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July 14, 2014 Published in Rants

Clean Water

Ranter: Chelsey Coles
Clean water. I've always needed it. Me and my family. From the home-cooked meals to the simple, refreshing glass of water I need in the middle of the night to ease myself from nightmares—clean water is a part of my life.

Since I can remember, clean water has been stressed in my childhood. My grandmother was a nurse serving DC for over forty years; if anyone knows the importance of good water, it's her. Day-in and day-out, she tended to the wounds of the injured and sick. Sterilizing wounds and trying to save lives. To sterilize these wounds, she had to clean them. To clean them, she had to, just had to, wash and rinse them with water before alcohol or any other chemicals. It was a rule: no tap water. Ever. You couldn't mention the words “tap water” to this woman without her shaming the name of it and turning her face up at the idea.

“Use tap water?” She would ask, incredulous. “Are you crazy?”

She once told me that back in the day, a man was wheeled into the ER with a serious case of internal cellulitis that infected his soft tissues from a deep puncture wound on the right side of his chest. The man was screaming and crying in pain, and the infection was spreading fast. In haste, they fed him antibiotics and cleaned the wound. Right after this as he lay in his hospital bed, bandaged and medicated, a nurse came in to check on him. She asked if he would like a glass of water, and he said yes. She walked to the sink and filled it with (uh oh, you guessed it) tap water... but not before my grandmother shoved the cup aside and ran to fetch the nearest jug of Deer Park water. The man was fine afterward, and the infection was all cleared up.

Now that I think back on it today, if that man drank polluted tap water, his infection probably would have gotten worse and spread. Worst-case scenario, to his heart. What if the polluted water had some bacteria that the medications couldn't fight? My grandmother was afraid of the same thing. That's why while I grew up, she enforced the use of spring water over tap water. It puzzled me as a child. Why did she hate it so much? I mean, water is water, right?

Wrong. I stopped thinking that the day I poured water from the faucet of my old home in northwest a few years ago. I never really payed any attention when I poured some water. I just poured it. But then one day I happened to sit the glass down on the counter and actually look. I inspected it to find small gray particles floating around in it. Like little intruders ruining my fresh water experience. They weren't huge. But definitely noticeable. I never looked at it the same. I didn't like to drink it. I was following right behind my grandmother. Spring water first.

I also had a fateful experience a couple of summers ago when I went to Breezy Point beach in Calvert County, Maryland. It was the first time I had ever been to that beach in particular, and I was excited. The first thing I did when we arrived was put my bathing suit on and run out to the water. I stopped dead in my tracks at what I saw.
Litter, litter everywhere. Cheetos and Doritos bags lining the shore. I took more slow, cautious steps forward. I let my feet sink into the sand and looked down in the water. I scooped some of it up into my hands. It wasn't blue, but gray and murky. It was the same as I looked off into the shore and then out into the full expanse of the water. It started off gray, then blended into a lighter hue of navy.

I was disappointed. I kept thinking about those cruise commercials where the water is crystal blue and the sand is fluffy and nice. Everyone is jumping around and playing in it, having a blast. The perfect vacation.

But not at Breezy Point. The beach is right on the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. I think of the murky, gray particles that also flowed out of the sink into my glass at home. The Chesapeake is just like that. Like a giant glass, but for everyone. For everyone to enjoy and share.

But it's not clean. The disgusting lead and oil and who-knows-what-else that is being dumped in the water is ruining the beauty for everyone. And it's not just at Breezy Point. It's at every reservoir and river and stream that runs through the neighborhoods of the DC Metro area. To think, the years my grandmother warned me about the water supply are true. She uses other things, anything but what runs through our pipes and comes out of my—and your—sinks, showers, faucets, fountains, and any other place here in DC you can think of that deal with water. I now understand what she was concerned about; she didn't want her family to get sick or have the experience ruined for them when tap water was put into the equation.

And that's sad. We shouldn't have to rely on an external water source like Deer Park or Dasani or a water filter for what's rightly ours. We shouldn't have to walk on beaches and have our vacations ruined by the sight of trash and murky water, polluted by disregard. We shouldn't have to look at a glass of tap water and crinkle our faces at its contents. We shouldn't have to be at risk for sickness and disease because of the water that runs through the pipes of our city. Our city. The Potomac. That's where the majority of us in the area get our water. And it's ruined.

I'd like to have a better vacation. I'd love to go back to Breezy Point or another beach on the Bay someday that has gorgeous, sparkling water like on the commercials. Or at least clear water. So my family, and my friends, and any other resident of this area can take themselves and the ones they love to enjoy the huge “glass” of the Chesapeake and fill our lives with it. I'd love to offer tap water to anyone I please and not have to worry about their well-being. So I can go back to my grandmother and tell her, that after all these years, the good ol' DC water really is safe to drink. To see the look on her face as it lights up, when she realizes that change is possible.

Change is possible. And I'd like it to start with our water.

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