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Larry Peterson - Straight Shots

PETERSON: We’ll soon appreciate the flow of clean drinking water again

As we near the end of week one of (potentially) tainted water in Creston and the surrounding Southern Iowa Rural Water Association region, there’s another dose of hopeful news on the front page of the paper today.

In a few days, this will all be behind us. We’re about to transition back to the modern convenience lifestyle. No longer will we face that painstaking hardship of boiling a large pan of water for 20 minutes so we can do the dishes.

You know, that rugged pioneer life. (Well, perhaps pioneers weren’t able to listen to Cardinal games on the MLB app on their smartphones while doing dishes, so I may be stretching it just a tad.)

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to make light of the real challenges faced in the last week at places such as hospitals, care centers, restaurants and other service organizations. Certainly, this experience has reminded us that we take some things for granted in 2018, such as clean running water in our homes.

It could have been worse, you know. We DO have running water. You just have to take the time to boil it and then let it cool before using it. Really, we found it wasn’t that big of a deal if you put it on the stove and go about your business. Then in about 15 minutes, voila, boiling water! (I was told a watched pot never boils, so I left the room each time.)

And, except for the crush at the grocery stores Friday afternoon, for the most part bottled water has been available.

That’s why organizations such as FEMA and Union County Emergency Management didn’t intervene. If the stores couldn’t meet the demands of bottled water for several days, or if water wasn’t running out of our taps — like Des Moines in the flood of 1993 — then yes, emergency policies would kick into gear. It’s also not an extended hardship like in Flint, Michigan.

I know this isn’t unanimous sentiment, but I have sat back and admired the response of so many involved in this “crisis,” which I prefer to label as an “inconvenience.”

Folks like Hy-Vee stepping up and setting up distribution of free drinking water, that’s pretty cool. And I’ve heard many stories of people checking on the elderly and shut-ins to make sure they have what they need, and just that they are doing OK during a hot week without clean running water.

Actually, we don’t really know if the water got all that tainted, but to be on the safe side DNR enacted the boil order. I admit I forgot a couple of times brushing my teeth and rinsed with tap water. So far, I haven’t turned into a zombie like the folks who drank tainted water in the movie filmed in Lenox a few years ago, “The Crazies.”

Our own Scott Vicker and his news staff have been busy tracking down the facts of the matter, and shooting down some rumors.

For one, this does not appear to be a case of negligence where the company was trying to squeeze extra time out of expensive equipment, at the public’s expense. On the contrary, as I understand it, the system is designed for 10 years, and this is year eight. Officials were gathering bids for replacement filtration membranes as the unforeseen circumstances arose in the past two weeks.

Suez company officials came down from Canada to investigate, and couldn’t correct the problem, which led to the DNR order last Thursday night.

This was not something where there was more time to warn the public, or that a backup membrane could have been on hand.

Cost to replace the four tranes holding the filtration cassettes is more than $1 million, which was budgeted over the next two years. But, now the need for immediate purchase has arisen. One of the two tranes that arrived in Creston Wednesday to begin the replacement process came from Suez itself, and the other was provided by a plant in Racine, Wisconsin. Two more that are being built would normally be shipped by boat, but SIRWA is paying an extra $50,000 to air freight them in.

Employees have been working 12- to 18-hour shifts during this ordeal, under some hot and humid conditions in the filtration area of the water treatment plant.

The new tranes were scheduled to start operating at the plant earlier today. Once the three Creston water towers are filled, people using the water will help spread the “good” water throughout the system. By the middle of next week, we should be back to normal throughout the region, even in the rural areas using SIRWA water.

At our house, we may not even get through all of the purchased water and paper plates/table service that we bought. Maybe we’ll have to go on some picnics!

Bottom line, yes there were some complications, particularly in the service industry, and we were inconvenienced in our homes for awhile.

But, it wasn’t the end of the world. I do not see factual proof of irresponsible actions. I saw more people doing favors for their friends and neighbors than bitter folks playing the blame game.

Just like after the tornado, many kind people in the area stepped up to help in any way needed.

If the supply of water got critically low, emergency organizations were ready to step in and ensure the safety of our residents.

But, simply not wanting to bother boiling water does not fit that “critical emergency” status.

We’re making it. And, perhaps this has made us all appreciate the convenience of clean drinking water. So many around the world don’t have that.

The silver lining of all this might be that we won’t take it for granted quite so much. We’ll appreciate the little things, like putting our plates and glasses in the dishwasher again!

Contact the writer:

Twitter: @larrypeterson


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