Can’t take water for granted

Karl Terry

The physical properties of water are pretty amazing. We can drink it, bathe in it, swim in it, clean with it, heck it keeps us all alive.

Let the temperature drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, though, and the stuff can be a real pain.

I came home on a recent night and sat down at the table in the dining room. A strange noise stopped me before my fork had even delivered the first bite. I stepped to the patio door and I could hear water running out back, it sounded like the fountain in a Marriott courtyard. I thought to myself: “Why would the neighbors be watering their yard at this hour in the winter?”

Turns out the fountain was in my own back yard, gushing from my sprinkler box.

I quickly changed to old clothes and grabbed a light and a wrench I thought I could use to shut the water off. My light revealed that the meter box was filled with water. I found a dry spot uphill from the flood flowing under my fence and plunged my arm into the icy water. No luck. Shutting the valve off on a balmy summer day with the rudimentary tools I had was one thing. Trying in the dark of a frigid January night with my arm submerged to the shoulder in nearly freezing water was another thing.

I went in and called the emergency number for the city water department then went out to look closer at the source of the leak and stepped in two inches of water. I went back and called the number again. Soon enough a young man in a water department truck arrived to stem the flood.

I went over to mom’s that night to shower and brought back two big jugs of water to flush with and we made it through the night.

I learned to flush a toilet manually in the first place I lived in after I moved to Tucumcari in the late 1970s. The old trailer house didn’t have a heater so I used an electric space heater and just moved it from room to room that first winter. I put heat tape on my water lines under my mobile home but one particularly bad cold spell, not unlike the one we just experienced, the water lines inside the house froze up. I decided I needed a bigger electric heater.

Growing up on a farm where we depended on well water, it was a familiar sight to see my dad on his stomach in the snow trying to thaw a line or pressure pump. I got my own taste of that the first year I lived in Colorado.

My mother-in-law arrived on the bus the week prior to Thanksgiving that year for a long visit. It snowed like crazy on Thanksgiving and that Friday then got down to 11-below that Saturday morning. No water flowed from our well.

I needed a trouble light to drop down the hole by our well where the pressure pump was seized with ice and more heat tape for plumbing under the house. The roads were terrible and I didn’t know if the hardware store would be open even if I did make it to town. The complaining from the wife and mother-in-law when I suggested manual flushes pushed me out into the cold.

I guess from time to time it’s good to be reminded how easy we’ve got it when we casually turn on the tap.