heaven at Fogland is a peninsula with the swirling Sakonnet on two sides and the brackish water of the salt marsh on the other.

Oftentimes, the air is heavy with moisture – the mist and fog so thick that it is a palpable thing, the water enveloping us like our first nine months of life afloat in amniotic fluid.

Yet, in this community of cottages, water is a hot commodity. With many of the dwellings sitting on 50-foot lots, there is little room for both a well and sewerage on the tiny plots. Consequently, many of the neighbors share wells, which are grandfathered to successive owners.

My parents bought our property in 1969. It is one of the larger parcels with 150 feet of land abutting farmland in our backyard.

We spent the first year camping in a tent and carrying fresh water to the site. Then we hired contractors to put in a point well and lay the intricate galley septic system.

From then on, the water flowed abundantly, and my father often remarked how sweet-tasting it was, compared to the chlorine-treated water back home.

On April 20, 1990, the Rhode Island Department of Health tested our well water; and a couple of weeks later, my parents received the following letter:

“Enclosed is a copy of the water report containing analytical results of the water sample collected from your well. The results indicate the presence of Temik and other carbamates and by-products with concentrations higher than acceptable. Research data indicates that you should not use your water for cooking or drinking. You will be monitored periodically by the Department of Health.”

There was trouble in paradise. Our water was contaminated by a chemical we had never heard of. We had to educate ourselves.

We learned that Temik is a restricted-use pesticide which is used to primarily control insects in crops. It is closely regulated because of its toxicity to humans and animals and its potential for ground water and food crop contamination.

Shortly, thereafter the Department of Health ordered that a filtering system be installed on our well. My parents never received a bill for the equipment.

A year later, the water was tested again, and my parents received a letter with the news of the positive results:

“We are pleased to say that no traces of Temik were detected in your sample. You will be monitored periodically by the Department of Health.”

To this day, I never drink water from the tap. After the scare, it just made sense to drink bottled water, although we use well water for every other use.

Over the years at the summer house, we have endured many natural threats, including catastrophic hurricanes, killing red tides, mosquitoes infected with Eastern Equine Encephalitis and deer ticks carrying Lyme disease.

But there was nothing natural about the contamination of our water supply.

In paradise, lush green plants can bear forbidden fruit.

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